Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
PIBBA Conference

Kosrae State, FSM - June 1999

June 17, 1999

I ran into Mike Caldwell, a friend who heads the College of Micronesia campus in Yap. He is here for a bunch of meetings as well as the Pacific Islands Bilingual Bicultural Association (PIBBA) meeting next week. He wants to attend my training in Yap. When I was in Yap, I talked to him about the possibility of getting some credits from COM for this course, a certificate of sorts, saying that the participants could use it to beef up their employment records. We are continuing our conversations here. He says that we might be able to get continuing education units.

I will be attending the PIBBA conference this week, too.

June 21 to 23, 1999

The annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Bilingual Bicultural Association. The office told me that they had registered me for this conference, and they wanted me to attend. We were supposed to start work in Walung this week; instead, the crew went out there for the week to begin clearing the site so that we could start work next week.

Conference workshop
Conference workshop

The conference was primarily geared toward educators throughout the Pacific and consisted of a number of workshops. Among the principal speakers for the morning sessions was Senator Sandra Pierantozzi, the first woman senator from Palau. Ever since meeting her in Palau, I have tried to keep up on what she has been doing because she has been such an active force in the community. Education is one of her goals, before her election and now as a senator. She is a dynamic speaker, and had some wonderful comments about language and culture. In reply to the often heard statement that "our language is so limited," she replied (I am paraphrasing here), "Our language was full and perfect for our island situation. We had a word for everything. And as we meet new things, we add more words that only enrich our language... Our language is the gateway to our culture." She also brought up the clash of cultures most islands are facing, the differences between Western-style administrations and traditional governments, and the inevitable crisis of ethics Palau and others are facing. How do you offer respect through gift-giving, particularly to an elected official, and not have it considered a conflict of interest? Changes are also underway in places like Palau with respect to the notion of respect, a traditional behavior that at its most fundamental means in action that you cannot offend someone today because you may need something from them tomorrow.

Senator Sandra and the Palau Delegation
Senator Sandra Pierantozzi, left front, and the Palau delegation

Traditional dances by children were performed for the PIBBA participants, and various kumi groups from around the island sang beautifully arranged songs a cappella. There was also a lot of local food for all participants to nibble on through the day.

Dance demonstration
Traditional dance demonstration for conference attendees by children

I attended a couple of the afternoon workshops as well. One presented by Chuuk on medicinal plants was truly compelling. The organizers were pointing out uses of local knowledge to teach children language skills as well as instill a sense of their own history of their island in the process. In the words of one organizer, you must be well rooted and know your past before you can move forward. Besides being full of gems of local wisdom, this workshop was the most entertaining of all those I attended. Only one particular plant and its uses in magic and medicine was discussed, yet the approach was dramatic and included pantomime, such as sneaking up on this particular plant at certain times of the day, the chants necessary to pick it (the plant is ubiquitous throughout the Pacific, but, according to the organizers, only the Chuukese chant will work), its various applications, and of course, its prescription (like medicines from the pharmacy, a local doctor will tell you that the treatment will require four doses or so of this plant for certain ailments).

I suspect participants at the meeting gained some useful tips that they can carry home with them. I walked away with a few tips that I can hand off to the historic preservation offices for use in their public outreach programs.

I was apparently mistaken for being from Yap at one point during a workshop on cultural performing arts. It was run by a woman from Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and was all about introducing performing arts like songs, chants, and dances into the classroom. So part of her workshop was a demonstration -- getting everyone up to dance a "traditional" CNMI dance, a sort of cha-cha-cha (a Spanish introduction, I'm assuming). So we learned it step by step; of course, most of us were getting our feet mixed up and running into one another. Her intent was to stress how participation in something cultural reinforces it and is less likely to be forgotten. Afterwards, I told her about the culture teachers in the Teresa's school in Yap. She apparently took that to mean we were from Yap -- "Oh," she said, "you must have just recently moved from Yap to the U.S."

June 23, 1999

Stan and I went to Walung today, to see how much the guys have done. A lot, and the site still is not cleared. It is only half cleared. So, as the guys continued to clear, Stan went one way and I went another, and we basically cut our way through a swath of the site. I stumbed on a series of coral alignments (probably architecture), a whole lot of shell midden being kicked up to the surface by crabs (from their burrows), and an area of shell flakes, like a tool-making area. The site really is big; it took a while to walk across it, although I wasn't going very fast and I was also chopping bushes at the same time. There is definitely enough to begin next week. We are going to use Monday as our setting-up day, moving supplies into Walung, then the guys are going to stay there. Monday night Ann Wright is going to be here for a meeting with the Americans on Kosrae, and Stan said I have to go to that. So he and I are going to go to the site on Tuesday. We are all going to stay there -- and if Stan works it right, his wife will come along too (to cook for us). Then all of us come back Friday afternoon.

That's our plan so far. The tide is still expected to be somewhat low next week, but coming up.

June 24, 1999

With the PIBBA conference over, it is business as usual. Today, Stan and I went to Walung to pick up the crew and also to check on their clearing progress.

About half the compound has been cleared. This site is big, much bigger than any compound on the island, according to Stan. The guys were in the midst of clearing when we arrived; Stan and I went our own route over the site just to see how much work was left and to get a preliminary idea of the sort of visibility and ground disturbance we will be facing when it comes time for both mapping and excavations. I hacked my way through the center of the site, and in the process ran across an alignment of coral boulders mostly buried in the sand. They are in a formation suggestive of an architectural feature, such as the foundation for a structure of some sort. I also ran across a lot of shell midden, fire-cracked rock (cooking stones, comparable to those we encountered in Tofol), some large tridacna flakes from the interior portion of the shell hinge, and a spread of coral gravels across a very level area that could be the remnants of a pavement (although there seemed to be no outlines or borders associated with this gravel spread).

Wandering outside the compound I came across a long rectangular pavement, which Stan later identified as potential graves. Its placement outside the compound walls is common.

Next week we will not only have to finish clearing, but get started on feature identification, mapping and so on.

Our boat operator, Moses Charley, had dropped us near the reef upon our arrival. It was high tide, but the tides were generally low so we could not come all the way to shore. We had to wade through about a foot of water for some distance. Our pick-up point, however, was in the channel about half-way between Okat and Walung; a good hour and a half walk that took us over basalt flows, through the lagoon, and deep inside the mangroves.

Mose Charley, boatman
Moses Charley polling the boat ashore at Walung

By the end of the day, I was very tired and we only spent a couple of hours at the site. The crew had been there all week with their machetes, so the walk to the boat must have taken quite a bit of effort for them. They were in good spirits though, because they sang most of the way back to the dock in Okat.

Boys singing on the way home
The boys singing on the way back

June 25, 1999

Dannie and Pat Sheffield, our neighbors on Yap, are on-island, passing through on their way home to the U.S. Dannie was an English teacher at Yap High School. They brought with them the worst news you can ever receive in the field -- news of a death.

Yvette, Teresa's best friend in Yap, died a week ago. She had become very ill on the morning of June 19, and within hours, just after noon, her heart stopped and she died. Death was swift, although whether it was merciful is hard to say. She was on Mogmog in Ulithi with her family, and everyone was preparing for a party that day. Yvette didn't make it to the party, although the children of Mogmog were going to perform some of the dances she taught them. She loved to dance and was always making up new movements.

She was so bright, beautiful and energetic. It is still difficult to imagine her gone now, even as I sit here transcribing my diary two weeks after receiving the news.

Teresa took it hard; the two of them had declared themselves sisters, and sisters aren't supposed to die.

Teresa and Yvette
Teresa and Yvette on Yap

Yvette, Teresa, and me at Yap airport
Yvette, Teresa, and me at Yap airport when Teresa left for home

June 27, 1999

This weekend has been difficult, and I am grateful to have remained busy. There were a couple of tours for Dannie and Pat; to the museum and through the Tofol site. On Saturday, I briefly visited with Dr. Bill Ayres, my former mentor at University of Oregon, as he was in transit on his way to Pohnpei. Then, that evening there was a meeting for Americans on-island, hosted by Ann Wright the Charge d'Affaires and Acting Ambassador for the U.S. Embassy in FSM. She had arrived that afternoon on the same flight as Bill; I ran into her in the airport, and surprisingly she remembered me from Yap. Today Dannie, Pat and I were joined by Ann Wright and Noah Webster, the Officer in Charge of the U.S. Civil Action Team, for a tour through the Leluh Ruins. Of the four, only Noah had been through the Ruins previously.

We picked out way through the Ruins. The corals were a little slippery, but then, they always are. I did a lot of talking; I described some of the activities that took place in this former administrative capital, its dates and construction episodes, the archaeological tug-of-wars over the interpretations of those dates and building sequences, as well as the place of Leluh in Kosraean history. Throughout the tour, I kept pointing out to Noah various projects the Leluh Ruins Committee wants to recommend to the CA Team. (They provide much of the technical labor for community projects; the community, however, must provide the materials.) Altogether, we were in the Ruins for about two hours. Everyone asked a lot of questions, and all of us ended up talking a lot.

Danny, Ann, and Pat
Dannie, Ann, and Pat touring Leluh

June 28, 1999

The crew left for Walung today, where we will join them tomorrow. I spent the day making copies of all the forms we would need once we started in on the excavations (which I hope will be this week). I found out that the site has been the source of building materials for the community for some time; these can be seen in some of the building foundations in the area. The scavenging, however, did at least leave sufficient remnants to suggest that the compound walls may have been about 5 meters high. As for interior foundations other than what I saw last week, that remains to be seen once the brush has been cleared.

In more recent times, the site was used for raising pigs (one likely form of disturbance for sure). Crabs are also a ubiquitous presence; they present another form of disturbance to the site, with their tunnels criss-crossing all over the place. They are certainly the Pacific prairie dog.

Stan's wife is going to stay with us in Walung and do the cooking. This is a nice touch, and it allows me and the crew to work with little interruption by sending someone off to prepare the lunch or whatever.

Next: Work at Walung begins