Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Pohnpei State, FSM - October 1998

Feast photo

October 21, 1998

We are supposed to attend and document a traditional feast --- the ritual presentation of the yam (and opening of yam season) to the Nahnmwarki by one of the villages in Kitti Municipality. That should be interesting. Like the sakau pounding, I think I will get a roll of film for Teresa to take her own pictures. I felt like a mother anthropologist training her daughter the techniques of the trade during the sakau pounding --- she had to take her own pictures, frame them, and get all the relevant information into the picture.

October 24, 1998

We are going to a traditional feast today in a village in Kitti. The village, Enipein Powe, is Emensio's village; he is a participant in the feast and he said he obtained permission from the Nahmwarki for me to wander freely around the event. The day has already started out hot and humid.

We are waiting for our ride to the village. While we wait I'm looking out into the bay, watching the sunrise, listening to the birds and chickens. The pigs aren't yet up and squealing for breakfast, but they soon will be. Mr. Kim's crew gets ready to leave by 6:30, if not before, so there are the usual packing-up noises coming from the back of the building. They are getting their equipment ready, checking it, making adjustments, and sometimes repairs, and then they are off for the day. Their horn honks, as if to say "come on, let's go".

October 25, 1998

The feast was something you could never imagine. It was the last of the yam feasts in honor of the Nahnmwarki of Kitti Municipality. We arrived to find huge yams hanging from the rafters of the nas, as well as lined up outside on large racks made especially for such things. In one location outside the nas, there are piles of kava plants (for sakau) and sugar cane. These were collected by the four sections of the village --- sort of a competition. And just outside the nas, an um (earth oven) was well underway --- the wood was burning, stones had been piled high and were beginning to be heated. Those stones in the middle of the pile looked as if they were already starting to glow red with heat.

Feast photo Feast photo

Then, just in front of the um and nas, a line of pigs stretched out on banana leaves. The pigs are killed on-site. Apparently, each village section was also responsible for supplying a pig or pigs (their choice). Someone also laid out a carabao. I am told that in the ranking of animal offerings, dog is the highest ranked, then pigs. Carabao are extras, with no rank. This was the first carabao I had actually seen here, and it was dead. It was almost immediately cut up into little pieces, with a leg offering given to the Nahnmwarki. The pigs are thrown onto the top of the um to burn off the hair, then they are opened up, cleaned and thrown back onto the banana leaves splayed. They and the pieces of carabao are covered up to keep the flies and dogs off of them. There are plenty of dogs wandering around, trying to lick up the blood from these animals.

Feast photo Feast photo

Feast photo

During the arrivals of offerings, food for the feasts, preparation of the animals and um, sakau is also being pounded on two of the stones, and the master of ceremony is calling out the recipient of each cup. I was given a cup of sakau periodically when I was inside the nas, although I really don't know where my cup fit into the whole process. I was busy running in and out of the nas, taking pictures and just simply trying to figure out what was going on. My informants were not as informative as I would have liked --- the girls from the Maritime Museum, Rosenda and Lerleen. They are not very familiar with the sequence of events within the feast, and seem to have a difficult time with English. I don't blame them, though; if you do not routinely participate in such events, you are not as familiar with the timing or sequence of activities.

Throughout the day, many speeches are given. These seem to occur between presentations. Once lunch is ready, and the plates of food are prepared for the Nahnmwarki, Nahnkin, their wives and other ranked people, all activity stops. The villagers gather together and serenade the Nahnmwarki. It is a church hymn, I am told, but it is quite beautiful because it is in Pohnpeian. It really doesn't sound like a church hymn at all! Then it is time to eat. The food is brought into the nas by a line of women who are singing, carrying on, whooping, hollering and even dancing. The women do this throughout the day, and it adds quite a bit of festivity to the atmosphere. It definitely brings a smile to your face!

The food is distributed to everyone; then comes a presentation of fabric and sugar cane. Yams are called (by title) for the um and pigs are placed on the um. These are then presented to the Nahnmwarki. The pigs are cut up, with the pieces distributed to various title holders. Next, the carabao. (We were given a piece of carabao; I gave it to Rosenda. She has a bigger family; besides, I know Teresa would not eat any of it because she saw the animal killed.)

Feast photo

Then there is the presentation and distribution of yams. Those hanging in the rafters are cut down. It is an interesting process, as two guys with very sharp machetes are climbing all about the rafters. They cut the hibiscus bark lashings while balancing with their feet the pole to which the yam is tied. Then this pole is gently lowered to a number of guys below, who carry the yam out of the nas. Other yams are called for outside, and these are cut into their respective pieces. Each of us received a piece. I am told I not only have to eat it, but plant a portion of it. But where? At Yvonne's apartments?

Finally, the last event of the day: Sakau pounding. All the stones in the nas (there are supposed to be six) are prepared. They are set up on tires and/or coconut husks. The kava is prepared, and the pounding begins. It is quite rhythmic, and in sync. One wonders if there is someone directing the pace of pounding. The whole sound echoes throughout the nas. One stone is pounded by all women; and their companions are dancing and singing, whooping and hollering to the rhythm of the stones. Sakau is traditionally pounded by men, who work with their shirts off. So, when these women were in the process of preparing their stone, one of the men involved in the event told them they had to take their shirts off just like the men because that is the way it is done. They didn't, and gave him such a scolding that he walked off and left them alone.

The whole atmosphere made you feel as though you had been transported back in time. You almost expected to see everyone in grass skirts. It was a most spectacular event; I only wish there were some way to translate the sounds of the day to paper --- the singing, the chants, the whooping and hollering, the sounds of competition with everyone claiming their presentation is bigger and better than everyone else's.

Throughout the day, behind the nas, children were swimming in the river. There are prepared platforms on each side of the river; each is submerged and made of stone. The descent to the river is by way of a stairway made of cobbles and boulders. It is all very elegant, and timeless in its appearance and quality. You could simply imagine people in ancient times bathing, washing, or simply gathering water.

Cook house
Cook house, Kitti Municipality

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