Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
V. The final push

Yap State, FSM - April 1999

April 16, 1999

Andrew and I are starting to feel the pressure about completing our task at the site: getting the west side mapped before my departure. We have been racing the clock, as it were, getting the remaining platform complexes cleaned up enough for our mapping. Today, however, as we were taking a break, a small piece of pandanus fruit dropped at our feet. A fruit bat had passed overhead. I never saw it, but Dr. Margie Falanruw, research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service out here, said that this area is known to have a lot of fruit bats; they roost here. She was surprised that I hadn't actually seen or heard or smelled them. I am not, however, as I find I tend to get absorbed in my work. It is only when we stop that I notice something un-archaeological about our area, like some strange fingerlike fungus growing on a tree stump, or a couple of green lizards eating the flowers on a coconut palm.

Finger fungus
Finger fungus

Lizard dining
A lizard, center, dines on a coconut flower as we await our ride to the site

Both Dafs 10 and 11 complexes are disturbed by farming and scavenging for stone, so pictures of the features are not particularly interesting.

Daf 10, north end, shows the daf, and at its base, one of its wunbeys (sitting platforms). A lot of the stones have been scavenged from this complex, and farming has torn up some of the pavements. In our mapping, you could see how and where the pavements have been pulled apart, disrupted, and essentially erased.

Daf 10

Daf 11, schist boulder. A squared boulder just below the complex; we ran across it during our mapping work, when we were cutting a line of sight from this complex to the next. Its use is unknown, although it is the largest piece of schist we have seen on the site.

Daf 11

Daf 11, food offering. This is eroding now, but it is a rounded raised structure on the wunbey (sitting platform) immediately adjacent to the daf. It is the place where food was placed as an offering or gift.

Daf 11

Daf 11. This is a short platform just below the daf in this complex; it extends outward over the slope. Its retaining wall has almost eroded away. We have not seen any other platforms like this in the site. We called it a "meditation" platform (our imaginations entertaining us through the day), but it could have been a kind of consultation platform intended for private conversations, out of earshot from those sitting on the wunbey or in the daf.

From the Japanese complex, the slit trench and foxhole.

The pineapple was growing wild on the site, in an area that had at one time been under cultivation.

Daf 6, retaining wall above stream; this was below the Daf 6 complex, and we discovered it by accident. We were mapping the stream course and the retaining walls along the stream banks when we looked up and saw this wall. It runs diagonally (lower right) across the middle of the image. It is a single-course schist cobble and small boulder wall.

April 18, 1999

We went out in the field today after all. It looked as though it was not exactly clearing up, but at least the rain showers would hold off until the afternoon. And they did. I also found a note from Customs in my mailbox today. It is the stuff from Surveyor's Supply. From the list of items, it looks as though they sent a transit, a tripod, a 200 ft. metal tape, a100 ft. fiberglass tape and a bunch of other stuff. I will see tomorrow when I give Customs a visit. I can hardly wait, because it is just like Christmas.

April 19, 1999

I am just waking up, and boy is there ever a heavy rainstorm outside. Like yesterday, I hope it clears up by the time we get ready to go to the field --- we have quite a bit left to do, two platform complexes and two stone paths. I am hoping we can get the stone paths done togther, in the same day --- this provided we don't have to stop and start, going over each feature. Actually Andrew is getting really good out there, only he doesn't have the confidence to recognize that he knows what he is doing. Unlike others, Andrew has an eye for the landscape changes we see in the field --- and that is not something everyone can do. He says it is because the spirits help him. Well, whatever works.

One of the boxes from Surveyor's Supply arrived with all kinds of goodies. I can't wait to start using them. Among the things sent was a transit/level. (Well, I think it is a transit, but it doesn't have all the scope movements a transit is supposed to have; just a leveled scope. But it does have an angle plate, so you can map using angles so long as you zero out on one particular point.) A hand level. Pocket rods --- two, in fact. Three small tapes, two plumb bobs in addition to the plumb bob that came with the transiting level, pencils, marking pens, and a case to carry a tripod in. The only thing that hasn't arrived is the tripod --- maybe on tomorrow's plane.

In fact, just looking at what I have, I can already plan on what to do in the training I am supposed to direct in August --- a two-week job. But I have all the basic equipment now.

Daf 12. This is a very large complex with several terraces and wunbeys. It is also disturbed. Japanese gardening shifted many of the paving and foundation stones to ring plants and create gardening mounds.

This photo shows the south point. The point is a large vertical schist boulder.

The lowest terrace in this complex has a fairly high retaining wall (over 2 meters in places) that forms the edge of the embankment flanking the stream basin, and a series of taro patches along this basin. The retaining wall for this terrace has an unusual feature, a circular inset that opens into the taro patches and stream basin. The purpose of this feature is unclear, although Margie and I thought it might be a means of accommodating a spring outlet (now silted in), to allow it to continue to flow into the drainage basin. In the picture, the camera is looking across the circular opening, at the opposite wall; the stone retaining wall (and reinforced corner at the opening) are visible in this opposite wall.

April 20, 1999

Our base map for the western portion of the site is nearly done. All we have left to do is the Japanese addition, which consists of an earthen foundation for a storage building of some sort, three foxholes and a slit trench. Today, the scent of flowers fills the air. I don't know if it is because it rained last night and early this morning, or because the pressure of completing the mapping has been eased. We worked hard to get to this point: we completed all the traditional platform complexes plus every other feature, including the main stone path through the site. Tomorrow, we will get the Japanese complex mapped, and then we are done.

What is most surprising, looking back over our days, is that we have continued to find some new detail or feature within the site nearly every day we have been out here. Sometimes it is another segment of a stone path, a ramp extending from one platform to another, a large squared boulder of schist that had formerly been covered with vegetation, or the details of recent (Japanese era) farming activity as it has disrupted and cut away portions of pavements.

The day was crowned by two events. The first was when a teacher from the local high school saw us waiting outside a small store for a taxi. He stopped by and in Yapese congratulated us on our project and said we were doing a wonderful job in the preservation of their past. The second was the arrival of the first of two boxes of equipment from Aaron Smith at Surveyor's Supply Co.

April 21, 1999

We have completed mapping the Japanese complex, and with that our work on the base map for the western portion of the site. We don't know what this foundation supported, other than some sort of building of local materials, probably used for storage; otherwise why would the complex be flanked by foxholes and have a slit trench end (or begin) at it and run parallel to the stream for an unspecified length (we never did follow it to its conclusion)? There are no concrete base walls or foundation supports associated with this raised rectangular earthen foundation, although we did find a few brick fragments, as well as some glass and metal fragments on the complex. Two drainages were cut into the foundation just under the approximate drip-line for a roof; one of the drainages flowed into the traditional drainage that had originally defined the side of the stone path to the well. The Japanese had to break the wall of this drainage in order to connect their drip-line drainage to it. One of the foxholes is now planted in taro; the other two, including the slit trench, are nearly obscured by vegetation.

It is now up to Andrew and Mario to complete the clearing and mapping work on the eastern side of the drainage; in essence, they must now put into practice the skills we have developed over this initial phase of the project. My time is up. Next week is reserved for tying up loose ends, packing and shipping my equipment to Kosrae, and one last visit to the site with Dr. Margie next Monday. I have asked her to give me a brief rundown on the vegetation covering the site: is is primary forest? secondary? younger, such as pioneering vegetation after recent clearing? This visit will also give me a chance to summarize the site and its constituents, and to look at it as a whole (as opposed to the daily, task-oriented piecemeal approach I have been following for the last month in an attempt to complete the mapping of just that area we have cleared).

April 22, 1999

Morning. I am having my coffee now. Today is our last mapping day, and then I have to get pictures of the rest of the site --- Monday is to be spent with Margie. She is utterly fabulous, and when Teresa left and I was trying to be brave and not cry (although I can't say I looked like a happy camper), she came up to me at the airport and gave me a huge hug in sympathy because she had done the same thing many times before --- and the only difference is that this was my first time to do this.

Evening. We finished our mapping today, and Andrew ended up giving me a lava-lava. He said it could never make up for everything he has learned from me. He has never learned anything like this from other trainings. As for Margie, I see her Monday and we head out to the site at 9. I started to get some photos today after we finished, but it began raining in torrents. So, that leaves Monday --- but I don't think Margie will mind because it will give her a chance to look around while I pause for pictures.

April 23, 1999

My day is starting out slow and hot. The clouds are gone; it is just blue skies and sun. The thought of boxing stuff up is not that appealing, but I might as well get started on that sort of thing. Today is St. Mary's carnival.

Sister Mary Vincent
Sister Mary Vincent, Yap Catholic School Principal:
A marvelous woman

School carnival
One of the kids at the school carnival in dance costume

Evening. Obviously, I went to the carnival, and saw "Sister" and others. The librarian came up to me to say that she really misses Teresa. Other kids came up to me too, asking where she was, why wasn't she here, and why did she have to go home. It was kind of sad. I took a ton of pictures too. I only hope they turn out. I filled up the digital camera (well, Yvette helped me, by going around and taking pictures). Hilary (Yvette's grandfather) was a kick in the pants when I asked to take his picture for Teresa --- I said smile pretty, and he asked if he should show his stained teeth --- I said he better make it a big smile, then, as this is going to Teresa. He did.

I took some pictures of a couple of the ladies sitting near him. They were sitting with Hilary, only on the opposite side of the resting house. They got the biggest kick out of seeing their picture on the digital camera. They giggled and got embarrassed, but kept looking at themselves. When I turned it onto the taking-picture mode and handed it to them to use, they declined to take a picture.

April 24, 1999

Had a long note from Aaron Smith at Surveyor's Suppply Company. He said that surveyors in North Carolina now have to be adept at seeing obscure changes in the landscape too, as they can be held liable if they miss an unmarked grave or something during the course of a survey.

I have to finish the task of packing tonight. It is definitely not one of those things I enjoy. I can't believe how much there is still to go. Perhaps because it is so spread out at the moment.

April 26, 1999

Dr. Margery Falanruw
Dr. Margery
Falanruw, botanist, touring Dinay

I spent five hours in the field with Dr. Margie Falanruw today, going over each and every daf complex. We went through the site methodically, working our way from the main stone path, through various complexes and the tributary stream that is probably a source of building materials, to the top of the site on the western side, and from there we made a big loop through other dafs, finally to end up at the Japanese complex. Throughout it all, Margie was commenting on the vegetation, the variety of ferns and mosses present, the traditional raised gardening beds, and the Japanese-style farming furrows, with random comments on some of the fauna, such as the cane toads and the Monarch birds.

Dinay village is unlike other traditional villages in Yap, at least those known from the settlement pattern that has come to represent the traditional form: villages oriented to the coast, at an environmental transition point that provides equal access to both interior and coastal/marine resources. These have come to be known as high ranking, high-caste villages; low-caste villages are relegated to interior locations that are more like suburbs of high-caste villages, deriving from the inland reaches of these villages, than true interior locations. Dinay is in a true interior location, in a jungled stream drainage that flows from the mountains onto the coastal plain and finally drains into the lagoon. The village is just below the ridgetops of the mountains, inside the jungle where it is cooler and more protected, but with access to the ridgetops, where the environment abruptly changes to a savanna with full exposure to the heat of the tropical sun. Here, one can see for miles across the island, from one side of the lagoon to the other, and even the mouth of the stream that flows through the village.

This has to be one of the older villages, possibly one of the first settled sites, now long abandoned as populations grew and people began expanding their settlements, moving closer to the coast. According to oral histories, all of the older sites are in locations such as this --- in the interior, in drainages in the mountains, generally just inside the jungle and just below the ridgetop savannas. According to these oral histories, this was the case because people did not have fire or pottery at that time, which "was in the days when spirits and people lived side by side." They needed a way to prepare their food, so they would go to the savannas and dry it, or they would eat it raw. Dinay village figures into the stories of this time, and it is said to be the place where the spirits introduced the notion of fire and pottery to the people of Yap; this knowledge was given as a gift to the village, which then had the responsibility for dispersing it among others. The details of this story are only partially intact, but it is seen as the impetus for Gitam village's own special place in the knowledge of pottery-making on the island. Gitam is downstream from Dinay, just as the stream emerges from the jungle onto the coastal plain; the village is known for its production of pottery. Margie commented that it would have been nice to conduct a series of interviews with the old ladies of Gitam about pottery, pottery making, and the stories that go with it, as well as to have arranged a tour of the site for the old ladies, so they could see the place from which the knowledge of pottery-making came. It is too late for us to do that now, but upon my return in August, we should be able to set up visits with some of the old ladies of Gitam renowned for their pottery.

Dinay is different from the "traditional village" in other ways too, outside of location. It has no stone money (if its position in the settlement of the island as relayed in the oral histories is a consideration, then its entire history of occupation, use and abandonment all occurred before stone money time); it has no pebaey (community meeting house); it has no malal (dancing ground); it has no faluw (men's house); and it has no women's paths (paths which bypass certain areas of men's activities, so that these activities are not "contaminated" by the presence of women; if, however, these paths are earthen foot paths, they might well have been lost to time).

Some of the features present in Dinay that are intriguing include a small cemetery area that was probably a family burial plot, as opposed to the cemeteries associated with low-caste villages. In Yap, only low-caste villages handle the dead and maintain cemeteries for the higher-caste villages; generally, you do not find cemeteries in high-caste villages, although you might find graves for special people in these villages. Stream crossings are unique too, although admittedly we are only looking at tangible remains; anything organic would have disappeared long ago.

Stream crossings consist of a series of boulders and cobbles strategically placed across the stream from the end of one path to another, on opposite sides of the stream. We used these crossings throughout the entire course of our fieldwork. Margie suggested that such crossings may indicate a lower-caste village, as no high-caste member would get his feet wet crossing a stream. As our discussions progressed over this, I pointed out that the village may have been occupied before the caste system developed, so we cannot make any judgments one way or the other in this regard. There could have been bridges of organic material over a foundation of these boulders, but with differential preservation, such features are no longer visible in the archaeological record. Even if the crossings were only the boulders, at high stream flows the tops of the boulders would remain dry. Using the boulders as a stream crossing presents an environmentally sound decision that allows the stream to continue flowing unimpeded and is well integrated with the entire hydrological management we have seen throughout this ancient village. Its complex network of paved drainages direct water flow off the slopes into taro patches and away from built features, and the retaining walls and pavements seem to serve as a way of deterring erosion.

The food-presentation platforms were also intriguing. Today, or rather, in traditional villages, these places are generally square-to-rectangular in shape, yet in Dinay, we have rounded presentation platforms. The presentation platform on Daf 7, with its border of standing schist slabs, was a mystery to Margie, and held a fascination for her over any of the other features. She had never seen anything like it. The same too, with the circular inset in the lower terrace of the Daf 12 complex; we spent a lot of time talking about the possible function of that enigmatic feature.

Our tour, as I said, started with the main stone path that runs through the village and connects it to other villages to the north and south. The path parallels the main stream through this drainage. It is a well-constructed path, built up more than a meter with stone and soil in many places, drainages on either side, stone retaining walls, and a stone pavement. As you enter the village from the north, you leave the intervillage pathway at a junction point with the village pathway. That is to say, there is a break in the path, a kind of culturally contrived sign that conveys the message "you have now entered a village." At this north entrance of the village, there is a large resting or sitting platform adjacent to the path; it is mirrored on the opposite side of the stream by another sitting platform. When I asked some old people about this feature, I was told this was a meeting place, where people from Dinay would meet with people from other villages. Such a meeting place would prevent disruption of the village by outsiders, as well as maintain a veil of secrecy about the strength or resources within the village. Inside the village itself there is another meeting area, by the well, but this was probably intended only for the village and not for meetings with members of other villages.

The opposite, or south, end of the village is also marked by a break in the path, as well as a sitting or resting platform adjoining the path. But unlike its counterpart in the north, there is no parallel platform on the opposite side of the stream drainage.

I won't go into our daf by daf discussions. Mostly, we talked about the general pattern of construction, with a daf foundation, multiple wunbeys (sitting platforms; in traditional villages, there is generally only one wunbey per daf, but here we have found many), multiple platforms and terraces, the network of drainages across the hillside, the amount of labor involved in moving all the rock used in the pavements and retaining walls, the energy it took to create, fill, and level foundations, the effects of Japanese and traditional gardening practices, and the toll time has taken in returning the site and all its feature complexes to a natural state.

The boundaries of the village and its features were determined more by gardening activities than anything else, whether it was the Japanese furrows or the raised gardening beds that have been identified as traditional features, but which are clearly not contemporary with occupation of the village. The raised garden beds are located too close to daf complexes; in fact they interrupt the general harmony that characterizes the feature complexes and their distribution over the landscape. As Margie noted, the raised beds represent an intensification of gardening activities, and probably a much-increased population. Their presence, so close to daf complexes, suggests that Dinay was already abandoned by the time the gardens were constructed and worked. Stone used in these raised beds as well as several Japanese gardening features was scavenged from daf complexes, retaining walls and stone paths; pavements were torn apart and absorbed into expanded garden areas, the well in the middle of the village was enlarged with the debris cast aside into a large heap that is incongruous with the neatness and tidiness of the surrounding terraces, and a fortified Japanese structure was raised at the south end of the village site.

We talked of the succession of vegetation on the site. The current vegetation, according to Margie, represents a young pioneering stage, most certainly post-war. But, as we moved toward the top of the site on the western slope, larger forest trees were present. They are from a secondary forest, as nearly the entire landscape of Yap is a managed landscape with virtually no primary forest remaining. The arr tree in the Daf 1 complex, she said, was an old tree, though she could not say how old. It is traditionally used for medicinal and magical purposes, and it reinforces our own designation of this feature as the magician's house because it is set apart from the other complexes and is located at the end of the village. The appearance of poison trees (Semicarpus venomosa), she said, marks a transition point in the succession of vegetation stages, from pioneering/post-agriculture/disturbance to a secondary forest. Clearly any gardening activity, whether it was the Japanese furrows or the raised beds, would have needed the forest canopy removed. How long the raised beds have been worked is a question that still remains to be answered; the presence of the Japanese gardening activity is easier to date, and may be the more recent of the two.

Where do we go from here? Dinay Village offers insights into some fairly fundamental aspects of Yap culture and tradition. If, for example, this really was the principal place for pottery production, and the place from which the techniques of making pottery were derived, then we should see a wider variety of forms and styles here than anywhere else on the island. This would require excavation, and lots of it. The pottery visible on the surfaces of middens is all laminated ware, which, according to pottery studies from Intoh and others, is considered a "late" tradition, after A.D. 500. But what is below the surface? What is at the base of these middens? What about other areas of the site itself? Maybe work areas have changed over the centuries this village has been occupied.

We need lots of dates for this site as well. Dates for the sequences of building complexes, for occupation, for the growth of the village, and for testing the precepts of oral history and the whole notion of the early founding and occupation of this site. Why, for instance, settle here, in the inland reaches of the island? Where did the initial settlers land and begin their lives on this island? If we follow the oral history, the earliest dates from Yap (from the south end of the island on land formed by particular natural and supernatural means after Dinay and the other early villages had been long settled) should actually be later than dates from sites like Dinay. If so, then we begin to have potential settlement patterns that parallel those in Palau, where dates of initial occupation are being pushed back by 1,000 to 2,000 years in the volcanic islands, on sites associated with the terraced hillsides and massive earthworks. Yap could easily parallel this pattern --- its language was presumably split from the same parent stock as Palauan, at the same time, and evolved into its own unique form. The next question that arises in my mind is, Do we see genetic markers that set Yap apart from from the rest of the Pacific, that might even be shared with Palau, a close neighbor?

The western Pacific is an intriquing place. It is different from the rest of the Pacific: there is a kernel (albeit small) of S.E. Asian island cultures here that you don't see elsewhere, and there is a unique quality to development and constituent parts of the villages and communities --- the stone roads, the platform complexes, meeting places, gardening places, and a real sophisticaton in the network of drainages.

There is still so much to do here, including Dinay. I think it would take a dozen lifetimes to complete all the work and begin to address the growing list of issues that derive from the archaeological record. We have come a long way from the 1950s, and what has been perceived as the beginning of scientific investigation into the archaeology of the Pacific. Our perception of the prehistoric era is changing at a rapid pace, with increasing evidence that people have been moving around this end of the world for a lot longer than we have heretofore thought. I think places like western Micronesia hold some clues to these movements, and the roots of the great linguistic and cultural diversity that ultimately spread throughout the entire Pacific basin.

April 27, 1999

I finally got my things to air freight. They will be leaving the island on the same plane as me. But will they arrive in Kosrae at the same time?

April 28, 1999

My plane is 6 hours late. I took the time to walk down to the Yap Women's Association and bought a few things just for me. They have a wonderful program where they weave many sorts of baskets, mats and such, and use the money from sales for education and community benefits. This seems to be how islands out here keep some of their traditions alive, through women's associations or senior citizen centers.

I am going to miss Yap.

Next: Kosrae