Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Yap State, FSM - February 1999

January 30, 1999

Anoth is at the south end of the island, the south tip. It is a coastal village, and we had been invited to the open house held in honor of the completion of rebuilding their traditional pebaey, or meeting house. The pebaey is right on the coastal flat --- well, the entire village is --- and immediately on the shore's edge (not more than 50 meters from the pebaey) is the faluw, the men's house. The only thing left of the faluw, however, is its foundation. It is a coral foundation, which is gradually eroding into the sea. In effect, the faluw foundation is an archaeological site.

Pebaey at Anoth
Pebaey at Anoth

Pebaey, front view

In these villages, the pebaey and faluw are used, reused, and rebuilt over time. Their locations generally do not change, so the same structure (or rather foundation) supports several generations of superstructures, all of which follow the same construction plan, with variation only in the decorative elements such as the plaiting in the walls and so on. Both structures are six-sided, and the only difference between the two is that the faluw is closed-walled, and the pebaey is not. That is because the faluw is (or was) used as a dwelling place for young men, where they would learn the skills that would carry them through life, including (but not limited to) fishing, the manufacture of all the tools necessary for fishing, fighting, dancing, oral histories, and of course, sexual skills. Each faluw used to house several girls who were obtained (kidnapped, purchased) from other villages. By contrast, the pebaey is a meeting house, or community house. It did not have need for walls, as it was not a place for permanent dwelling.

Sea turtle roastingTeresa and I were the only girls at the open house; I was told the community had made a conscious decision not to include the women of the community. The festivities included roasting a sea turtle, which I was obliged to try. It really isn't that bad, and tastes quite good when you eat the meat with the fat. But, as one of the chiefs pointed out, it is not something I am accustomed to eat, so it was of course understandable when I handed what was left on my plate over to someone else.

Turtle being prepared Turtle being prepared
Turtle being prepared Turtle being prepared

Then he went on to describe the preparation of the turtle, step-by-step, including how its shell is opened when it is basically half-cooked. There are times, he said, when the heart is still beating at this point. This is when the meat and fat is distributed, and several of the organs are removed. After this, the blood of the turtle continues to cook in its shell; it is this cooked blood that this particular chief prefers. Many others at the site also told me they prefer the cooked turtle blood, and could hardly wait until it was done. This same chief has a son whom Teresa was obliged to watch throughout the course of the day. She did a good job, keeping them both out of trouble and out of harm's way. I think she welcomed this "job" because it kept her occupied.

Anyway, I had to have a big plate full of the meat and fat. And I had to at least taste it in front of a whole bunch of people. So I tasted the meat, but that wasn't good enough. No, no, they said, I was doing it wrong. I had to have the meat with the fat. Well, I did, and it tasted better than just the meat alone.

Teresa was witness to it. I kept telling her to go back to the pebaey, to her soda, but she had to see what was going on. I had things to keep me busy --- mainly I wanted to look more closely at the foundations of a nearby faluw.

Lagoon Foundation
The eroding faluw end as it juts out into the lagoon
The faluw foundation

Faluw base
Faluw base

Faluw base
Eroding portion of faluw base

I also had an opportunity to chat with the chief. What I found interesting is that chiefs like him are raised as chiefs from the time they take their first steps, and that is what he is doing with his son too. He said that he has seen so many changes in the traditions of Yap. Today, he said (and he seemed a little concerned about it), there are people who aren't chiefs but who want to be. So, sometimes, he said, he just steps back and says, go ahead. Then watches. He said they don't know how to do it, and they get frustrated and give it up.

Next: Gachpar and Maa