Saturday, 1 February 2014

Fara Way 4

                       “Untie the dove cord; when it is free it sings”
                                 Rotuman Proverb (applied to any girl who goes Fara)
“Was that a ukulele?” Asked Robyn, from under her fan.
“I think so.” I said. But I was wrong.
It was five ukuleles, two guitars, a drum, and thirty voices, which cracked open the still softness of the tropical night, with a thunderous chorus of slow rhythmic clapping, and three-part harmony.

  ‘Aus noa‘ia , ‘Aus noa‘ia gagaj ne hanue te‘ Noa‘ia
  ‘E garue maha ma re se kiu ‘a‘ana
  ‘Urtoa‘ het ne ‘a e na se ‘on la‘ lam lama Hea‘se‘ ka siriag ‘e av ta ‘e av ta
  ‘Ua motu lei lei sega talofa Rotuma.

  Greetings to you, greetings to you chiefly owner of the house
  Thank you for your hard work in preparing a thousand of taro
  The spear that you threw flew so high that I wish it broke history’s record
  An island so good, Greetings Rotuma.

There was a knock on the window.
“Robyn? Wink?” It was Julie. “It’s Fara time.”
We threw on our clothes quickly, and opened our powder blue door onto a landscape of faces, illuminated with hurricane lamps and flashlights. Sitting and swaying on a sea of pandanus mats, was an entire village from the other side of the island, shoes on the grass around them. The women had flower garlands in their hair and te fui around their necks, and waved their fans and rolled their torsos in time to the music.  The singing sounded Hawaiian, if the Hawaiian had been crossed with Finnish and Tongan, pushed back into their throats, and projected out in lyrical explosions. The enthusiasm of the younger children would roar into hollers or shouts. I saw Julie and the girls, moving stooped among the musicians, sprinkling them on the heads and shoulders with nau te perfume, or talcum powder, or both. At other houses we would get stick deodorant or Vaseline. Villagers of all ages got up to dance around the main body of minstrels. Men asked a woman to dance with a bug-eyed warrior stance, bending their knees and throwing an occasional leg sideways into the air. The women asked a man to dance more modestly, by bowing their heads and throwing their arms forward in supplication, or running a discrete hand up his back. And the men postured and the women undulated, and it was all very sexual and innocent and ridiculously romantic at the same time, and everyone was laughing and smiling and clapping, and rapturously happy, in tempo and in tune with the full moon, and the rest of the night sky and the crashing ocean just beyond. Everybody smiled like Julie smiled, and Robyn and I were exhilarated by all the excitement. We felt alive.
Between songs, the dancers, which would often make up almost half the travelling roundtrip Fara troupe, would sit down again, before the next ukulele strum and single voice would begin a new round of celebration. The songs were all about love and religion, unattainable or impossible, alone or in combination. Later in our stay, we would come to know why.

         Kepoi ka ‘a e ’ofa se gou ma gou la holi se ‘a e  
         La ‘itarua la rotuag ‘esea
         Ka ‘a e la na ea gou la maomaaetou
         La famori se ra ea ‘a e ma gou.
         Ma gou la leuof ‘e kis se ‘a ea ko le‘ ha n te‘
         La ‘itarua la rotuag ‘esea.

          If you love me, I will be converted to you 
          So that we will be in the same religion
          You will hide me so that I will be hard to find, 
          And that people will not see the two of us.
          When will I come to you my lady?
          So that we will be in the same religion living together.

They partied for almost half an hour, before the dancers sat down among the rest of the band, and Julie and her daughters, and her husband, brought out refreshments, of watermelon and bananas and pineapples and biscuits, and more sprinkling of powder and perfume. As the days went by, Robyn and I learned to recognize when this particular Fara group was about to leave, by the Noa‘ia noa‘ia song they would sing last, as a thank you to the hosts whose sleep they had interrupted.

    Noa‘ia, noa‘ia, noa‘ia ‘e ‘es kefkef pene‘isi‘ ma lol pene‘isi ma ‘amis
    täe la la‘atomis... Fu‘omus.
     Noa‘ia, noa‘ia Kaunohoag gagaj
     Kepoi ka teet re ‘e ‘otomis fara,
     Ro t ‘a k fu‘omusa ka ‘a m la ‘utuof se mua.
    Gagaja la hanisi a‘ roan ‘os ma uri
    Rere ta tera nit la po la ‘is la haipoag hoi‘a ki.

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for giving us sweet smelling powder
    And fragrant oil and we are leaving ... Farewell
    Thank you, thank you Chiefly household
    If there’s anything wrong in our ‘fara’
    Do forgive us and we are moving on
    Let us hope that the lord will lengthen the days of our lives
    So that one day we will meet again.

But this wouldn’t be the end of the formalities. The Fara troupe leader would express his thanks for the gifts.

               Noa‘ia ko gagaj ‘e ‘es lol pene‘isi
               Ma kef kef pene‘isi ma vaselin pene‘isi
               Ma sa n pene‘isi, ma ‘a mis ta e la la‘atomis
               Fu‘ omus.

                Thank you oh nobles for having oil, nice smelling
                And powder, nice smelling and vaseline, nice smelling
                And perfume, nice smelling and we will be leaving

And Julie’s family would thank them back.

                 Ma rie, ma rie, ma rie, mak lelei.

                Thanks, thanks, thanks, for the good songs dances.

After a few more personal exchanges and jokes, the Fara group went off to the next house on their itinerary, Robyn and I thanked Julie and the family for the wonderful entertainment, and went back to our linoleum slumber.
Or so we thought. In our dreams.
My eyes were beginning to wobble, and then I heard it, just once.


Friday, 31 January 2014

Fara Way 3

We rejoined the girls and continued towards the smoke. Young boys were eating mangos and throwing a rugby ball around, in the water. Beside them, some older ones played vollyball. But the smoke was a bit further, on the far side of the plaited-palm thatched roof, that appeared to be an outdoor kitchen.
“Picnic.” Said one of the girls. “For Av mane’a.”
“What’s Av mane’a?” Robyn asked.
“Time to play.” She said, explaining that Av mane’a was the hybrid traditional Rotuman and Christian harvest festival, the hottest season of the year, beginning in December and ending in mid-January. Time is spent on picnics, harvest festivals, kava drinking, playing cards, chatting, and going Fara. “Nobody works hard now, they take it easy.”
Everyone in the picnic scene we entered was definitely taking it easy, especially the biggest ones, lounging half asleep on pandanus mats in the shade. The only movement in the heat was that of the food, which migrated to us, in huge portions of tuna and poat kau corned beef, cooked noodles and rice and a’ana taro, and watermelon and mangos. The flies were having their own festival on top of everything.
“Picnic.” Was all one large Pickwickian Polynesian could muster, between puffs on a cigarette. Between the heat and the flies and the scenery, we didn’t have much of an appetite, but it would have been impolite to refuse. We stayed long enough to show our interest and gratitude, and returned to Julie’s, in time for dinner. The inside of the house had Western furniture, but it was cooler on the pandanus mats. Julie brought out the shark and the palusami (my favorite) and the fekei coconut milk and tapioca and taro pudding, while the girls used their pandanus fans to cool our heads, and keep away the flies. At sundown, there was a change of guard, when the mosquitoes took over. We had a quick shower, before the water supply was cut off, as it was every night, to allow the reserves to refill. Robyn and I felt momentarily refreshed, until we emerged from the shower, to as much heat and humidity as there would be every day. Except perhaps for that golden half an hour, just before sunrise, when it cooled off just enough to allow your sweat glands reserves to refill.
We said goodnight to Julie and the rest of our new family, and retired to the confined comfort of our tiny square shack. We lasted on the sponge mattress for less than five minutes, before rolling onto the only slighter cooler linoleum. The atmosphere was only marginally more breathable than that on Venus, and there would be no chance for Venus, in this atmosphere.
“Robyn?” It was Julie.
“Yes, Julie?” Said Robyn.
“Would you like a fan?” I watched the tension fall away from Robyn’s grim perspiring face, replaced with the ecstatic delight she was anticipating, in having some moving air. I looked up at the two bare wires, protruding from the concrete, and thanked whoever had put them there.
“That would be wonderful.” She said. And Julie, true to her word, handed Robyn a fan. A spade-shaped, tightly woven pandanus fan. I watched her face drop, as she thanked Julie, and began the repetitive wrist motion that would accompany her through the next week, even when she was asleep. I would watch, transfixed, as Robyn became Rotuman, able to fan herself continuously, while comatose. In the ultimate paradise of heat and flies, it was a primary habitat adaptation but an essential survival skill.
“Robyn?” It was Julie again.
“Yes Julie?” Said Robyn.
“You know tonight is the first night of Fara.” She said.
“Fara?” Robyn Asked.
“Fara.” Said Julie. “So much fun.” And she was gone. And then, for an hour or so, so were we.
My eyes were just beginning to wobble, and then I heard it, just once.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fara Way 2

“Welcome to Rotuma.” Said the big frizzy-haired Fijian
stewardess. And we were. In spades.
Down the stairs and just beyond the stone tiki and the long variegated croton hedge and the coconut palms, was a single white Nissen pickup, a ponytail, and the biggest smile in the Southern Sea. She wore a blue shirt and a floral lava-lava, and nothing on her feet.
“Are you Robyn and Wink?” She asked. The odds were rhetorical.
“Are you Julie?” Robyn asked. She beamed.
“These are my three daughters.” She said. And everyone felt like it was a homecoming, for the first time. We all piled in the back of the pickup, and the driver, a friend of the family, took off ahead of us. We bounced along the soft white coral sand road, in and out of potholes, towards Motusa village, near the narrow isthmus. There were seven districts on Rotuma, and Motusa was in Itu'ti'u. We came through another croton hedge, to a simple concrete house with an iron roof, and a full clothesline that went on forever, under the flame trees and coconut palms and breadfruit.
Julie’s husband, John, was smiling as well, as he had laid out two big sharks out front, and was preparing to filet them, for our dinner. The flies were everywhere, and crazy. I didn’t realize until later, that it wasn’t just the sharks. Most of the biomass of Rotuma was flies.
Julie and her family had constructed two new tiny white shacks, with white vinyl siding and powder blue doors. She opened one, and invited us to put our packs inside. There was a sponge mattress on a linoleum floor. In a corner was a box covered with a lava-lava, on which sat a big yellow bouquet of flowers. On the only shelf was a bird of paradise. A pair of bare wires projected through the concrete, above the treated New Zealand pine paneling. Julie handed us two cold green coconuts. It was ecstasy.
We asked if we could go for a walk down the beach. I thought it was a polite formality, and it never occurred to me that, in an island culture so remote and isolated, the idea of separating awhile from your family, real or adopted, might ever be interpreted as antisocial behavior. But, for a brief movement, I saw a sag in Julie’s smile, before it came on again, twice as bright.
“Of course.” She said. “My daughters will go with you.” And six brown feet led the way, six white soles spraying six small plumes of whiter sand in front of us, as we bolted for the water.
We didn’t get very far. The girls watched Robyn and I wade into the lagoon, but they wouldn’t swim themselves. Apparently they didn’t know how. In it or on it, the Rotumans had long since turned their backs on the sea. Most of the fish they ate was out of a tin because, outside the thin reef were hundreds of miles of raging water, and only two or three seaworthy boats, whose outboards could consume a week’s wage in petrol in less than an hour.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Fara Way 1

                                                            Fara Way

                          “Their bodies were curiously marked with the figures of men, dogs,
                            fishes and birds upon every part of them; so that every man was a
                            moving landscape.”
                                                       George Hamilton, Pandora’s surgeon, 1791

The whole scene was a moving landscape, directly under us, just over two hundred years after Captain Edwards had arrived on the HMS Pandora. He had been looking for the Bounty. We would find another.
The pilot of our Britten-Norman banked off the huge cloud he had found over six hundred kilometers north of the rest of Fiji, and sliced down into it sideways, like he was cutting a grey soufflé. Nothing could have prepared us for the magnificence that opened up below, with the dispersal of the last gasping mists.
A fringing reef, barely holding back the eternal explosions of rabid frothing foam and every blue in the reflected cosmos, encircled every green in nature. On the edge of both creations were the most spectacular beaches in the Southern Sea. Captain Edwards had called it Grenville Island. Two hundred years earlier, it was named Tuamoco by de Quiros, before he went on to establish his doomed New Jerusalem in Vanuatu.
But that was less important for the moment. We had reestablished level flight, and were lining up on the dumbbell-shaped island’s only rectangular open space, a long undulating patch of grass, between the mountains and the ocean. Hardly more than a lawn bowling pitch anywhere else, here it was the airstrip, beside which a tiny remote paradise was waving all its arms.
Our journey had started in the dark cold depths of our Vancouver Island winter. I was looking for a small diversion, on our annual southern migration to New Zealand. There was a need to be practical, because any excursion off the cheaper routes would carry penalty, in money, or time, or both. But this one looked to be the prize- an incredibly remote Polynesian Island in a Melanesian ocean, serviced by a new once weekly flight from Nandi, without too many hiccoughs or other gaseous threats to existence.
I went online. There was no accommodation. In order to visit, one needed an invitation from a local family, with whom one would stay. I went deeper, and looked up whom I might be able to contact to arrange such an indulgence. Somehow, in the deepest recesses of my desktop, I found a man who had originally come from there, and had actually settled here. I looked him up in my local directory. Sosefo Avaiki. I dialed his number.
“Hello.” Said the voice.
“Hello.” I said back, and introduced myself, and told him that I wanted to visit his island. Long pause.
“Why?” He asked.
“I hear it’s a special place.” I said. Longer pause.
“When do you want to go?” He asked. I told him.
“That’s during Fara.” He said.
“Fara?” I asked.
“Fara.” He said. “No sleep.” He said he’d get back to me. A month later he called, and told me it was all set. The family would meet us at the airstrip, and the flights had been approved.
“No sleep.” He added.
Six months later, Robyn and I approached the Sunflower Airlines desk in Nandi, and were issued boarding passes for the once weekly flight to paradise. The plane was double-booked, which meant that half the king-sized Polynesians in the transit lounge would not be getting home for Christmas- at least not on this flight, despite being in possession of a valid ticket. The only other way was the once a month boat from Suva, a two day voyage that departed from the other side of Viti Levu. Robyn and I were lucky, perhaps we weighed less than others, on the scales they suspended us on, before issuing our cards.
From the air was the remnant of a massive volcano with
many smaller cones, eight miles long and less than three
wide, sixteen square miles of a larger eastern part, connected to a western peninsula by the low narrow Motusa isthmus, a few hundred feet across. The legend of its formation had come with Raho, who brought two baskets of earth from Samoa, and marked his creation with a coconut leaf, tied around a fesi tree. His rival’s arrival came in the form of a Samoan chief named Tokainiua, who tied a drier coconut leaf around the same tree, claiming that he had been there first because his leaf was more dehydrated. Raho became so angry that he tore up chunks of the island, creating the smaller islands of Hafliua, Hatana, and Uea. Its original inhabitants had actually come from wither Melanesia or Micronesia, followed by Samoan and Tongan invasions just after de Quiros went by. The colonization is called the ‘Westward Polynesian Backwash,’ but there were also stories about a Chinese Junk that had also left a cargo of DNA in its wake, the Tikopians, who plundered the place, and the Niueans, who tried to introduce cannibalism, but were rebuffed.
We landed where the trees weren’t, braking clumsily as we passed all the waving arms.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Big Money 8

Robyn hung out at the pool while I splurged for a cigar at the bar. No sticks were involved. My money went up in smoke, into a ring that hung in the air, like a large rai stone wheel. Later we descended to examine the double-hulled voyaging canoe down the hill, assembled from planks and rope and painted orange and black, lying silent under thatch and in the shadow of some of the most renowned navigators in the Pacific. In the supermarket were cats, and rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, against a backdrop wall of colorful canned goods, mostly Spam and corned beef and other dead remnants of fair and honest traffic. We spent our final evening in a sushi restaurant, against a local fish chart that went on forever.
And then it was over, and we found ourselves back at the sign on the refuse bin in the airport. Do not spit betel nut chew into this garbage can. It was still surrounded by splotches of orange respect.
Five years after we left Yap, Trader Ridge went into escrow, and the New Yorkers went home.

     Capt. David O'Keefe: Where did I go wrong, old man?
     Fatumak, Medicine Man: The whale that swallows the dolphin chokes
             and dies, but the whale who lives without greed is the king of the
                                                                    His Majesty O’Keefe, 1954

For the Yapese, however, the treachery of fair and honest traffic is about to get much worse. American aid currently accounts for seventy per cent of public spending, and Washington has put its Micronesian allies on notice that it will end all subsidies by 2023. Enter the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the US Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs, David Cohen, and a speech he made in 2007. Christianity was alien to the Pacific until the 19th Century. Today, it is a fundamental part of most Pacific cultures.
To help smooth the way, Mr. Cohen, now a lawyer in LA, was one of ‘several American consultants’ hired by a very wealthy Chinese developer to ‘help assess community support’ for a megaproject proposal for Yap.  He was flown to meet him in China on the developer’s private plane.
“I played an advisory role rather than an advocacy role.” He said. And I believe him. For what treachery could a nice Jewish boy get up to, with his deep insight into the fundamental part that Christianity played in the colonization of the Pacific, as a Los Angeles lawyer, on the private jet of a Chinese developer?
The answer lies in the identity of the Chinese developer. Deng Hong is a master of the public private partnership. The son of an Air Force Officer, Deng spent eight years in the military, sold clothes in a Beijing market, became and importer-exporter to San Francisco, married an American girl, and returned home to earn almost a billion dollars, building convention centers, and resorts for Beijing’s burgeoning bourgeoisie, on government land. His company, Exhibition and Travel Group, ETG, built Jiuzhai Paradise in the Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, and the Intercontinental Hotel in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. I’m not sure they consulted the giant pandas, or the Tibetans. His Panda Travel agency boasts of arranging a million international trips a year for Chinese tourists.
Deng’s proposed billion dollar development on Yap involves the construction of 10 luxury hotels, a 4000-room casino and golf resort, a convention center, and the expansion of Yap's airport to allow it to handle jets large enough to fly directly to Yap from Mainland China, just over three hours from Shanghai. Choosing Yap was simple, said Yang Gang, the island's local ETG representative. “The location is close to China.” he said, sitting in his Yap apartment, lit by a bare light bulb, a Spam can overflowing with cigarette butts on the kitchen table.
And the Americans beget the Chinese invasion of imported workers, doubling the island’s population, dividing Yap into a ‘tourist area’ and a ‘native town community’ of apartments for the displaced residents. Ancestral villages would disappear.“I don't know why they think we will take their land.” Said Yang Gang, ticking off the benefits that the project would bring to residents. “We can't take over. We aren't Japanese soldiers. We do all business legally, with permits. We never force anyone to lease land. It's all based on free will.”
But wait. It appears that Deng Hong has been arrested by Chinese Communist Party anti-corruption officials, for improprieties linked to some of his land deals. But Mr. Yang is still signing land leases and pointed to a recent visit by the Chinese ambassador to Micronesia as a signal of support. “The project is going forward smoothly.” He said in an email.
Robyn and I boarded our Continental flight to Pohnpei. She wore a tiara of orange orchids, and posed for a photo under the bilingual Airline Ticketing sign. I hadn’t noticed the second language at the time. It was Mandarin.
The people of Yap have a long history of making big money the hard way. But the real big money, is coming down the tree, head first.

             “The price we have to pay for money is sometimes liberty.”
                                                                        Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 27 January 2014

Big Money 7

“With regard to the character of these people, little can be said in their
     favour. They are exceedingly treacherous, and should an opportunity
     offer, would not hesitate to cut off any vessel which might visit the
     island. Foreign finery however is a great temptation to savages and
     excites their covetous disposition to attempt obtaining by force, what
     their indolent habits prevents them from procuring by a fair and
     honest traffic. The dress of the males, if such it may be called, is
     slovenly in the extreme.”
       Andrew Cheyne, A Description of Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean, 1852

Most of the treachery, from where Robyn and I were quartered, had actually come from the covetous disposition of the visitors. When Andrew Cheyne arrived in Yap, for two months in the 1840s, he brought a disastrous sea cucumber enterprise, and an influenza epidemic that killed fifty people in the Tomil district. He barely escaped from Chief Leok’s plan to kill him in reprisal.
When Robyn and I walked up to Trader Ridge, that magnificent looking South Seas Inn that was in our view and on our horizon across Chamorro Bay, since the first day, indolent habits were still making fair and honest traffic difficult. But it was the habits of the New York owners, gathered behind the desk with their fax machine and calculators, that gave offense. We just wanted to know if it was possible to drop our things off early on the day of our reservation, because I had arranged a dive booking with Beyond the Reef for early the next morning. Apparently, it wasn’t, and we had committed some unspeakable sin for even climbing the hill to inquire. The Japanese had begat the Americans, and there were flies. Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet. Except when you meet it coming down headfirst.
The dive in Mills Channel was brilliant. My buddy was a chubby brown bald Oriental-looking Marlon Brando with a chin beard, who was so involved with his betel nut chew that it accompanied him underwater. I could track him from the occasional orange streak that appeared in his bubbles. If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It's the ultimate hustle. Chubby took me right to the manta coral cleaning stations, and back to my first encounter with them, snorkeling off Bora Bora, when the sky overhead went dark. There were Buffalo fish, and a lone Yap money stone, at the bottom. Liquid Assets.
Robyn met me back at Trader Ridge, on time to check in, where one of the New Yorkers tried to tone down the treachery, and turn up the charm. She smiled like the Yap crocodile fish I had just see below the surface. One of the staff, betel chew in cheek, showed us to out room. It was calm and well appointed with tropical hardwood furnishings, and a ceiling fan. I read more of what Andrew Cheyne had written of Yap, a century and a half earlier.

‘When Magellan arrived there on 6th March 1521, he named the group    ‘Islands of the Lateen Sails,’ but on further acquaintance with the people he changed the name to ‘Ladrones’ (the Islands of Thieves). The betel-nut tree is cultivated with the greatest care at this island. It is a beautiful slender palm; and grows amongst the coconut trees, which it resembles in appearance. The nuts are pulled before they are ripe, and are chewed, with the usual condiments - lime and Aromatic leaves - by both sexes. These people like all savages are exceedingly superstitious, one of which is their mode of procuring a light for their cigars. I have often wondered when sitting in their houses - where they generally have good fires - at seeing both men and women labouring away to procure a light by the friction of two sticks, and they sitting close to the fire at the time. On enquiring their reason for this unnecessary labour, their reply was, that were they to light their cigars from the fire, some calamity would be sure to happen.’

Big Money- Stone Money on Yap

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Big Money 6

The new rulers conscripted the islanders to modify their ancient footpaths to accommodate wheeled vehicles, and dig a canal across the archipelago. When the Yapese proved unwilling, the Germans painted black crosses on the most valuable rai in the disobedient villages, a symbolic takeover of ownership, to be reclaimed only by in provision of the labor being withheld. The modern financial management was more barbaric than the megalithic culture it was fused with. Even worse, the Germans forbade the Yapese from travelling more than 200 miles from their island, solving the problem of inflation by cutting off supply, and price-fixing the largest money in the world. The one good thing the Germans brought was an end to the highly complex caste seven tiered ranking system that existed among Yap villages, based on violent warfare and inter-village intrigues. Lower ranked villages were required to pay tribute, and prohibited from harvesting and eating more desirable seafood.
Robyn and I moved out of our first accommodation to what would become our favorite, a great family run place further into Chamorro Bay, with a view of the water, and the coconut palm forested hills on the other side. The ESA had opened in the 1970s, but was as good as new. We arranged our books and Honey Crunch cereal and Japanese bottled water on our table looked down from our balcony onto another, full of wrapped Christmas presents for the staff party that evening. The only thing the ESA didn’t have was a corkscrew, so Robyn and I walked back to the Pathway’s bar, to open our bottle of Jacob’s Creek chardonnay for the evening festivities. There was an old State of Yap jeep, filled to the roof with garbage, along the roadway. It was surrounded by splotches of betel nut chew.
And the Spanish had begat the Germans, who begat the Japanese. In 1914 Japan brought rice and infrastructure, and a law allowing Japanese men to marry Yapese women, but not vice versa. The vice continued with the expulsion of all foreign companies and Japanese control over all business, the importation of Chamorros from Saipan to work the phosphate mines with the locals, and the conversion of Colonia into a small Japanese town, the Nipponese and other foreigners outnumbering the Yapese inhabitants. In 1942 they began drafting the islanders into the Japanese military. Luckily, the Americans bypassed Yap, in their ‘island-hopping strategy’ of WWII. Unluckily, they bombed it instead. I posed inside the rusted cockpit of one of the wrecked zeros on the airfield, a good six feet behind where its bent propeller had landed. The sun grew merciless, descending headfirst onto the elaborate floral hearts and crosses, dominating a group of freshly dug graves.
We hiked off into the forest, along one of the betel palm flagstone paths ‘improved’ by the Germans, to an abandoned village on a raised platform, fenced with a malal bank of big money stone discs. Coconut palms of different ages, grew randomly, out of the middle of the dais. Immense wheels stood on edge, like upright Flintstone circular saw blades, surrounded by more organic chickens and taro and yams, and bananas and breadfruit, and papayas and pineapple, and tobacco. I could hear the syncopation of the stick dance and the standing dance, in the stillness of the space. And I thought of how the great ancient navigators had migrated from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Malay Peninsula, and the Indonesian Archipelago to their new home of Wa’ab, and how some Spaniard had misinterpreted what a native had misinterpreted, when he asked the name of the land, as was told the name of the canoe paddle the native had though he was pointing to.
“Yap.” I said.
“Yep.” Agreed Robyn.
And then Richard appeared out of nowhere, with his goatee and original heavily soiled white T-shirt and far too baggy shorts. Richard was from Oregon, and had come decades ago, because even Oregon was too far from the land and the sea. He lived alone with his solar cell connection to the outside world, just enough to remind him of the sanity he had chosen, instead. He was glad to see us, which you could see upset him, because of his choice had been totally pure, he should not have been so glad. He told us of the five kinds of big money on Yap, and the five main kinds of magicians. Oh, there were magicians for the usual ailments of society and individuals, those with a talent for sickness and epidemics and revenge and affairs of the heart, but these magicians were very expensive and not the five main types, although they used the same eggs and coconut fronds and crabs and bones and plants and small stones, in their magic. But mainly there was Trur, who brought luck in fishing, Plaw, who brought success in navigation, Yaw, who brought victory in war, and Dafngoch, who could increase the population. And finally, who not only brought rain during drought, but could also control typhoons by keeping them away from the islands, or getting rid of them when they came. The material he used was stone, turning it in different ways, to cause rain to come or typhoons to leave. I told Richard that, in my estimation, or all the magicians, it was Ganiniy, who was the underachiever.
Robyn and I rented a car next day, a silver sedan that was fabricated in a place that was totally alien to where we would drive it. Yap was only ten miles long and seven miles wide, and it didn’t take long. The shores were lined with mangrove swamps, and all the villages were located near the shore, in coconut groves. We found thatched bai, with black octopus and sharks on white planks, on leaning yolk yellow pilings, among gigantic red hibiscus, a church with a Yapese Jesus, and Yapese kids swimming together, like nothing had begat anything, and nothing had come headfirst down any trees. But the only thing that was important, was the magnificent Honey Crunch magical chardonnay full moon that Robyn and I sat and marveled at, on our balcony overlooking Chamorro Bay, after midnight, on a flyspeck in Southern Sea.