Monday, May 17, 2010

Bare Breasts, Betel Nut, Weetbix... and Yapese Manners




And so, yes, I have returned. The time came for me to leave the “remote” islands of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia and the tiny nation of Palau and return to western “civilisation”. It has taken a few weeks to readjust to the pace of “modern” life having experienced the tranquillity of living in a mobile phone/ television free environment. The concession of extremely slow and eventful internet connection seemed incongruous in these places of ancient yet vitally living culture.

My spirit is uplifted and my sense of pride in the human ability to share kindness and show good manners has been restored.

Arriving in Yap in the early hours of the morning was exhausting. A tiny airport, tired passengers, equally tired immigration officials but then the first of many Yapese warm and ready smiles in the arrival hall as I was given a beautiful lei by a young girl wearing only a lava lava and a wreath of flowers artfully draped across her bare breasts. She was completely unselfconscious about her beauty and her style of dress; she was not in costume, but in the clothing worn by most of the women from the outlying islands of the Yap archipelago.

The traditional culture for the people of Yap is one of the bare breast for men and women.

                                             (Photo of Chief Manu:  Louise Percy 2010)
A day later, it was an experience for my companion, Damien,  to be choosing Weetbix in the small local supermarket with a traditionally dressed woman. But her warm and kindly smile as she shared the dilemma of 12 or 24 in a packet with him reduced the moment to one of simple shopping comraderie. Taking a taxi the next day with the mother of the driver sitting in the front passenger seat, again dressed traditionally, initially surprised me before I felt comfortable with the “ordinariness” of her dress.

It is humbling to encounter people who are as unaffected as the people of Yap. The hotel in which we stayed “The Pathways” was made up of 9 separate bungalows, set high on stilts and constructed in the local mahogany wood and bamboo. Quite stunning in their simplicity, their tranquil atmosphere was mirrored by those who assisted us with our meals, our room cleaning and our bookings with the local boat hire providers.

                                                (Photo of The Pathways: Louise Percy 2010)

Every morning we were met by Helen or Tina who always served us with a comment about the weather and a gentle giggle...and a betel nut smile. The bright red smiles of the “chewers” are an initial surprise and then an ongoing reminder of the culture – including the etiquette of spitting out the juice in a thin steam, through pursed lips, so that it doesn’t splatter those nearby.


               (Photo of Terestina, chewing betel nut and  making my farewell lei: Louise Percy 2010)

The culture of the islands of Yap is based on village hierarchy. There are complex “rules”, unwritten but handed down orally from one generation to another, about inter village visits, the role of men and women, the preparation of food and the cultural manners.

The gentle simplicity of the lifestyle of these island people, their initial shyness replaced by genuine warmth, did make me feel humbled. We so often hear the excuse of busy lives to cover bad manners and churlish behaviour. The Yapese people who have none of the trappings of modern comforts but mostly walk everywhere and clean their simple houses without modern appliances are at the same time able to maintain a composure, a pride in their traditions, a natural elegance...and very good manners.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this blog. I enjoyed reading your experience. This documentary will help others who are still planning to experience the pride of Micronesia Islanders.

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  2. Thank you for your comment Christina

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