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Farewell to Ulithi


Sunset off Falalop.


As we depart Ulithi, we ask our guides to share their final thoughts with us, reflecting on all that has been presented here regarding Ulithi, and on the future of Yap as a whole.



Philip Nery:

“I think that there are some parts of our culture that we cannot leave. We must keep them, because they are good for small islands like ours. For example, this relationship between brothers and sisters: sisters should respect the brothers and the reason why I do this, I say this, is because in a small island, we are not self sufficient. We have to be together. We have no natural resources. Our only natural resource is ourselves.

"So the sister respects the brother and the brother protects the sister. That part of the custom, I think it’s good to keep, because in the United States, you have a lot of natural resources and you have opportunities that the sister can go out by herself and become wealthy, or she can become somebody. But in here, we all depend on each other. So that’s one that I think we should keep."



Lourdes spreads out pandanus to dry in the sun.



Woven decorations for traditional dance.


“But there are others that are not very useful, and I think we should change them. But what I believe is that if you take out something from a culture, you have to replace it with something else, because if you don’t replace it then there will be some problems. Sometimes when I go to meeting on Mogmog with these other chiefs and they say, ‘We must hold onto our customs,’ and I keep telling them, ‘We cannot do that. Because changes must come and we cannot do anything to stop that.'

"'So what we will do, is only to train ourselves or make ourselves to be able to cope with the changes. But to keep the custom, it’s like the world is turning this way and you want Mogmog to stay put or turn back.’ Changes must come, and we can do nothing to stop it. So we just have to adjust ourselves, educate ourselves, so that we can cope with the changes.”



Isaac Langal:

“Especially for Ulithi, nowadays, it’s less important to hold onto your island skills and not to go to further your education, because we see the world is changing all the time, going forward, and I think the kids need to go to school and get a good education. But at the same time, they also have to have some basic knowledge of the culture, so that they don’t forget their culture—that’s their personal identity.

"Even if a person obtains a PhD from Harvard University, he should be able to come back here and get on a canoe and go out there and fish for his family, and not try to set up in some big office somewhere and tell people to do things. There’s time for that, but when you come back home, just be like an ordinary person on the island. And you’ll be able to function at home."


“I say this because I remember there were some youngsters from here that left the island when they were small, then they went off to the Mainland U.S. And when they got back, after maybe after two or three years of college, they came back here and they had forgotten the language and they had forgotten people and everything. They acted like strangers, because they had forgotten the language. They left when they were 13 or 14 years old.

"It’s good to go get an education, and if you want to remain outside, it’s no problem. But if you plan to come back, you have to remember your own culture. You come back and you survive here.”


Rain girls

Young women at Falalop's seashore on a rainy day.


Roke Wur, around 100-plus years old, at home on Asor. He passed away a few months after this picture was taken.



"The problem nowadays is they’re not many older people—older, older people. Only younger people. That’s a problem. Because like me, I would be considered one of the older people here on this island. Young people today don’t have any knowledge of how to sail one of these canoes. I have been asking the younger boys to come and watch me carve this. They’re not interested.”


"The young people are too lazy for sailing native canoes; they like motor boats. But no money, no job.... We know that they don’t much like learning the traditional skills. They like the new customs. They don’t like their old custom, so now they’re changing too fast. But I know that changing too fast is very dangerous. I think you have a saying in English, ‘don’t jump to conclusions.’ You have to think through it."



Canoe & Oil tanks

A traditional canoe off Colonia, Yap, with fuel storage tanks in the back, reflects the mix of old and new technologies.



“We’re heading in two directions. One is that if the FSM has money to develop, then maybe we’ll be better off; and if the FSM dos not have the money to develop, then we can fall back in our own way of life and start learning the culture that we can improve. And I think that we can survive on that, because we still have the same things that we had before, that the ones they lived off for many years.

"Now we know more about gardening. We can improve our gardens. Fishing, things that we learn, we can improve the fishing. Yet the problem with the fish is that we don’t commercialize our catch. But other fishing boats are going around and catching the fish that come around the islands. So we’re down on the fish already.

“It’s hard to speak of something that you haven’t seen but, I’d like to see that we develop and we can cope with the development. What I see now, we’re so much hung up on this dollar thing, but we have not learned its value, because we take it and spend it. So I am not sure I can say anything about the future. I’d like to see people happy.”




"I hope very much that young people will listen more to their elders, because we know that democracy is a very good way of government and we like the democracy, but full democracy cannot apply to small islands like ours. There are things in democracy, the rights of people, that you cannot apply to small islands, because once you do something on your own, then other fellow is affected. You have to go to together.

"And the only thing we do is that we listen to our chiefs and if something’s wrong, we suggest to the chief how to go about it. But if you say ‘oh, this is my right to do this and this and this and this,’ then you will overrun others. That’s very small beach at Ulithi, so how can you?"



Mogmog youths.


Mogmog homes

Homes on Mogmog.


"If you say, ‘oh, It’s my freedom, I want to take my rifle and shoot around in the air because it’s a free country.’ So what about this guy who cannot sleep because he really wants to do that? He cannot run away—he’s going to run into the ocean. So those are the things that we tried to deal with.

"We know that democracy is a very good way of government. But there are some things that fit to bigger places that will not fit to a small place. These are the things I think we have to look for, and in order to understand this, we have to know our tradition and customs. Not all of our traditions and customs are good. I know that. But there are some that, there is reason that is there to use. This is what believe.”



“There was a period in our history we went through where we were just living on a false hope. We were given the wrong impression that we’re in for something a lot bigger, that there will be a time where everything is going to be available in Ulithi, just like in heartland U.S.A. And a lot of our communities are hanging onto that, still not knowing that, what we have today, that’s it. A lot of people are living in a kind of a dream, waiting for that moment to happen where Ulithi will be like Guam or even Hawai‘i.

"But there are certain things that are just not possible to happen, given the ability of the land to sustain some of those developmental changes."





”Having grown up on the island and knowing the situation there, I think we can never get away from our traditions and our culture there, because I think most of them, most of our practices here, have perfected themselves through time to fit the needs of the people here. Given our geographic isolation, geographic size, limitations of natural resources we have, we can move forward in terms of some things, but we cannot abandon what we have at home."

Sa ilae! Adiyoos!



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