Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dance of the Ningxias

Shortly before Yap Day, a dance troupe from the Ningxia Province in China came to the island for a cultural exchange. We had heard about their upcoming arrival, but were a little unsure of what to expect, as many people here were calling them ninjas. The correct pronunciation, I was informed, is closer to ning-shaw rather than ninja. The half-dozen member troupe performed at the community center on Sunday, February 28, 2011. Miranda attended, hoping to see something different, and to help get her excited about our upcoming trip to southeast Asia.

The community center was packed when I arrived. I quickly grabbed a seat before the obligatory speeches began. I listened to the governor welcome the troupe, and the Chinese ambassador thanked Yap for welcoming the troupe to come share cultures for a few days. It was difficult to follow along with what was being said. The sound system was cranked up to the maximum that night and there were thick and varied accents. Some of the speakers from China used a translator, which added an extra layer of confusion to what was being said, and provided strange moments as no one knew when to clap. There was an interesting moment while I was listening to the Chinese ambassador’s interpreter say Yapese names and speak in English. I looked around at the mishmash of culture and couldn’t help but feel a strange peace.

Living as a minority is something I had never had to experience until living here. It is trying at times of course, especially when another language is involved, one that you don’t speak but a few words, and is extremely difficult to learn. But on this night, when I looked around and saw so many people from a large assortment of places and cultures, somehow we all fit in, and at the same time, no one fit in. I sat back and watched the cultures navigate the evening with respect and curiosity.

And boy were they amazed.

The evenings entertainment started out with a rousing musical number that got everyone’s attention. Along with the live music, an accompaniment was played over the loud speakers to add to the performance. The group played instrumental songs from their homeland, while hundreds of people watched in awe. I am sure that many of the audience members had never heard anything like it, or seen anything like the other acts that followed.


The sight of a small Asian woman bending over backwards was too much for some of the young men in the audience to handle who whooped and cheered with her every move. DSCN0170

I am certain that portions of this performance were considered highly provocative for some of the Yapese. The way this girl twisted, and bent was impressive, but showcased parts of the female anatomy that are often hidden away for private affairs here.


She was talented nonetheless, and I appreciated her art that she was sharing with us. At one point she played a brass instrument along with the music, all the while twisting and contorting, but never missing a note. She also balanced lit candelabras on her feet and went from her back to her stomach, while still playing the instrument!

DSCN0153The crowd, as well as myself, then enjoyed a Chinese opera presentation. I had noticed the entertainer while he was stretching to the left of the show space. Someone else noticed him too, and wasn’t quite sure what to think of him, yet he couldn’t take his eyes away. Many of the younger children were enthralled by the elaborate costumes of the troupe. This little little guy was one of the braver ones, later causing him to become part of the show when he sauntered onto the mat while a performer was singing.


Another artist was part of the opera demonstration. His act was even more excitedly received. During his routine he changed masks using slight of hand. He was extremely skillful at his craft and had the timing down perfect. I wondered if any Yapese were worried it was ‘real’ magic.DSCN0189

The show was incredible. It will be remembered by those who attended for a long time. I feel lucky to have been part of the experience, as I often feel when I get to encounter new and exciting things here. This place is always full of new experiences to be had, which we welcome since entertainment can often be lacking. So, thank you to the dance troupe from Ningxia China for sharing a piece of your heritage with us. We hope you enjoyed Yap Day as much as we enjoyed you!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Yap Day 2011

On February 28th and March 1st in Tamor, Tomil Municipality this year’s annual Yap Day celebration was held. This was our second time attending the two-day event, which showcases local culture with a series of dances and competitions.

The event was held at the same site as last year, centered around a large men’s house and a community house on raised stone platforms. The layout was markedly different this year, which allowed everyone to have a better view of the day’s events. Last year they were all preformed between the two houses. This year a dirt platform and clearly marked area provided a natural stage. Palm frond decorations added to the festive event. We are continually amazed by what is able to be made from palm fronds!



DSCN1311 Flanking the men’s house were a pair of ‘guards’, who stood at attention throughout the day’s events. Luckily, the young men worked on shifts and were able to take a rest in the shade and enjoy an ice cream cone.

Unlike last year, where locals and tourists mingled together and roamed around the event area, this year anyone not dressed in ‘local attire’ was confined to one side of the event where the viewing section including a VIP tent for visiting officials, and the members of a dance troupe from China that had preformed the night before (saved for another post) in front of the dancing and competition area. We managed to duck into the VIP tent and get a couple of folding chairs and we sat in the shade watching all the various activities.

The ‘local attire only’ section included an entrance to the site that was much closer to the parking lot, requiring us to walk around to the main entrance.  Since we were unable to go inside this area, we have little to report on it.  There were some booths set up, which our program map indicates were local organizations providing information.

For the ladies, local attire means either a grass skirt (shown here in the dyed and ‘natural’ versions) for the Yap main island style or a wrap-around of handmade fabric called a ‘lava-lava’ worn in the outer islands of Yap.


Shirts are not part of women’s traditional dress. For a bit more modesty though, women at Yap Day wore several strategically placed wreaths of fragrant leaves and flowers.

Many of the men, including a number of our expat friends, wore the traditional male garment. There are also options for the men. A simple loincloth that is a single color is worn by some, while others, as pictured below, add a lava-lava and hibiscus fibers. This other garment that is created has a different name, but we are not certain what it is.


Miranda decided to get into the spirit of the event, and dressed in a lava-lava given to her by one of her high school students. Instead of going fully-local though, she also wore a tank top. After a very brief tutorial from the student, Miranda had to figure out how to wear the garment on her own. The lava-lava is essentially a length of hand-woven cloth, similar to a knee length sarong. It is thicker than a sarong, but is thicker, making it impossible to tie it in a safe fashion. Traditionally, a belt of braided thread is used.  As a belt was not provided with the skirt, her student instructed Miranda to use her western belt to improvise, as many girls do today. I had originally planned to wear local attire as well, but frankly chickened out at the last moment. I’m certain no one wanted my ‘farmers tan’ on display! Perhaps next year I will work up the courage.

Earlier in the morning, several large pieces of stone money were carried in on long poles and placed ceremoniously in front of the houses. While we did not arrive until later in the day, one can only imagine the exertion it took to bring in these mammoth stone discs.


One event we saw was a ‘bamboo dance’. The women and girls sang and chanted and clapped their hands rhythmically, which was received with a great deal of applause from the audience.

After a series of introductory speeches from the Governor and other members of the Yap State leadership, some of the boys from the area participated in an event which closely resembled the schoolyard game of Dodgeball.DSCN1358 The boys stood in a group surrounded by two lines of tourists who were invited to participate.  The tourists were armed with what looked like balls of tightly woven leaves, or perhaps even small coconuts wrapped in tightly woven leaves. The tourists were told to lob the balls at the kids, who if struck by one was out of the game. The tourists seemed initially skeptical with prospect of possibly injuring the boys, in front of their families and all the spectators. Likely fearing an international incident, the first throws were hardly whole-hearted. With each passing round though, as the youth nimbly dodged and jumped over their slow pitches, the tourists’ aims and force of their throws greatly improved. At the end, the one small boy who remained was judged the champion.


Another competition featured teams of boys and their older mentors attempting to build a fire from scratch with only local materials. 


After a great deal of exertion in the hot, mid-day sun, a small wisp of smoke rose from the dry tinder, but a decent breeze blew through and no one was able to get a flame going. The boys were applauded for their efforts and the program moved on to the next demonstration.


DSCN1353At the same time the fire building event was going on, a weaving competition among the girls was held. Each girl raced to create a grass skirt.  It was surprising how quickly and effortlessly these young girls were able to turn grass into a wearable garment.


DSCN1343Each team was monitored by a mentor who offered guidance and support. During the fire building, the mentors offered overt guidance to the boys as they struggled to get a flame.

This mentor here, overseeing a grass skirt being made, did not need to provide as much help, and sat patiently observing while her pupil assembled the skirt.


DSCN1393 Another competition for the young men was to see who could husk three coconuts the fastest. Armed with only a pointed stick wedged into the ground, these boys opened all three coconuts in under a minute! I thought this was quite remarkable, as my own previous experience with husking a coconut was largely unsuccessful. Of course, practice makes perfect, and these kids looked like they were well prepared for the event.

Throughout the day, other competitions and dances were held.



DSCN0229Around lunch time, we got some food at one of the numerous booths. In our own Yap Day tradition, I enjoyed several servings of “Pork-on-a-Stick” which was delicious, as usual.

DSCN1425Since it was growing late in the afternoon, with the temperature rising, we decided to head home for a brief rest before returning for the evenings events. However, after getting all the way back to our house, we realized we were more tired and sun burnt than we had expected, and wound up just staying put.

All in all, it was a good Yap Day.


Oh yeah… for the record…

All Web site text, pictures, the selection and arrangement thereof, are the property of me. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of me, is strictly prohibited.

That goes especially for you random, e-commerce currency startups who use my photos in your PowerPoint presentations. Thanks for the byline, but I’m sure the Yap Visitor’s Bureau or the Yap Traditional Navigation Society could provide some better canoe photos for you to use. Like ones taken by a professional photographer! Besides, it’s a little creepy, don’t you think?