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…

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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?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike. Thanks for your report on Yap Days 2011. Nicely done, and no I won't steal your photos. Maybe just a link to your blog! :-)