Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter at Woleai

April 17-21

Well, I have finally had my "National Geographic Experience".

The Men on Woleai

We found Woleai Atoll to be a unique blend of very traditional Micronesian, and fairly modern. And one of the most welcoming and generous groups of people we have encountered in the last 7 years of cruising.

Our Yachtie Group on Easter Morning

Dave/Sherry - Soggy Paws, VK & Michelle - La Gitana, Steve/Selena - Westward II, Peter/Donna - Kokomo

On the "traditional" side, the islanders still wear traditional dress, which for the men is basically a loincloth, and the women, a wrap-around lava lava, with no top. Western dress is discouraged. The women still weave their own lava lavas on a "backstrap loom". Though there are fiberglass launches (about 1 for each clan) with outboard motors, the men do most of their fishing in proa-style dugout canoes.

A Traditional Woleain Canoe

The housing on Woleai is also fairly traditional... mostly woven palm leaf and thatch construction, with the cooking facility separate in an outdoor (but covered) area. The men have a gathering area separate from the women. Both the elementary school and the high school have cultural classes that teach traditional skills... for the boys, traditional navigation methods, canoe-making, etc... for the girls, weaving and basket-making.

On the modern side--they actually have internet on Woleai, with wifi, and we were allowed to use it for a modest fee of $5. Plus they have a generator on the island, and power to most of the houses. There are a couple of vehicles on the island (one belongs to the school system for transporting supplies from the beach to the high school on the other side of the island). Many of the people own VHF radios, and there's a lot of chatter on their channels--10 and 11--a kind of party line.

As part of the Easter celebration, we participated in a Holy Thursday mass, and a Friday morning processional.

Holy Thursday Mass

The Mass was interesting--the church has no seats--just lines painted on the concrete floor. So everyone sits on the floor. The service was entirely in Woleain, except for a welcome from the priest. So we didn't understand much of what was going on. But 12 (I think) men from the village were up front, seated in chairs, with palm leaf baskets of food (I think) on a table before them. Toward the end of the service, the priest and his helper went around to each man and washed his feet--symbolic of the Last Supper, I assume. There was praying and singing, and then administration of the sacrament.

The Good Friday Processional

The processional started at one end of the island, with two young men carrying a big cross. Nearly everyone on the island was there, following along. Every 100 yards or so, there was a "station", where a family had made a small simple altar of some kind. The procession would stop, kneel and pray, sing a song, pray again, and then move on. At the first station, I understood why I'd seen the young women each carrying a small mat (to kneel on in the dirt). At the far end of the island, the cross was planted, and there was more singing and praying. We enjoyed participating and were thanked by several people for taking part.

We passed on the Friday evening Mass. But on Saturday afternoon, helped to decorate the church.

All day Saturday, the men were butchering pigs for the Easter feast. We were told that each big clan did 2 pigs and the smaller clans only one pig. And of course the women were preparing all the other food--taro, breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, bread, and "doughnuts".

On Easter morning, we could have participated in the church service, but since it started at 4am (4AM!!), we opted not to. But we went in at 8:30 after church was over to participate in the rest of the day's activities. On arriving at Matthias's house, his wife Joanna presented me with a lava lava of my own. Fortunately they didn't demand that I go completely native--I was allowed to keep my top on. We were all also given garlands of flowers. Dave was relieved that the guys were not presented with a sarong.

Chillin' in front of the Church

We spent most of the day sitting on the ground in clanly groups, doing "fun and games" in front of the church.

Our Picnic Lunch
The games ranged from the straw pass (pass a straw from person to person between your toes) to the coconut carry (how many coconuts can you carry?) to musical coconuts (like musical chairs but with coconuts instead), and a "guys in drag" show (which VK from La Gitana did a great job representing the yachties). There was also a relay race in the water. There was a little bit of traditional dancing--to western pop music and some Hawaiian music. There was a lot of hilarity. For almost every game, some adult got up and acted silly, which cracked everyone up.

The Pencil Pass

The Coconut Carry

VK from La Gitana, In Drag

They asked us yachties to participate with a game of our own. Dave and I favored holding a 3-legged race, but Stephen from Westward II prevailed with a shoe toss (a traditional Australian thing at gatherings is a boot toss). It was amazing how far one guy managed to sail his flip-flop... Everyone really appreciated us joining in.

One thing we noticed was that the games were somewhat competitive, but there were no prizes given and no overall winner. As each team finished each competition, winning or losing, they celebrated. This was all about participation, and not about winning. Very Micronesian.

Some of the Cute Kids at Woleai

At 3pm, the games broke up so the men could go to their Tuba Circles and celebrate without the women and children. While our men felt obligated to participate in this manly social event, I was relieved that the socializing was over, and I could quit smiling and go back to the quiet of our boat. The women generally were lounging...rolling out mats in the shade outside their family complex, and taking a nap.

What's interesting is that we never did figure out when they had their "feast". There was food given to us during the games (lots of food... breadfruit, taro, bananas, cooked pork), but it was more of a picnic lunch rather than what we'd imagined as an Easter feast. I guess traditions are different.

The next day we said our goodbye's around the island. We took some gifts in for specific people... a thank-you to Julian for guiding Dave around the Japanese stuff, a thank-you to Joanna for the lava lava, and a pair of sunglasses for Francis, the old blind chief.

Late in the afternoon, while we were aboard getting Soggy Paws ready for passage, we were visited by 4 different canoes carrying gifts--we ended up with 3 large bunches of bananas, a huge basket of papayas, and 2 different sets of drinking coconuts. Wow!! What a place--sorry we couldn't stay longer.

An Embarrasment of Bananas

Too bad we are now feeling schedule pressure and needed to move on at the first weather window. It appears the "SW Trades", which normally are not due until June, have moved in early this year. For the last 10 days we have had westerlies, fortunately mostly very light. The current forecast promises about 5-6 days of wind from an easterly quadrant, and then back to westerlies. So we needed to go on the east wind.

We left Woleai Tuesday morning, on our way NW to Ulithi Atoll for a short visit, then on to Yap. It's 300 miles from Woleai to Ulithi, and then another 100 miles to Yap, before we'll be in a nice protected anchorage where we can relax a little, restock, eat out, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I want to go to Woleai for the big Total Solar Eclipse in March of 2016. It is the closest inhabited island to the point of maximum totality, and it is nearly smack-dab on the line of maximum totality/shadow! (4 minutes and 5 seconds vs. 4 minutes and 9.5 seconds max)

    You obviously have no problems with accomodations having your boat there. But if one wanted to visit and stay there overnight, is there anything there, other than a kindly local offering a room?