Yap’s continuous contact with the outside world began about a century ago when a German ship sailed into Tomil’s Waneday Harbor to open a trading station on Nungoch Island. The visit meant little to the Yapese who watched in amazement as the ship unloaded in 1869. Ships had come to Yap before. A Portuguese explorer Diego DeRocha is credited with the discovery of Yap in 1526, and a number of other explorers and adventurers visited the island in the years that followed.
It was not the first time outsiders had settled in what is now Yap State. In 1731 a Catholic Mission was started by Spaniards on Ulithi Island. A supply ship returned to the island about a year later and to their astonishment discovered that the natives had massacred the 13-man colony. No nation ruled Yap when the Germans opened the Nungoch trading station. Though, Spain, Germany, and Britain all laid claim to the island, but none had ever bothered to challenge the others.
The Yapese then had not the slightest idea of the outside world’s politics. They had their own society, their own government, their own way of life. At that time Yapese were skilled navigators who raced their canoes south to Palau to quarry their treasured stone money. They were also skilled builders. Yapese huge thatched meeting and men’s houses and stone paved paths around the island were as well engineered as many buildings and roads found in Europe and America.
Yap was an island of villages that fought wars against each other. After each war, the stronger village ruled the weaker village. As a result an elaborate caste system developed. Other high villages in Gagil Municipality such as Gachpar and Wanyan had a very strong influence over the outer islands of Yap that became known as the Yapese Empire. The German trading station brought little change to Yap. The trading station also had little success due to their failure to persuade the Yapese to produce large quantities of dried copra. This remained for a shipwrecked American sailor, David Dean O’Keefe, to develop the copra trade and perhaps cause the most changes in Yap’s way of life.
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