Myths, Legends and Factual Tidbits

Oral history passed down through song, dance and stories

Legend of the Ghost from Chuuk

Sitting on a fishing-canoe’s hull, a middle-aged Chuukese woman describes a legend of the Ghost of Chuuk. The legend told of the fear of a ghost that haunts the island. He was a smart ghost, and a local magician who disguised himself as a handsome Chuukese man. He concocted a magical love potion made from crushed stingray tail, black ants and centipede legs, which he gave to beautiful women who liked handsome men instead of not-so-handsome men with good hearts. Every time a beautiful woman followed him into the forest hoping for a delightful romp in the bush with a handsome man, he became ugly and consumed the woman from toe to ears.

The moral of this legend reminds beautiful romantic-minded girls a man’s handsome face can hide a hideous ghostly heart.

Legend of the Giant Ruwathoel

How Ngulu was separated from Yap

Ruwathoel lived on the Southern tip of Yap proper in the village of Guror, Municipality of Gilman in the ancient days. He was different from all the Yapese because of his size. He was half-Human and half-giant. Everyone considered him handsome and strong and he was also an excellent fisherman. He possessed skills and capabilities that surpassed all other Yapese men.

Out of jealousy, the people plotted to get rid of Ruwathoel. They cast a spell on him and get him to sleep with his head resting on the porch of the man’s house. They tied his hands to the coconut tree trunks and braided his hair to the house posts. Then they set fire to the house. In his struggle to free himself from the deadly flames, Ruwathoel kicked the neighboring small island of Ngulu to where it still remains today… about 60 Miles from the main island of Yap.

Legend of the Lizard-Man of Dugor

It is said in the village of Dugor on Yap Island, there was a lizard who could turn into a man. As a man he was very handsome and every young woman on Yap wanted to be his friend. But, unfortunately any woman who became his friend and went with him to his cave was never seen again. Their families never knew what had happened to them. After a time and the disappearance of several young women the villagers began to suspect something was not right about this young handsome man. One day, the lizard-man met a beautiful young lady. He was so handsome and she fell in love with him. He also loved her and thought he would enjoy her company for a while before eating her. He took her to his cave. When she became hungry and asked for food he brought her horrible smelling frogs, crabs and other undesirable dead things. She became ill just smelling the offering. She became terrified as she remembered stories she had been hearing about a suspected lizard-man and she ran home as fast as she could. She told her father and mother about the terrible experience and they tried to comfort her. The father thought about the best way to handle the lizard-man and discover his identity. He decided to wait for him to come looking for his daughter. He didn't have to wait long for the lizard-man soon arrived. When he arrived, the father asked the lizard man to climb a tree and get him a coconut. Anxious to please the old man lizard man climbed the tree. But as he came down the tree with the coconut he gave away his identity. The father suspicions were confirmed as the lizard-man came down the tree headfirst. The father fearing the worst was prepared. He had a pole with a loop at the end and just at the right moment he slipped the loop over the head of the lizard-man and pulled it tight strangling him. The lizard-man fell to the ground, dead and quickly turned into his true form, a lizard.

Navigational Idol

Navigators from the outer islands of Yap used this idol as they sailed off on a voyage. The idol freshly adorned with young coconut fronds is held up to the four winds as chants sung by the navigator ask for safe passage, good weather, good fishing, and protection from any black magic that may have been inflicted upon the voyagers by enemies The idol carved from wood has a double face image front and back on a single body. Arm like projections open between the body and arm allows young coconut fronds to be wrapped around and tied. Originally coral sand was adhered to the underside of the base above four leg-like projections made from stingray spines, which were lethal if used to inflict a wound. No one other than the navigator was allowed to touch or work with the power of the idol on land or water under the curse of death. The idol while sailing is placed on the rope from the main mast handy for the navigator to reach and when not in use place under the outrigger below the navigator. Upon the return to the island the idol is stored, hung high in the men’s canoe house, where it is safe from any harm.

Lios Idol or Monkey Man

This Lios, or "spirit image," from the island of Ulithi, an outer island of Yap, was dubbed “Monkey Man” by early visitors to the Islands. It is a protective spirit, most likely an ancestral image whose function it was to protect the family or relatives of the deceased. The function of such household spirits could change with context and this Lios might also be a guardian of dwellings or of spirit houses. Of the many types of Lios found in Micronesia, the so-called monkey man, carved from indigenous wood, is one of the most enduring.

How Wa'ab Became Yap

When the first ship to anchor at the central islands arrived. A canoe of local warriors from the remaining islands went out to greet the ship and through sign language communicated their desire to have the captain come ashore for discussions. As they boarded the warrior's canoe the ship's captain pointed towards the shore and asked the name of the nearby landmasses. Thinking that the Captain was pointing at a canoe paddle held by a navigator in the bow, the warriors responded proudly – "Yap". The name was duly recorded by the Captain and it stuck, so to this day the islands of Wa'ab are known to the outside world as Yap, – (canoe paddle)!"

Legend of the Sea Serpent

Long ago, before any foreigners discover the island of Yap, a huge monster lived in Gofnuw channel located between Maap and Gagil. Yapese people didn't know about this mysterious monster, and sailed from the north through the channel on their way to the other side of the island. Often people disappear, never return to their home. Concerned chiefs from the north side of the island decided to send fifty canoes of warriors to find where the missing people were hidden. After hours of searching the fleet of the canoes entered Gofnuw channel. A warrior up front spotted a piece of what he thought was undiscovered land. He reported to the others and they continued sailing toward the mysterious land. Soon they noticed the land was moving towards them. The canoes stopped to see what the mysterious thing was. It kept moving closer and closer and getting bigger and bigger. Then it stopped a few yards away. They had never seen a anything like it before. Was it a huge turtle, a huge floating coconut or a huge fish? The silence that hung in the air was soon broken as the huge monster popped up and began swallowing warriors. The warriors fought bravely but the monster sunk the canoes and ate them. Luckily one warrior escaped and made it back to land. He went directly to his chief and reported the terrible news. The chief found the news hard to believed and sent more canoes and warriors to find out if it was really true. When they arrived at Gofnuw channel they saw blood in the water and body parts floating everywhere. Quickly retreating, they took the news back to the chiefs. Meetings were held among the chiefs of Yap searching for a way to solve the problem caused by the mysterious monster. For many years Yapese did not sail through the Gofnuw channel. Sailing to the other side of the island became difficult to the islanders because now they have to travel around the long way to reach the other side of the island.

A baby boy was born to a lady in Tomil. The baby’s name was Sigon. Sigon grew up hearing stories about the mysterious monster. As a young boy, Sigon made up his mind to one day destroy the monster. Growing up he learned skills of war from the best warriors, sailing canoes from the best navigators and building canoes from the best canoe builders. Sigon built his first canoe but it was too slow. He went into the woods and found the perfect tree and cut it down to build another canoe. After Sigon completed his second canoe he went fishing and caught a good size fish. Sigon built a fire and put the fish over it to cook. Sigon sailed his new canoe around the island so quickly that when he returned the fish was still flopping over the fire. Sigon went to the reef and got a giant clam, the kind that came from Palau. He laid it on the outrigger canoe and sailed off to Gofnuw channel to find the mysterious monster. As Sigon arrived at the mouth of the Gofnuw channel the monster met him. The monster was surprised and he told Sigon that he was very stupid to come to the channel alone. Sigon told the monster he had brought him a special treat and that it was there on the outrigger (Thami). The monster thinking that he would first eat the delicious clam then eat Sigon stuck his head into the huge clam. The huge clam quickly closed around the lizard’s head. The lizard swung back and forth trying to get out of the clam. The first time he swung, his tail separated Rumung from Maap. The second time he swung, his tail separated Maap from Gagil. The third time he swung his tail hit Tagreng and made a huge cut on the ground. The monster struggled but was unable to remove his head out of the giant clam and died. The island of Yap no longer was a single island. Rumung and Maap are separated and now connected by bridges. Tagreng was later dug down completely by Yapese for canoe passage during the German occupation of Yap.

Men's Comb "Roway"

The Roway is made from very thin slices of a mangrove root. A sharpened piece of shell is used for cutting and shaping the pieces to be used. The pieces are then tied together with twine made from either coconut or hibiscus fibers. It takes special skill with a shell to shave the curls to the end of the two main strips. Chiefs, Magicians, Warriors and the dancers of the high clans are the only men allowed by custom to wear a Roway. For a dance the Roway is worn on the right side of the head, with the comb‘s teeth slipped into the headdress and the adorned end toward the front. For day to day use the teeth are slipped into the hair knot at the top of the man’s head in the same fashion.

Paint Pots

In the municipality of Tomil there is an area of "badlands" called Githam where red clay soil is eroded and barren. Githam was traditionally inhabit and controlled by magicians of Yap known throughout out the Caroline Islands for their great power. The neighboring Islands of Yap paid tribute to Yap to keep in favor with these powerful magicians. Weather, illness or general well being of these small island good or bad was attributed to the control of these magicians.

It was believed that the red clay had spiritual meaning bringing about safety and good sailing weather. Canoes built in the Neighboring Islands of Yap as well as those from Yap used the red soil and obtained by trading or paying tribute to the magicians. The clay was mixed with water and applied like paint to their sailing canoes. A hanging "paint pot" often in a bird like shape was the container for mixing and application of the clay. Application was made using a flat piece of coconut husk pounded on one end exposing the fibers of the husk and creating a brush-like tip. Attributed with a spiritual meaning by traditional navigators the clay in the pot was decorated with coconut leaves and used in chanted ceremonies while painting the canoe to bring about safety and smooth sailing weather. Once a canoe was painted the red clay was stabilized and sealed from the salt water using sap of the breadfruit tree. Sap was obtained by scarring a breadfruit tree and gathered on a bundle of coconut frond spines tied in a broom like fashion. As rubbery white sap of the breadfruit tree oozed from wounds in the bark, bundled coconut frond spines were rolled in the sap creating a white ball. The hardened sap was then was heated over a burning bundle of coconut blossom sheaths allowing the hot sap to be applied over the red clay painted on the canoe.

The Turtle-Rat-Bird Legend

Rat and Sea Plover met on a piece of filled land and decided to go on a leisure trip. At Taneachif, they picked up a coconut frond, put it into the sea, and both of them got on it. Rat put his face down into the coconut frond and stuck his tail up in the air. Sea Plover opened his wings and put them to the tail mast. The wind blew against the sail and off they went. At M’il Harbor, strong wind and waves overturned the coconut frond canoe. Sea Plover flew away. Rat swam desperately toward Thowenifeng, the closest point of the land. Once on land, Rat lured a large fish with his magic. Triggerfish came by first but refused to transport Rat. Turtle came along and agreed to carry Rat on his back. They headed for Maleaachig where a stream opens into the sea. Rat directed Turtle to keep going upstream. At a place called Tu’ul, between two high hills, Rat finally told Turtle to stop. Exhausted, Turtle asked Rat to pick the lice on his head and fell asleep with his head on a rock. Rat took a stone and began to pound it against Turtle’s head until it cracked open. Rat began to eat Turtle. He took the gall bladder and hung it up. Sea Plover smelt the turtle meat. He followed his nose to where Rat was eating. Sea Plover demanded to be given some of the meat. Rat reminded Sea Plover how he had flown away leaving him to drown. Sea Plover persisted in his begging, and Rat finally agreed to share the meat. He took down the gall bladder he had hung up and gave it to Sea Plover. Sea Plover took the gall bladder, ate it, and died. Rat ate his fill and left the rest of the turtle in the stream where it still is today. Rat disappeared and his whereabouts is unknown. A rock, which looks very much like a turtles back, lies at the very spot in the stream where Turtle had stopped to rest.

Legend of the Ghost Dance

There was a time in Yap when foreign sailors brought the terrible disease leprosy. A man in the village of Akaw, Weloy was inflicted with the disease, which they named “bliss”. When all local medicines failed to cure the disease his family took him out of the village in fear of it spreading to others. They built him a shelter high up on a hill outside the village and took him food daily. More sores appeared each week on his body and he began to hallucinate. He saw people walking going to practice a dance in the village remembering it as a dream. One night while he was sleeping people came again. One person asked if he would like to join the dance practice. Agreeing he practiced with them every night until he learned the dance well. When his family came to bring food he asked them to bring his traditional dancing clothes. They were alarmed and concerned that he was loosing grasp of reality. But he insisted and finally one of the family members agreed to bring his thuw, hibiscus, Lavalava and dancing leis. That night when the people came he was dressed in his best traditional clothes somehow realizing that night would be the ”hang up dance” a final dance which traditionally puts the dance away. They danced through the night and when the sun came up the next morning the sick man noticed all the dancers had disappeared. He was alone hanging on a branch in the largest banyan tree on the island. He began shouting for help. People from his village heard him and came running. They were shocked to find the sick man in his dance clothes hanging in the tree. They were even more shocked to see that the sick man’s sores were gone and he seemed well again. As they helped him down from the tree be began telling them about the dancers in the night. Back in the village he called all the people to the dance platform where he repeated his story and began to teach the dance before he forgot it.

Betel Nut Pounder "Tuguw"

In Yap, growing old is anticipated with a positive attitude. Respect and honor are acknowledged with age. Gray hair and fewer teeth are not a bad thing in Yap. In preparation for aging a tuguw is given. A tuguw, a small mortar and a tapered pestle approximately 6-8” long provides for continuing pleasure of the betel nut even when you have fewer or no teeth to chew it.

The Adz

In Yap, the adz was a very handy cutting tool used daily. The handle is made from wood and its blade is made out of clam shell or giant clam shell. Pieces of pumice are used to sharpen the blades. An Adz can be made in different sizes. Generally, small adz are used for cutting and carving small objects and big adz are used for cutting trees, carving stone money, carving canoes, etc. Many Adz are still in use today but the cutting edge has been mainly replaced by steel.