Yap Canoe Festival

Motor boats are the main method of transportation on the island of Yap. The ancient tradition of outrigger canoe sailing, however, is also very much alive. In fact, Yap held its first Canoe Festival in October of 2009.

According to an article by Justin Nobel for GlobalPost, sailing canoes were used three-thousand years before Magellan and Columbus ever set sail. The same source also states that in the 1970s, a group of academics wanted to prove such a crossing was possible but could find no Polynesians who remembered traditional navigation. The group found their man in a master navigator from the Yap Outer Island of Satawal named Mau Paialug. He ended up navigating their craft from Hawaii to Tahiti and back which was a 5,400 mile trip that inspired many Pacific island nations to start hosting canoe festivals and contests.

Today one can take a class and learn how to sail a canoe but one can only become a master at navigating through years of training and a special ceremony, called a pwo which lasts four days. Master navigators use the stars, magic and the movement of the waves to guide their canoes.

The tradition of canoe sailing in Yap was revived with the help of a Peace Corps volunteer from Philadelphia who founded a canoe carving and sailing school on the island. The sailing classes offered teach the students how to memorize stars on a map of stones and learn chants for opening channels, parting storm clouds and warding off rivals. Lessons also include ingesting medicinal plants that aid memory retention, salt water bathing and drinking nothing but coconut milk.

The Second Annual Yap Canoe Festival is scheduled for November 12, 2010 which is in 199 days so you still have plenty of time to plan your trip…

Manta Ray Bay

Manta Ray Bay is a dedicated dive resort on the island of Yap. The resort was built by divers for divers and they made sure that the quay is literally steps away from your hotel room.

Their fleet of boats are available both for group diving trips and private charters around the island. The resort is also the only place in the world with a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified Manta Ray Awareness educational course.

Yap has been called the “World Class Diving’s Best Kept Secret” because even though there are plenty of dive sites, about a half of its reefs are still unexplored. It has to offer more than 30 dive sites but sometimes there aren’t even that many tourists on the island so there’s a pretty good chance that if you go for a dive on the outer reef, you might be there all by yourself.

Manta rays are the largest of all rays and while they may be closely related to the sharks, they have no teeth and are completely harmless. Mantas funnel the food in their mouth as they swim and their meal consists of tiny crustaceans, small fish and plankton. According to Wikipedia, the largest known manta ray was 25 feet long (7.6 meters) and weighed about 5,100 pounds (2,300 kilograms). Even though they are solitary creatures, mantas like to swim along with divers.

Coral Reefs

In the previous post we talked about the giant manta rays. One of the reasons why they love Yap, besides the warm tropical water, is that the coral reefs between the lagoon and the Pacific ocean act as their cleaning station. The reef fish feed on the parasites from their skin and their mouths. You can dive in and watch them hover around, letting the fish take turns in cleaning them. The Scuba Safaris websites explains that “Valley of the Ray”s is a section of Goofnow Channel, the eastern side of Yap, where the mantas can be found during the summer months of May through November.

If you prefer to dive into a “non-manta” area, head South. The Southern most point in Yap is famous for its swim-through caverns which cut anywhere from ten to sixty feet into the coral wall. The sunlight passes through the holes in the coral wall and you can observe numerous fascinating species in all colors of the rainbow as you swim around. Yap Caverns, Yap Corner and Lionfish Wall are the three famous southern dive sites.

Yap Clothing

You’ve probably already seen the pictures on the left hand side and noticed that female dancers are wearing special grass skirts. They are handwoven and known as “lavas”. As previous posts explained, it is very improper of women to show their thighs in public and that is why each lava extends below the knees.

“Thus” is the name of the loincloths Yapese men traditionally wear. Star Newspaper explains that elderly men in Yap wear dry hibiscus and a lava lava with their thus, which signifies they’ve proven their manhood through fighting. Younger men typically wear t-shirts and shorts. The same source also notes that boys in villages still grow up wearing thus and they do that in a special order, starting with a single piece of cloth, and then adding pieces of cloth as they grow older until they get to three pieces which are blue, red or white.

This blog talks about the unique things in Yapese culture but as a result of the Western influence in Micronesia, many parts of Yap and the surrounding islands are now modernized. In Colonia, the capital of Yap, a visitor can see both men and women wearing Western clothing. You can also see a shirt over a lava lava skirt, or yet another combination- a topless woman talking on a cell phone. And we just added another reason on the list of “Why Yap Is So Cool”.

Government

According to the official website for the Yap State Government, the island has a constitutional democratic form of government. The Federated States of Micronesia, which used to be under the rule of Germany, Spain and Japan, is now an independent sovereignty. It is however in alliance with the United States through an agreement of free association which helped the Federated States of Micronesia become self-sufficient.

The U.S. dollar is used in the FSM, the U.S. Postal Service serves the island chain, and the government is also largely funded by the United States.

The Yap State Government website states that its Constitution took effect on December 24, 1982, and while much of Yap’s structural setup and constitutional mandate is modeled on the U.S. democratic system of government, in addition to the three branch system of government, the Yapese government has a fourth branch of traditional power- the Councils of Pilung (Yap Proper) and Tamol (Yap’s Outer Islands).

The executive power of the State is vested in the Governor who is the head of government. The Executive Branch consists of five departments and three offices. Governor Tun is given credit for the much repeated saying in Yap, “If you don’t have a dollar, you don’t spend it.” Another famous Yapese saying: “If you don’t save for a rainy day, you will get into a lot of trouble” also shows the importance of frugality. This is one of the reasons why Yap is in a better fiscal position than the other islands. A very interesting article by Robert Underwood from the University of Guam points out that the bank loan default rate is the lowest in the FSM and when the Bank of Hawaii branch closed in Yap, there were still individual saving accounts totaling over $10 million (article can be found in the blogroll section).

If you’re looking to make Yap your new home, however, finding a job would not be an easy task since the government has made it an official policy to give FSM citizens first priority for employment consideration. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you are lucky because you come second. Third country nationals are last on the priority list which makes a lot of sense. Maybe living in Yap is not a bad idea if you’ve quit your job back home, you’ve sold all your stuff and you’re ready to live on your savings and experience the ultimate island transformation.

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