Travelling through a selection of islands that make up the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), I have gained a sense of place, language, costume, and cuisine for each destination. And yet, I remain amazed that such a diversity of small island homes – in most cases supporting only scores of people and a chief – can find a collective consciousness with which to define a nation. Peppering the Western Pacific Ocean these predominantly low-lying atoll islands span nearly one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, and despite so much water, distance, and culture separating each autonomous island community, there is a unity and identification amongst them all.
Most of FSM’s islands lay just north of the equator, and this unassuming independent island nation is made up of four states. Laid out from west to east they are Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. The flag of FSM displays four white stars in a diamond formation on a blue field to represent each of the four states.
Arriving at each island in turn we were welcomed by dancers in various stages of donning their traditional costumes and offering up a traditional welcome ceremony. There was a great kerfuffle on Pulap Atoll in Chuuk when our (male) Expedition Leader unwittingly sent a man in to hurry the female dancers along in their dance preparations. Most of FSM’s islands operate under a matrilineal organization and sending a man in to rush the women along is an exercise in futility. The women were gathered around basic palm thatched huts with smoking fires, and greeted his anxious babble with complete indifference. Eventually they powered their bare shoulders, backs and chests with bright yellow turmeric powder and donned freshly woven collars and crowns of palm, shells, flowers and broad necklaces made up of thousands of brightly colored seed beads. They were ready for the dance, only when they were good and ready.
Otherwise, the atoll island visits were much the same with an obvious increase in the Polynesia spirit of the place as we continued to head to the east towards Hawaii. Traditional dances, local foods, and snorkeling and diving on impressive coral reefs around sheltered lagoons. The well known Chuuk or Truk Lagoon offered up WW2 wrecks of Japanese war ships and fighter planes buried beneath the ocean’s surface.
Another stop of note was on the island of Pohnpei where we visited the ancient ruined city of Nan Madol. The city was constructed in a lagoon on a series of small artificial islands linked by a network of canals. The site dates back to the 8th century and is an example of megalithic architecture and was a residence for the nobility and elite of the day. What’s incredible about the ancient city is that all of the towering stonewalls are constructed of hexagonal basalt pillars that are formed from slowly cooling lava. It’s perhaps the world’s only example of this type of construction and reminded me of log cabins made from stone tree trunks.
With a day at sea under my belt and the distances increasing, I bid farewell to the islands of Micronesia and steam south for the Solomon Islands.
Crossing the equator into the Southern Hemisphere now, a new destination awaits, and one that I intend to experience for all I’m able.