Where: Four islands of Greater Yap, Federated States of Micronesia, Pacific Ocean
When: First weekend in March
What happens: A celebration of dance and traditional costumes and cultures held in a different village every year
Where it’s at
Greater Yap is one of the Micronesian island groups in the south west of the Federated States of Micronesia. The environment of Yap differs from the other Micronesian islands in its geology as the island was formed by a constructive fault line as opposed to volcanic activity as is the case with most of the islands higher above sea level. This has resulted in a landscape of rolling hills rather than mountainous terrain.
Yap also differs from most of the other islands because customs and traditions are preserved as much as possible. The chief of the clan still holds a very high level of respect and unusually on Yap descent is traced paternally through the father. Houses are still built in the traditional method using mahogany supports underneath a Nipa palm-thatched roofs. The Micronesians were the original seafaring explorers and they still make canoes traditionally. Carved out of the breadfruit tree and bound with coconut husk fibres, they can be up to 30 meters (100 feet) long.
What happens during Yap Day?
As well as keeping their working and cultural traditions alive, the Yapese are famous for their spiritual traditions – particularly their highly developed dance. You can usually only see traditional dance in Pohnpei when special displays are organised for tourists, so if you can organise to be on Yap for Yap Day, usually held on the first weekend in March, you are in for a treat.
Yap Day is a way of celebrating dance and is a form of competition between Yapese villages. Each year a different village holds the ‘mit-mit’ – hosting the event and providing free traditional and western food and drink. Dance is in the form of sitting dances, kneeling dances, standing dances, and stick dances. Men and women dress in colorful traditional costumes and crowds all gather to see how each village performs.
Most of the previous year will have been spent choreographing the dances and practicing them, however, Yap Day dances can be performed only once in public and then once in the village before they must be retired. On the last day of the festival the Yap Visitors Bureau hold a welcome reception created to honor guests and the visitor who has traveled the furthest to get to there is honored.
The Yapese, do not like cameras to be pointed at them directly and are intolerant of disrespectful tourists. Most guests at the Yap Day festivities are from neighbouring islands but there are a small number of tourists so you must treat it as a privilege to be there.
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By Faye Welborn