randy_byers: (Default)
I'm having trouble working with pictures in Dreamwidth, so I think I'll be posting my personal posts to my old film blog from now own. I've started with my first post about the Micronesian trip. Feel free to comment here, if you're on Dreamwidth.

Weekend

Apr. 13th, 2015 11:00 am
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
My brother and his wife visited this weekend. They drove up on Saturday, and we visited our Yapese friend, Theo, who is in the area because his granddaughter just had a liver transplant at Children's Hospital. We got the low-down on the transplant, which sounded very scary but apparently went very well. We also got a lot of stories about what's going on out on Yap right now, including Theo's take on the Chinese proposal to build resorts on the island. Theo is against it, but his brother, Tony, who is currently the governor, is for it. As my brother said later, the previous governor was for it, too, and no doubt they look at it from the perspective of, "How do we create a cash economy on this isolated island?" I'm dubious that it would actually be beneficial to the Yapese, but I have no idea what else they can do. As we also discussed, it seems like the answer the Yapese themselves are finding is to move to the US, often serving in the military so they can become citizens. Theo said that at this point in his life (he's three years older than me), his only goal is to help his children and grandchildren have a better life. He has no ambitions for himself any more. He was also more voluble about his Christian faith than he has been in the past, although he wasn't evangelical about it. The stories and wry laughs still flowed, and it was so heart-warming to see him again. He again told us we had to come back to Yap so that he could discuss some things with us family-to-family. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but in the past he has offered Lonnie a chance to build a house out there. I doubt that will happen, but the offer represents a sense of strong connection. Nonetheless, he more or less shooed us away after a couple of hours of chat. He had been receiving texts the whole time from family and friends asking about his granddaughter, so he needed to get back to that.

The three of us spent the rest of the day chewing the fat. I took them up to the 5 Spot for dinner, and then to the Hilltop Ale House for a beer. The next morning, after breakfast at the Blue Star (we'd had breakfast at Roxy's on Saturday), they headed home. There's talk of a family trip to Maui in June. Their oldest son is working at a dive shop out there. I hope I can join them, but I still need to work out the details with my boss, who has been out with pneumonia for over two weeks now.

I also went to the fannish pubmeet on Sunday, where there was much talk of Puppies, Prologue, and the Sasquan fanzine lounge. What's Prologue, you ask? It's a relaxicon that Ulrika O'Brien is chairing and which will be held in the Seattle area the weekend before Sasquan. You should come, whether or not you're going to Sasquan. It should be a damn fine time.
randy_byers: (yap)
It's probably been well over year since I posted about an initial announcement of Chinese interest in developing an enormous resort complex on the Micronesian island of Yap. For a while it seemed like the chiefs on Yap were going to say no to this incredible intrusion into the Yapese social and economic fabric, but now one village has given the go ahead. I don't think anything has actually happened yet, but my brother has now found a story about resistance to the development: "Chinese Culture Clash on Yap". Some of the people interviewed are people we know. Carmen Mutgnuy was somebody my parents knew when we lived out there in the '60s, and Vincent Figir was the governor when I was out there with my brother's family and niece in 2002 and once offered us a ride home after a village dance.

It's horrifying and fascinating to watch this slow motion train wreck in action. As I said to my family in response to my brother forwarding article, it's not as though any foreign powers who have ruled the islands since the late nineteenth century have brought any happiness. But if the Chinese corporation develops the resort it envisions, the tourists will outnumber the natives, and as my mom pointed out, there won't be many Yapese who profit from it. The conundrum an island like Yap faces is that it has been forcibly inserted into a cash economy, and yet it doesn't have any products or raw resources that anybody wants to buy. Under the Americans, they've received cash in exchange for our right to use the islands as military bases. This money is going to dry up in the near future, because we are no longer planning to re-fight World War II, island by island. Maybe Chinese development is the only deal on offer now.
randy_byers: (yap)


My brother and I on a Yapese beach many years ago.
randy_byers: (yap)


A Yapese village dance sometime in the late-'60s.
randy_byers: (yap)
This morning I got to work and opened up my e-mail and got a terrific jolt. First there was a name that looked vaguely familiar, except it had a "Dr" in front of it. Then there was the subject line: "greetings from YAP". Then there was the message, and yes it was from a woman who was a childhood friend out on Yap back in the '60s. She's out on Yap right now, hanging out with my Yapese friends, Theo and Antonia, who have been telling her about how my brother and I spent significant time out there again in 2002. "All kinds of memories of you came flooding back!" she writes. "I hope you remember me - but you are totally forgiven if you don't."

Well, I do remember her, although it's all very vague. I used to play with her and her sister, although I can't remember if they lived in the government compound with us or if they lived in town. I think it was the latter, so I didn't see them every day. Years later, in the mid-'70s when we had all returned to the US, her family visited ours in Salem while they were on summer vacation. I don't remember what her dad did, but I think he was a doctor.

She teaches at University of Aberdeen in Scotland -- "my research now concerns marine renewables." As stupid as it sounds, one of the jolting things about her message is the way it reconfigures "childhood pal" into "doctor of marine sciences".

So now I'm probably going to spend all day in a fugue of childhood memories from Yap. I feel like somebody just slapped me awake. "Hey, you! The past is still alive! And it has come calling."
randy_byers: (yap)
Okay, this is one of the most bizarre stories I've seen in a while: "China eyes huge tourism development for Yap". Essentially a private Chinese investment group is looking to build eight to ten hotel complexes with up to 20,000 rooms, and "convention centers, casinos and entertainment centers, and from eight to 15 golf courses." To put this into perspective, Wikipedia says that as of 2003 the population of Yap proper was 6,300 people. Compare and contrast to 20,000 hotel beds!

The story is very difficult for me to digest on any number of different levels. The development would completely transform the island in a physical way (It would require a huge increase in transportation infrastructure as well), not to mention the economy and culture. It really just doesn't make any sense on the surface. It goes against everything traditional Yapese culture stands for, especially the way that property is controlled and inherited.

Now, Yapese (and Micronesian) history since the 19th century has been one of a succession of colonial powers sweeping in and reshaping things: first the Spanish, then the Germans, then the Japanese, then the Americans. In a way, this would be just the next foreign imprint. I suppose what's so shocking to me is that I've really only known the American version of Yap, and that's what would be lost. But casinos and golf courses? It just seems surreal.

The other thing that strikes me about this is that Belau makes a lot more sense for this development. There's a lot more land, it's closer to China (at least somewhat), and Belau has always been more open to the outside world than Yap has. However, Belau recognizes Taiwan and not China. (That's why we sent some of the Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo to Belau, over Chinese demands that they be repatriated.)

I dunno. It's weird. This story feels like a trap door opening under my feet. The world turned upside down. My childhood swallowed by a Chinese casino.
randy_byers: (yap)


Anybody who wants to know who Dave Vecella was or why I'm posting this can click on the Dave Vecella tag to see my previous posts about him. Strange that his birthday ends up being the Day of the Dead. Perhaps this is a case where it's preferable to think of it as All Souls Day. His brother just posted this message to the memorial website:

I write with a heavy heart, as today is Dave’s birthday. He would have turned 45 today. It still seems so unfair that he is not here with us.

I would have sent Dave a birthday email greeting first thing this morning, as I always did on November 2nd; and he would have sent me a wonderful reply, filling me in on everything going on with Teri and Ryan, and Beyond the Reef, and asking all about me, Pam and the kids. I would tease him that he wasn’t getting any younger, and he would remind me that I was still older than him, and always would be. We’d share some laughs, a few corny jokes, and we would always, ALWAYS, end by saying how much we loved each other. And now I’m crying, and literally have tears streaming down my face, because I miss you SO, SO MUCH, Dave. I still think about you EVERY SINGLE DAY, and wish you were here so I could tell you, again, how much I love you. But you already know that, don’t you?

Happy birthday, ‘lil bro. I love you.

Frank
randy_byers: (yap)

Back row: My brother, Theo, my younger nephew, and me (with hair)
Front row: Antonia and my sister-in-law


So yeah, on Saturday I drove to Tacoma, picked up our Yapese friends, Theo and Antonia, and drove them to my brother's house in Corvallis. Theo lost his latest job a while back and hasn't been able to find another one, so he's planning to return to Yap in March. Antonia will stay behind to help take care of the grandchildren. This was our last chance to talk to Theo for who knows how long. On Sunday my sister came down from Salem to have dinner with us. Other than that, we sat around the house and "talked stories," as Theo calls it.

Theo is a great story-teller, and he kept me entertained on the five-hour drives in both directions and kept my brother and me entertained the rest of the time. (Antonia mostly stayed silent in the car, chewing betelnut and throwing in the occasional comment or answering Theo's questions when he asked her something in Yapese. She and my sister-in-law went out for pedicures on Sunday.) It was just like old times, out on Yap, or other times we've visited with them either here in Washington or one other time when I drove them to my brother's place.

We covered so much material, I couldn't even begin to relate what all we talked about. One general comment is that whenever we get together with Theo and Antonia, the talk is very Pacific. Micronesia, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Australia, West Coast America. (This time we talked about Chile, too, because my sister is looking to teach ESL there for a few months.) Mostly the talk is about Yap, of course. Memories, history, legends, stories, gossip, thoughts about the future, economics, politics, culture.

I don't know. It would take a special effort to convey the potency of the conversation for me. One tidbit is that Theo and Antonia had just spoken with a Yapese guy who remembered me as a classmate from Alaw, which was the second school I went to out there in the '60s. Most Yapese don't remember me, because I was just a little kid, and I had started to develop a minor complex about it. Even Theo says he doesn't remember me from the '60s, but remembers my dad and my brother instead. Sometimes I feel that Yap has made a tremendous imprint on me, but I have made absolutely no imprint on Yap. Which is actually probably true. Why would it be any different?

But that's another thing. Theo and I talked at one point about small towns and how insular they can be. "It's the same on Yap," he said. "We are distrustful of outsiders." Suddenly all my feelings that I don't really belong there, despite my strong feelings of attachment, were reconfigured.

This morning was a long discourse on naming, mostly because my brother was asking how names are chosen for children. It's an incredibly complex topic, because names of people are also the names of property. You are named for a piece of land, and that's where the quote in my subjectline comes from. You represent that piece of land, and when the property and name are assigned to you, it comes with some well-defined responsibilities to the village, which are in turn connected to a complex caste system. It really is the heart of traditional Yapese society, which has been heavily disrupted by the intrusion of a series of other cultures for over a century now -- first the Spanish, then the Germans, then the Japanese, then the Americans. The old way of life is almost completely gone now, but everybody still has their own taro patch, connected to a piece of land from which they take their Yapese name.

I think the biggest sense of wonder moment of the weekend for me was when my brother, Theo, I were looking at Yap on Google Earth. Lonnie had to go start the barbecue, so I drove Google Earth while Theo asked me to look at the ocean next to the island, trying to understand the currents to the east. And suddenly I saw it. I knew that Yap was a tiny chip (under fifty square miles) of raised continental plate, and I knew it was near the deepest point on Earth, called the Mariana Trench, or, near Yap, the Yap Trench. What I hadn't really seen before was the configuration of the continental plates. Yap is part of a small one that Theo thought was called the Philippine Plate. It's between the Asia Plate and the Pacific Plate. The Pacific Plate is subducting under the Philippine Plate, creating the Mariana Trench. It's pushing the Philippine Plate up, creating not only the island of Yap but also other Micronesian islands, including Belau, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. All these islands are the result of plate tectonics, as opposed to many other Micronesian islands that are atolls on the tips of submerged mountains on the Pacific Plate. Theo said he had read that in fifty million years, as the Philippine Plate is pushed up further and further, Yap will become as big as Japan. Which is utterly fucking mindblowing.

And that's just the tip of it. Just a tiny chunk of the submerged plate of the two-day conversation. I mean, here's another: Yapese legend has it that there was a powerful group of warlocks (Yapese magic is famous throughout the Pacific Islands) who upon the advent of the white men went to an island called Sipin north of Yap and pulled it under the sea to escape the disaster visited on the rest of their countrymen. I joked to Theo, "In fifty million years, Sipin is going to be pushed back above the sea." But is that a joke? Maybe the Yapese will have outlasted the invaders by that point. Theo gave me a look, but he didn't reply. Maybe he has his own thoughts on the topic.
randy_byers: (santa)
Over at [livejournal.com profile] theinferior4, Lucius Shepard recently posted ten excellent capsule stories of exotic Christmases past -- although I guess jail isn't an exotic location for everybody. It got me thinking about my own Xmases in foreign lands. There are only three I can remember, not counting the four we spent on Yap when we were living out there (besides which I don't remember those).

1) 1989, Schwäbisch Hall



In 1989 I was in the small town of Schwäbisch Hall in southern Germany. I was visiting my long distance girlfriend, Nahid, whom I had met in May of that year when she and a friend came through Seattle at the end of a cross country trip around the US that had started in San Francisco. We stayed at her mother's apartment in Schwäbisch Hall for a week, then headed up to Berlin, where Nahid was going to the Freie Universität. Nahid's mom, Frau K., had a Hungarian weightlifter boyfriend named Laszlo. Laszlo, who didn't speak any English, was very friendly to me and shared bottles of the local beer, which he thought (and I agreed) was quite good. (When Nahid got back into contact with me a couple of years ago, she said her mom and Laszlo were still together, twenty years later, which made me happy.) I don't remember much about Xmas itself, except that Frau K. talked me into calling home, and my dad answered the phone. I told him he'd love the spätzle, which is a German noodle dish. We'd had Frau K's homemade spätzle that evening, and I was an instant convert.

The other thing I remember about that visit to Schwäbisch Hall was that Nahid took me to a party. Was it on Xmas itself? The weather was freezing, and the party was a surreal "beach party" with sand and fake palm trees in a hall or gymnasium of some kind. I had one of those lonely-in-a-crowd times, since I didn't know anybody (including Nahid, really), didn't speak the language, and was at least nine years older than anybody else there. I mostly drank beer and played wallflower, although there was at least one awkward conversation with one of Nahid's friends. Nahid asked me to drive home, because she'd been drinking too and the roads were icy. Great! The first time I'd ever driven in Europe. Better than that, we got stopped at a roadblock by the cops. Nahid did all the talking, and somehow she talked us through it. Maybe she explained that I was a poor, innocent foreigner who was driving her home because she was tipsy, I really have no idea.

Two more under the cut )
randy_byers: (yap)
AOSIS: Alliance of Small Island States

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and concerns about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. It functions primarily as an ad hoc lobby and negotiating voice for small island developing States (SIDS) within the United Nations system.

AOSIS has a membership of 42 States and observers, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea. Thirty-seven are members of the United Nations, close to 28 percent of developing countries, and 20 percent of the UN's total membership. Together, SIDS communities constitute some five percent of the global population.


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Wikipedia:

Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is an intergovernmental organization of low-lying coastal and small Island countries. Established in 1990, the main purpose of the alliance is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to address global climate change. AOSIS has been very active from its inception putting forward the first draft text in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations as early as 1994.

Many of the member states were present at the COP15 United Nations on Climate Change Conference in December of 2009. Democracy Now! reported that members from the island state of Tuvalu interrupted a session on december 10 to demand that global temperature rise be limited to 1.5 degrees instead of the proposed 2 degrees.


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And yes, the Federated States of Micronesia (and thus Yap), are a member. Some of the Outer Islands of the State of Yap (many of which are low-lying atolls) will probably be submerged by rising ocean levels. Yap Island itself is not an atoll, but a chunk of continental plate that rises above sea level.
randy_byers: (yap)
I was reminded yesterday that the 13th was the anniversary of Dave Vecella's death. I wrote about learning of his death last January. The reminder of the anniversary also reminded me that a few months after we heard the news from our Yapese friend, Theo, my brother discovered a blog post indicating that Theo's story about how Dave died was wrong. But the post that my brother found was still very vague on the details, so I did some more googling yesterday and found something with further details that seem to confirm this other story.

What Theo told us, as I wrote on February 1st, was that "[Dave] had apparently taken some people out diving, and a young woman started heading away from the group, going deep without heeding the danger. He went after her, and by the time he caught up with her she was out of air. He shared his air with her as they headed to the surface, but he started running low too and so he held his breath and let her have the rest. ... They made it to the surface, and he said he had a headache. He went to the hospital but told them he was feeling fine now. They let him go home, and he went to bed and never woke up."

What this forum post says is, "What I heard from several sources was that he was deep diving with (his buddy). They went down to 284 ft. on the way up they were supposed to pick up tanks at 150 ft that they had left on the reef, but they couldn't find the tanks because of currents. Apparently (his dive buddy) started to panic and he shared his air . . . . they ran out of air about 60 ft. and had to head up fast. They were both taken to hospital and put in the chamber. He was in a couple of times I think, but he was non responsive and then his heart failed . . . ."

These stories are obviously significantly different, other than that in both he shares his air and surfaces before the nitrogen has left his bloodstream, causing the bends. The second story is still hazy on why the hyperbaric chamber was unable to save him. Above all, however, I really wonder how Theo's version of the story -- with the foolish girl leading Dave to his death -- came into existence. Was Dave's diving buddy a woman? Is this other story meant to protect somebody's identity? The dive they were on is described elsewhere as a technical exercise, perhaps to see how deep they could go. When my niece and I took the advanced diving course from Dave, the deep dive we went on was 100 feet, which is the level at which you supposedly can start suffering from nitrogen narcosis, or "raptures of the deep."

Anyway, as I was thinking about Dave this morning, there was part of me that felt I should correct the story here. Doug Faunt is out sailing, so he won't see this, which is too bad. He was the one who helped me understand what it was that probably killed Dave after I related Theo's version of the story.

In any event, here's to you, Dave. I hope someday to visit your grave on the hill above Kadai, looking out on the reef and beyond.

randy_byers: (yap)
Via my brother: "Out of the Sea - Long Beach's Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum will focus on Micronesia."

"It's quite unique to have a museum devoted just to Micronesia," said Don Rubinstein, professor of anthropology and Micronesian studies at the University of Guam. "Although many museums in the U.S. and other countries have important collections of Pacific Islands art, Micronesia tends to get overlooked."

But the region has a colorful history. Micronesian ancestors settled in the area over 4,000 years ago. Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to visit Micronesia when he anchored in Guam in 1521. Contact with the West was sporadic until the early 19th century, when whaling and trade with Asia brought vessels into the region.

Micronesia was a major battleground in World War II. From 1941 to 1945, United States and Japanese military forces fought many battles in the Micronesian islands.

"For Micronesians, their relationship with the sea is paramount, and Micronesians often consider navigation and canoe building to be their greatest art forms," Anne d'Alleva wrote in her book "Arts of the Pacific Islands."
randy_byers: (Default)
This is fairly random, but one of the things I thought about after I learned of Dave Vecella's death last weekend was a time when my niece and I saw him blow his top -- probably the only time I saw him really lose his temper. I don't know that this really captures the episode well, but I'm taking this from the journal I kept on Yap in 2002. Maybe I'll revise it a bit to punch it up and provide more context.

Dive, dive, dive! )
randy_byers: (Default)
At long last, here are a few items that have almost (but not quite) nothing to do with movies.

Had a lovely dinner with the co-editor of the north and his wife last night. We were celebrating some astonishing fund-raising numbers for Corflu Zed. Andy has truly been the hero of the convolution for his fund-raising. My credit card is breathing easier because of him.

Yesterday I received the soundtrack CD for Dil Se in the mail. (Yes, I'm one of the people driving Amazon's stock upwards.) "Chaiyya Chaiyya" really is an insanely catchy song. I could listen to it all day. According to Wikipedia, 'Composer A R Rahman has declared that "Chaiyya Chaiyya" is "a Sufi song". Its lyrics are notable for their use of religious (especially Islamic) metaphors to characterize love, including references to heaven, the Shahadah (Muslim declaration of faith), and a verse from the Quran.'

Sometimes (my beloved) flirts like a flower,
so fragrantly that you may see her scent.
Having made it into an charm, I will wear it.
She shall be obtained as a miracle is obtained.
She is my song, my declaration of faith
(My friend is like a priest to me.)
My song... my declaration of faith...
She moves like the dew.
She walks with the garden of heaven beneath her feet,
sometimes through the branches, sometimes amidst the leaves.
I shall search the wind for her trail!


Today my brother is coming up with his wife and younger son. My brother is picking up a part for his Hobie Cat at the Boat Show. My niece is coming up separately to visit a friend of hers who had a baby recently. All of us are going to get together at some point to visit our Yapese friends in Tacoma. It's been at least a year since we last saw them, I think, so it'll be great to get caught up on family and island news. We'll probably all dream together of going back to Yap some day. Then it'll be back to our house for a slumber party, as my niece put it. Somebody is going to have to sleep on the floor!

Well, better go sweep it then.
randy_byers: (Default)
Two more photos from Yap below the cut. My dad, brother, and I visit a faluw -- a men's house. I was completely fascinated by this guy's full-body tattoo. Is this why I ended up getting tattoos decades later? Nah, that was just me being a trendy grunge rocker dude. Still find his tattoos utterly fascinating and beautiful, even in a bad photo.

These are obviously later than the other one, because I'm browner and blonder. The effect of the tropical sun, in both cases.

Yapese men no longer get tattooed like this. It was part of an elaborate, lifelong initiation process that is now a thing of the past. In fact, it was already a thing of the past when these photos were taken. None of the Yapese of my age have tattoos like this.

Two dark, blurry snapshots from yesteryear ... )
randy_byers: (Default)
Pacific Magazine has an article about a planned 10-acre solar farm on Hawai'i that will generate 30% of the island's electricity. That seems huge to me, and it has enormous implications for smaller island such as those in the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap, for example, generates its electricity using diesel, and diesel is extremely expensive out there because of shipping costs. Apparently the costs of solar haven't penciled out in the past, but with the price of diesel rising, that might change. Of course, a problem for these small islands is that they might not have the space for a farm of solar panels.

Update: [livejournal.com profile] voidampersand points out that this is 30% of the power needed on the island of Lanai (pop. 3000), not the whole of Hawai'i (or even of the island of Hawai'i). Not quite as impressive as I first thought.
randy_byers: (Default)
My brother e-mailed me today with the news that John Mangefel died in April at age 75. Mangefel was a powerful figure on Yap and in Micronesia. When my family moved to Yap in 1966, he was Superintendent for Elementary Schools on the island, and thus my father -- a teacher and principal -- got to know him a little. In 1967, he was elected to the Congress of Micronesia, which was trying to figure out what the status of the islands would be after they had ceased to be a Trust Territory of the United Nations administered by the US (which was basically a figleaf status for US control of the islands after taking them from Japan in WWII, who had similarly taken control of them from Germany under a League of Nations Mandate after WWI.) Once the various island groups had cut their separate deals with the US, and Yap along with three other island states formed the Federated States of Micronesia, Mangefel helped write the constitution of the FSM and then was elected the first governor of Yap.

He was renowned for his satiric wit ... )
randy_byers: (Default)
My brother and his family came up for the weekend so that we could visit our Yapese friends in Federal Way. Our friend Theo had to work from 11am to 8pm yesterday, so we visited for an hour and a half in the morning and then drove down again that night. In between, we went to a Mariners game at Safeco and saw them beat the Rangers. It was my nephews' (and sister-in-law's) first Major League Baseball game, and obviously their first game at Safeco, which rewarded them by having to close its roof when it started to sprinkle. A good time was had by all.

It was great as always to see Theo and Antonia and their various kids and grandkids and cousins and other family. Theo is working at an auto parts store now, and struggling to learn the secrets of the computerized cash register. He seems to have concluded that he doesn't have what it takes to find a niche in the US, and he and Antonia are planning to return to Yap in 2008 with their two youngest boys and their (now) two-year-old grand daughter, who they will raise for their daughter, who will stay here. At the same time, Theo says, everybody on Yap tells him it is hell there right now, with the economy (such as it ever was) in complete shambles, gas and diesel at five bucks a gallon and rising, the cost of electricity (also diesel generated) going through the roof, the school system dysfunctional, etc, etc.

We chewed the fat (or the betel nut) about Yap for most of both visits. For some reason, I was even more cognizant than usual of the different hierarchies in Yapese society. All of the young women in the apartment (and there were up to four at different times) were extremely deferential to the men (including my brother and me), and would sort of crouch or bow as they left the room, as though they were trying not to disturb us, yet the behavior was so ritual that it called attention to itself and to the act of deference. Theo's kids were extremely deferential to him personally, too, and his youngest boy would fetch him beer from the fridge. And as usual, Lonnie is always treated as the patriarch of our family, including over me. This is a very formal thing, and it took me a long time to understand certain aspects of it. For example, Theo and I played together for a year or two when my family lived out on Yap in the '60s. As far as I know, he and my brother didn't have much of a friendship, but Theo always says it was the other way around and that he remembers Lonnie and not me. Of course, I didn't remember him all that well myself, from our childhood, but over time I've come to see that his own version of things is mostly a reflection of how he understands proper interfamilial relationships to work. The patriarchs -- the eldest males in the respective families in any given family grouping -- are the central pair from which all else flows. (I say "in any given family grouping," because Theo isn't actually the eldest male of his siblings.)

As I say, it's a formal thing for Theo, and it has real consequences that are hard for us to fathom sometimes. For example, my nephews were given Yapese names by Theo (or maybe by Antonia, since women usually give names on Yap, usually an aunt on the father's side), and names are always connected to property. (Traditionally, your name was the name of a piece of property that you were then considered to "speak for," which is something like ownership.) So, as Theo reminded us yet again this weekend, there is a piece of property on the southern tip of the island (near the village where Antonia grew up -- the property belonged to her father) that he considers to belong to the boys, and we're welcome to build a house there if we want to live or winter in Yap after we retire. This is always pitched to Lonnie, of course, although I'm included in the offer by virtue of my relationship to Lonnie.

Now, he's said this for years, and Lonnie and I are never sure how serious or real it is. But the eldest nephew told me an interesting story about this weekend. He and the youngest were hanging out with Theo's kids and younger relations in the kitchen last night, and one of the cousins -- the daughter of Theo's brother -- asked who they were.

Theo's daughter gave their Yapese names: "This is Falthin, and this is Figir."

"Yeah, right," the other young woman said. "What are their real names?"

"I'm serious," Carmen apparently replied. "They're basically our cousins."

So even Theo's kids perceive it that way. So it suddenly seemed that much more real and more serious, once I'd heard this story.

I've wondered before how much, if any, of my interest in the alien is a response to the experience of growing up on Yap. A couple of years ago, as I was renewing my acquaintance with the pulp science fiction Venus of steamy jungles and vast oceans, it struck me: Venus is Yap. It's an interesting notion to toy with, although the influence actually works in both directions, as the pulp writers based their ideas of Venus on their ideas of the tropics. Still, part of the ongoing fascination of Yap is the enigmatic puzzle of its customs and how they play out in the real terms of our friendship with Theo and his family. How much of the alien is the product of cultural exogamy?

The plan afoot currently is that when the eldest nephew graduates from high school next spring, we'll go back out to Yap for a month. This will only work if Theo is able to return with his family next year as well. He made it clear that he real wants to, whatever our plans are. In the US, he feels like a fish out of water and like an old dog (just turned fifty) who can't learn new Information-Age tricks. He wants to go home where he has a niche, even if the place is falling apart at the seams. Hope we all get this chance to return and consider the puzzle further.
randy_byers: (Default)
Last weekend, I drove our Yapese friends, Theo and Antonia, down to my brother's place in Corvallis, Oregon. It was a lot of fun. It's about a five hour drive from Seattle -- around four from Federal Way, where Theo and Antonia live -- and Theo and I "talked stories" the whole way down, while Antonia sat in the back and chewed betel nut and mostly kept her own counsel.

Wherein the talk eventually turns to magic )

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