WorldTeach Micronesia volunteer Laura Tracy describes a traditional Kapingese celebration:
Kapingamarangi; an outer atoll of Pohnpei located about 740km south of the island, population less than 500, Polynesian heritage
Kapinga (Pohnrakiet) Village; a small village on Pohnpei where many immigrants from Kapingamarangi atoll live while on island, also shared with the people from Nukuoro atoll
March 15th; a day of celebration similar to Thanksgiving in the Kapingamarangi culture
“Mahlia goe” (MAH-lee-ah-koi); greeting in the Kapingamarangi language
A few weeks ago, I had the joy of experiencing a very unique cultural celebration here on Pohnpei. I have many students that are from islands other than Pohnpei, coming from places like Palau, Chuuk, Kosrae, and even smaller islands such as Mokil, Pingelap, and Sapwuahfik (don’t get too hung up on pronunciations) but the ones that stand out the most are my students from Kapingamarangi. Many of these students have traveled to Pohnpei via cargo ship The Caroline Voyager which can take months just to travel between islands and arrive at your destination. Anyways, they have left their home atoll and come to Pohnpei in hopes of attending high school, as there is no upper education on Kapingamarangi atoll. Some only speak their own language, Kapingese, and have to adapt and learn both Pohnpeian and English to interact with the other islanders here. They are some of my most dedicated and respectful students, with a real desire to learn and unique cultural heritage. I can honestly say that out of all of the different cultures I’ve seen here, the people of Kapingamarangi are my favorite.
I have one Kapingese female student who I’ve grown especially close with, and she recently invited me to their village for their March 15th celebration. From what I know, this day originates from the Kapingese people’s liberation from Japanese control during the Second World War. Comparing to American holidays, it most closely resembles Thanksgiving with all families and groups coming together and bringing different food dishes, colorful clothing, and spending time together with music and dance. The traditional food on this day is eel caught fresh from the ocean, paired with taro root mashed with coconut milk. Eating eels here on Pohnpei is somewhat taboo, but for the Kapingese people it is part of their culture on this day.
So on March 15th after our school day ended at 12pm (half day, what a surprise), I set out to the Kapinga village in the middle of Kolonia, the biggest “city” on Pohnpei. Their village was so much different from the rest of Pohnpei that I’ve seen, with a truly “communal” living arrangement- every little housing unit literally next door to all your relatives, sharing bathroom/shower areas, each house as open and inviting as I’ve ever seen. I think it is almost impossible to keep a secret in this village, only because everything is shared. I was able to meet my student’s family including her newly 9-month baby, and they immediately began offering me a costume to dress in for the special occasion. So, freshly spruced up with a colorful lava lava wrap and handsewn seashell earrings, we ventured to the center of the communal living village.
After an hour of speeches from the village chief and special guests (all which I had 0% understanding of, I need to practice my Kapingese) the food was prepared and I was given my takeout box complete with fresh eel, taro, chicken, and white rice. Although I was nervous to try the eel for the first time, it turned out to be delicious! Very similar to fresh reef fish. We cleared a big space after the meal, and a line of women came and sat on a mat with two small sticks in their hands, and a line of men came behind them with a large bamboo pole and wooden spears. They performed the traditional song/dance of the Kapinga people in which I was amazed with all the intricate handwork and beautiful harmonies. Overall, a very fun day filled with new foods and cultural experiences.
-Laura Tracy, WorldTeach Micronesia
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