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Flag of Yap.svg
Yap State Seal.jpg
Map of Yap State
Yap Islands.png
Map of Yap Islands
Coordinates: 9°32′N138°07′E / 9.533°N 138.117°E / 9.533; 138.117
Country Flag of Federated States of Micronesia.svg Federated States of Micronesia
   Governor Henry Falan (2019)
  Total308 km2 (118.9 sq mi)
  Land100 km2 (38.7 sq mi)
178 m (584 ft)
 (2010 census)
  Density37/km2 (96/sq mi)

Yap or Wa′ab (Yapese : Waqab [1] ) traditionally refers to an island group located in the Caroline Islands of the western Pacific Ocean, a part of Yap State. The name "Yap" in recent years has come to also refer to the state within the Federated States of Micronesia, inclusive of the Yap Main Islands and its various outer islands. For specifying the island group, the name Yap Main Islands is most exact.

Yapese language language spoken by the people on the island of Yap

Yapese is a language spoken by the people on the island of Yap. It belongs to the Austronesian languages, more specifically to the Oceanic branch of that family. It has been difficult to classify it further, but Yapese may prove to be one of the Admiralty Islands languages.

Caroline Islands archipelago

The Caroline Islands are a widely scattered archipelago of tiny islands in the western Pacific Ocean, to the north of New Guinea. Politically they are divided between the Federated States of Micronesia in the eastern part of the group, and Palau at the extreme western end. Historically, this area was also called Nuevas Filipinas or New Philippines as they were part of the Spanish East Indies and governed from Manila in the Philippines.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.


The Yap Main Islands are considered to be made up of four separate islands: Yap Island proper (Marbaq), Gagil-Tamil, Maap (Yapese : Maap′), and Rumung. The four islands are separated by relatively narrow water features, and the islands are surrounded by a common coral reef. They are formed from an uplift of the Philippine Sea Plate, and are referred to as "high" islands as opposed to atolls. The land is mostly rolling hills, densely vegetated. Mangrove swamps line much of the shore, although there are beaches on the northern sides of the islands. Excluding the reef area, the Yap Main Islands are approximately 24 km long, 5–10 km wide, and 98 km2. The highest elevation is 178 m (584 ft) at Mount Taabiywol in Fanif municipality on Yap island proper. The Yapese people's indigenous cultures and traditions are strong compared to other states in Micronesia. [2]

Coral reef Outcrop of rock in the sea formed by the growth and deposit of stony coral skeletons

A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, whose polyps cluster in groups.

Philippine Sea Plate An oceanic tectonic plate to the east of the Philippines

The Philippine Sea Plate or the Philippine Plate is a tectonic plate comprising oceanic lithosphere that lies beneath the Philippine Sea, to the east of the Philippines. Most segments of the Philippines, including northern Luzon, are part of the Philippine Mobile Belt, which is geologically and tectonically separate from the Philippine Sea Plate.

Atoll Ring-shaped coral reef, generally formed over a subsiding oceanic volcano, with a central lagoon and perhaps islands around the rim

An atoll, sometimes called a coral atoll, is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may be coral islands or cays on the rim. The coral of the atoll often sits atop the rim of an extinct seamount or volcano which has eroded or subsided partially beneath the water. The lagoon forms over the volcanic crater or caldera while the higher rim remains above water or at shallow depths that permit the coral to grow and form the reefs. For the atoll to persist, continued erosion or subsidence must be at a rate slow enough to permit reef growth upward and outward to replace the lost height.

Administratively, the Yap Main Islands are divided into ten municipalities that sometimes cross the water features that divide Yap into its constituent islands.

A detailed map of Yap. Yap Islands municipalities.jpg
A detailed map of Yap.
Fanif village in Federated States of Micronesia

Fanif is a municipality in the state of Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Fanif encompasses the northwesternmost part of the main island and is the location of Yap proper's highest point, Mount Taabiywol, at 178 meters/584. Gilfith is the head village of Fanif. Fanif straddles the northern part of the main Island of Yap and includes the villages of Yyin, Quayrech, Ruunuw, Wuluuq, Malawaay, Rumuuq, Qatliw, and Raeng. It has two elementary schools, Fanif and North Fanif. A paved road runs through the villages along the northwest coast of Fanif into Weloy to the South and connecting into the Tomil - Colonia Road to the Northeast. The west coast is also accessible by boat form Colonia via the Tagireeng Canal.


Gagil is a municipality in the state of Yap. It forms part of Gagil-Tamil Island and covers the eastern side of the island. It has a population of roughly 400 people scattered in village groups. One of these villages includes the village of Gachpar which was once the capital of the historic Yap Islands Empire that lasted from about 10th to the 15th century AD and stretched as far as east as the west halls of Chuuk Lagoon, as far south as the northern atolls of Papua New Guinea, and as far west as the outer islands of Palau. The Yap Islands Empire centered in Gagil and the Tui Tonga Empire of Tonga, are the only empires that existed in the ancient history of the Pacific Islands.

Gilman (Yap)

Gilman is a village and municipality in the state of Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. It lies on the south side of the Yap island. Six villages or hamlets are integrated there : Anoth, Gachlaw, Guror, Magchagil, Thabeth and Towoway. The population was 252 in 2010.


Pacific Ocean laea location map.svg
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Location of Yap in the Pacific Ocean
Stone money transport to Yap Island (1880) HH1883 pg125 Hafen von Jap.jpg
Stone money transport to Yap Island (1880)

The first recorded sighting of Yap by Europeans came during the Spanish expedition of Álvaro de Saavedra in 1528. Its sighting was also recorded by the Spanish expedition of Ruy López de Villalobos on 26 January 1543, who charted them as Los Arrecifes ("the reefs"). [3] [4] [5] At Yap, the Villalobos' expedition received the same surprising greeting as previously in Fais Island from the local people approaching the ships in canoes: "Buenos días Matelotes!" ("Good day, sailors!") in perfect sixteenth-century Spanish evidencing previous presence of the Spaniards in the area. The original account of this story is included in the report that the Augustinian Fray Jerónimo de Santisteban, travelling with the Villalobos' expedition, wrote for the Viceroy of New Spain, while in Kochi during the voyage home. [6] Yap also appeared in Spanish charts as Los Garbanzos (The Chickpeas in Spanish) and Gran Carolina (Great Caroline in Spanish).

Ruy López de Villalobos was a Spanish explorer who sailed the Pacific from Mexico to establish a permanent foothold for Spain in the East Indies, which was near the Line of Demarcation between Spain and Portugal according to the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529. Villalobos gave the Philippines their name, after calling them Las Islas Filipinas in honor of Philip of Austria, the Prince of Asturias at the time, who later became Philip II of Spain. In 1542 he also discovered a Pacific group of islands, most likely Hawaii, but the Spaniard kept the discovery secret.

Fais Island island

Fais Island is a raised coral island in the eastern Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and forms a legislative district in Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia. Fais Island is located approximately 87 kilometres (54 mi) east of Ulithi and 251 kilometres (156 mi) northeast of Yap and is the closest land to Challenger Deep, about 180 miles away.

New Spain kingdom of the Spanish Empire (1535-1821)

The Viceroyalty of New Spain was an integral territorial entity of the Spanish Empire, established by Habsburg Spain during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. It covered a huge area that included territories in North America, South America, Asia and Oceania. It originated in 1521 after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the main event of the Spanish conquest, which did not properly end until much later, as its territory continued to grow to the north. It was officially created on 8 March 1535 as a Kingdom, the first of four viceroyalties Spain created in the Americas. Its first viceroy was Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco, and the capital of the kingdom was Mexico City, established on the ancient Tenochtitlan.

From the 17th century until 1899, Yap was a Spanish colony within the Captaincy General of the Philippines of the Spanish East Indies. The Spanish used Yap Island as a prison for those captured during the Philippine Revolution. [7] :204–212 After the defeat against the United States in 1898 and subsequent loss of the Philippines, Spain sold these islands and its other minor Pacific possessions to Germany.

Captaincy General of the Philippines 1565–1898 territory of the Spanish Empire in Asia

The Captaincy General of the Philippines, also known as the Kingdom of the Philippines, was an administrative district of the Spanish Empire in Southeast Asia governed by a Governor-General. The Captaincy General encompassed the Spanish East Indies, which included among others the Philippine Islands and the Caroline Islands. It was founded in 1565 with the first permanent Spanish settlements.

Spanish East Indies Spanish territory in Asia-Pacific from 1565 until 1901

The Spanish East Indies were the colonies of the Spanish Empire in Asia and Oceania from 1565 until 1901. At one time or another, they included the Philippines, Marianas, Carolines, Palaos and Guam, as well as parts of Formosa (Taiwan), Sulawesi (Celebes) and the Moluccas (Maluku). The King of Spain traditionally styled himself "King of the East and West Indies".

Philippine Revolution armed military conflict between the people of the Philippines and the Spanish colonial authorities

The Philippine Revolution, also called the Tagalog War by the Spanish, was a revolution and subsequent conflict fought between the people and insurgents of the Philippines and the Kingdom of Spain - including its Spanish Empire and Spanish colonial authorities in the Spanish East Indies.

Yap was a major German naval communications center before the First World War and an important international hub for cable telegraphy, with spokes branching out to Guam, Shanghai, Rabaul, Naura and Manado (Sulawesi's North coast). It was occupied by Japanese troops in September 1914, and passed to the Japanese Empire under the Versailles Treaty in 1919 as a mandated territory under League of Nations supervision. US commercial rights on the island were secured by a special US-Japanese treaty to that effect, concluded on 11 February 1922. [8]

League of Nations 20th-century intergovernmental organisation, predecessor to the United Nations

The League of Nations, abbreviated as LN or LoN, was the first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. It was founded on 10 January 1920 following the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War; in 1919 US President Woodrow Wilson was to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as the leading architect of the league.

In World War II, Japanese-held Yap was one of the islands bypassed in the U.S. "island-hopping" strategy, although it was regularly bombed by U.S. ships and aircraft, and Yap-based Japanese bombers did some damage in return. The Japanese garrison comprised 4,423 IJA men under the command of Colonel Daihachi Itoh and 1,494 IJN men. [9]

At the end of World War II, Yap was occupied by the U.S. military victors. The U.S. held it and the rest of the Caroline Islands as a trusteeship under a United Nations mandate (the "Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands") until 1986. In that year, Yap, Truk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae formed the independent nation of the Federated States of Micronesia. Under a Compact of Free Association with the United States, Micronesian citizens and goods are allowed entry into the U.S. with few restrictions.

American Peace Corps has been active in Yap since 1966. Other US-based non-profit organizations, including Habele, have an ongoing presence on both Yap proper and its outer islands, aimed at reducing educational disparities and inequalities in access to effective classroom instruction.


Stone money

A large (approximately 8 feet in height) example of Yapese stone money (Rai) in the village of Gachpar Yap Stone Money.jpg
A large (approximately 8 feet in height) example of Yapese stone money (Rai) in the village of Gachpar

Yap is known for its stone money, known as Rai, or Fei: large doughnut-shaped, carved disks of (usually) calcite, up to 4 m (12 ft) in diameter (most are much smaller). The smallest can be as little as 3.5 centimetres (1.4 in) in diameter. [10] Many of them were brought from other islands, as far as New Guinea, but most came in ancient times from Palau. Their value is based on both the stone's size and its history. Historically the Yapese valued the disks because the material looks like quartz, and these were the shiniest objects available. Eventually the stones became legal tender and were even mandatory in some payments. [11]

The value of the stones was kept high due to the difficulty and hazards involved in obtaining them. To quarry the stones, Yapese adventurers had to sail to distant islands and deal with local inhabitants who were sometimes hostile. Once quarried, the disks had to be transported back to Yap on rafts towed behind sail-driven canoes. The scarcity of the disks, and the effort and peril required to get them, made them valuable to the Yapese.

In 1874, an Irish American sea captain named David O'Keefe hit upon the idea of employing the Yapese to import more "money" in the form of shiploads of large stones, also from Palau. O'Keefe then traded these stones with the Yapese for other commodities such as sea cucumbers and copra. The 1954 film His Majesty O'Keefe cast Burt Lancaster in the captain's role. [12] Although some of the O'Keefe stones are larger than the canoe-transported stones, they are less valuable than the earlier stones due to the comparative ease with which they were obtained.

As no more disks are being produced or imported, this money supply is fixed. [13] The islanders know who owns which piece but do not necessarily move them when ownership changes. Their size and weight (the largest ones require 20 adult men to carry) make them very difficult to move around. Although today the United States dollar is the currency used for everyday transactions in Yap, the stone disks are still used for more traditional or ceremonial exchange. The stone disks may change ownership during marriages, transfers of land title, or as compensation for damages suffered by an aggrieved party. [14]

Other currencies

There are four other types of currency on the Island. First there is "Mmbul" which is a length of lava-lava, the cloth used for loincloths, three or four feet long and two feet wide, wrapped up in a Betel nut sheath. Then there is "Gau" or "Gaw", a necklace of shells, up to 10 feet in length. The shells come from Canet, an island near Ponape, from Ponape itself and from Euripik. Since these come from a distance, Gau is worth more than Mmbul. "Yar" is money made of large shells about eight inches wide, pierced and tied on a coconut rope. Finally, "Reng" is the name of money made of turmeric, which is ground and mixed with water and the paste shaped into a ball, typically used for tribal ceremonies. [15]

Living structures

There are three types of traditional buildings on Yap. The "tibnaw" is a family house and has a roof made of woven thatch (dried palm fronds). Inside, there is one open room with no lavatory. Kitchens are separate structures (t'ang) outside the family houses. [16]

The "faluw" is the "men's house"; such buildings were built on the shoreline with easy access to the sea. Prior to World War I, women had been kidnapped and taken to the faluw. Today this practice no longer occurs. Women considered it an honor to be chosen for the faluw, because only the most beautiful women would be taken there. Such a woman was called the "mispil" (resident female) of the faluw. As the island's culture was more and more influenced by the rest of the world's views on prostitution, this practice ended. [16]

Largest of the three types is the "p'ebay", a place for the community to come together for school, dances or meetings. As with all structures on Yap, it is necessary to obtain permission before entering. There are a few men's houses that women are allowed to enter, however people must always ask for permission. [16]

Language and ethnicity

The Yapese language belongs to the Austronesian languages, more specifically to the Oceanic languages. Yap was initially settled by ancient migrants from the Malay Peninsula, the Indonesian Archipelago, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. The people of the Neighboring Islands are descendants of Polynesian settlers,[ citation needed ] and as such have significant ethnic dissimilarities from the people of the Yap Main Islands. Their culture and languages (Ulithian and Woleaian) are closely related to those of the outer islands of Chuuk. English is used as a common language. [17]

Traditional style structure with stone money indicating great wealth. The first stones were mined on Palau and carried by outrigger canoe some 450 kilometers (280 mi). Community house of Yorlap (Yap Islands) with stone money made in Palau NOAA.jpg
Traditional style structure with stone money indicating great wealth. The first stones were mined on Palau and carried by outrigger canoe some 450 kilometers (280 mi).

The Yapese and Neighboring Island Yapese were some of the most renowned navigators in the Pacific. Yapese sailors traveled phenomenal distances in outrigger canoes, without the aid of a compass, navigating by the stars and the patterns of ocean waves using techniques of Micronesian and Polynesian navigation. During pre-colonial times, the people of Yap established an island empire and dominion over what are now the Neighboring Islands of Yap State. Beginning in the 19th century, Yap was colonized by the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese in succession.

The double-hulled voyaging canoe Alingano Maisu , gifted by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to master navigator Mau Piailug, is home-ported on the island of Yap under the command of Piailug's son, Sesario Sewralur.

Social structure

Yapese society is based on a highly complex "caste system" involving at least seven tiers of rank. [18] Historically, the caste rank of an entire village could rise or fall in comparison to other villages depending on how it fared in inter-village conflicts. Winning villages would rise in rank as a part of a peace settlement, while losing villages would have to accept a decline in comparative rank. In many cases lower ranked villages were required to pay tribute to higher ranked villages. Further, dietary taboos might be imposed on lower ranking villages, i.e., they might be prohibited from harvesting and eating the more desirable fish and animals of the sea. Further, within each village each family had its own rank comparative to the others.

Until the arrival of the German colonizers, the caste ranking system was fluid and the ranks of villages and families changed in response to inter-village intrigues and confrontations. In the early twentieth century, however, the German colonial administration pacified Yap and enforced a prohibition against violent conflict. The caste ranking of each village in modern Yap thus remains the same as it was when the system was frozen in place by the Germans. The freeze left the villages of Ngolog, Teb, and Gachpar in the modern-day municipalities of Rull, Tamil, and Gagil respectively, as the highest ranking.

Rachel Bergeron Murder

Acting Attorney General, Rachelle Bergeron, an American, was murdered on October 14, 2019, at her home in Yap. To read more about this developing story go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/16/us/micronesia-rachelle-bergeron.html

See also

Related Research Articles

Federated States of Micronesia Island republic in Oceania

The Federated States of Micronesia is an independent republic associated with the United States. It consists of four states – from west to east, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae – that are spread across the Western Pacific Ocean. Together, the states comprise around 607 islands that cover a longitudinal distance of almost 2,700 km (1,678 mi) just north of the equator. They lie northeast of New Guinea, south of Guam and the Marianas, west of Nauru and the Marshall Islands, east of Palau and the Philippines, about 2,900 km (1,802 mi) north of eastern Australia and some 4,000 km (2,485 mi) southwest of the main islands of Hawaii.

Micronesia Subregion of Oceania

Micronesia is a subregion of Oceania, composed of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a close shared cultural history with two other island regions: Polynesia to the east and Island Melanesia to the south; as well as the wider Austronesian peoples.

Polynesian Voyaging Society

The Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) is a non-profit research and educational corporation based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. PVS was established to research and perpetuate traditional Polynesian voyaging methods. Using replicas of traditional double-hulled canoes, PVS undertakes voyages throughout Polynesia navigating without modern instruments.

Rai stones Micronesian rock art and currency

The Micronesian island of Yap is known for its stone money, known as Rai, or Fei: large doughnut-shaped, carved disks of (usually) calcite, up to 4 m (13 ft) in diameter. The smallest can be as little as 3.5 centimetres (1.4 in) in diameter. Rai, or stone money, are more than 6,000 large, circular stone disks carved out of limestone formed from aragonite and calcite crystals. Rai stones were quarried on several of the Micronesian islands, mainly Palau, but briefly on Guam as well, and transported to Yap for use as money. They have been used in trade by the Yapese as a form of currency.

Music of the Federated States of Micronesia

The traditional music of the Federated States of Micronesia varies widely across the four states, and has, in recent times, evolved into popular music influenced by Europop, country music and reggae.

Yap State State in Federated States of Micronesia

Yap State is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The other states are Kosrae State, Pohnpei State, and Chuuk State.

Mau Piailug Micronesian navigator from the Carolinian island of Satawal and a teacher of traditional, non-instrument wayfinding methods for deep-sea voyaging

Pius "Mau" Piailug was a Micronesian navigator from the Carolinian island of Satawal, best known as a teacher of traditional, non-instrument wayfinding methods for open-ocean voyaging. Mau's Carolinian navigation system, which relies on navigational clues using the Sun and stars, winds and clouds, seas and swells, and birds and fish, was acquired through rote learning passed down through teachings in the oral tradition. He earned the title of master navigator (palu) by the age of eighteen, around the time the first American missionaries arrived in Satawal. As he neared middle age, Mau grew concerned that the practice of navigation in Satawal would disappear as his people became acculturated to Western values. In the hope that the navigational tradition would be preserved for future generations, Mau shared his knowledge with the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS). With Mau's help, PVS used experimental archaeology to recreate and test lost Hawaiian navigational techniques on the Hōkūle‘a, a modern reconstruction of a double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe.

Satawal island in Federated States of Micronesia

Satawal is a solitary coral atoll of one island with about 500 people on just over 1 km2 located in the Caroline Islands in the Pacific Ocean It forms a legislative district in Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia. Satawal is the easternmost island in the Yap island group and is located approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) east of Lamotrek.

Rull municipality in Micronesia

Rull is a municipality in the southern part of the island Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. It has a traditional dancing ground. Rull has a population of 1,847. The historic Rull Men's Meetinghouse is located within the town.

Alingano Maisu, also known as Maisu, is a double-hulled voyaging canoe built in Kawaihae, Hawaii by members of Na Kalai Waʻa Moku o Hawaiʻi and ʻOhana Wa'a members from throughout the Pacific and abroad as a gift and tribute to Satawalese navigator Mau Piailug, who navigated the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa on her maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976 and has since trained numerous native Hawaiians in the ancient art of wayfinding. The word maisu comes from the Satawalese word for breadfruit that has been knocked down by storm winds and is therefore available for anyone to take. The name is said to symbolize the knowledge of navigation that is made freely available.

David Dean O'Keefe was an Irish-American ship captain who become a historical and political figure on the South Pacific island of Yap.

Tomil municipality of the Federated States of Micronesia

Tomil or Tamil is a municipality on the island of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia. It consists of twelve distinctive villages: Meerur, Teb, Aff, Bugol, Doomchuy, Deechmur, Dilag (uninhabited), Maa', Thol, Madl'ay, Gargey, and Daaboch. Tomil occupies the southern portion of Gagil-Tamil Island, except for Gargey village, which is located on the main island of Yap.

Rull Mens Meetinghouse United States historic place

The Rull Men's Meetinghouse is a historic meeting house in Rull, a village on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. It is a large rectangular structure, set on a raised stone platform. The flooring consists of treated betelnut palm trunks, and has a steeply pitched roof made of bamboo supports with various types of tropical leaves tied in place using coconut fiber. The faluw, although not the first built on this platform, has historically occupied a central place in the civic life of the community, serving as a place where the men of the village could meet in seclusion, and as a place for social rites.

Tarang (Yap)

Tarang, also known as O'Keefe's Island is a small island in the main harbor of Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. It is located roughly in the center of the harbor east of Colonia, the Yapese capital, between Pekel and Bi Islands. It is a low island with a maximum height of about 22 feet (6.7 m), and is overgrown with tropical vegetation. The island has local historical importance as the home of Captain David O'Keefe, an enterprising American who arrived on Yap in the 1870s, and was responsible for not only significant economic growth, but also for the depreciation of the distinctive Yapese currency, the large rai stones which became devalued after O'Keefe introduced iron tools that made manufacture of the stones easier. O'Keefe settled on Tarang, where he had a boat landing, coal warehouse, and house. Of these structures, only the boat landing has survived; only foundations survive of the others.

Yapese people ethnic group

The Yapese people are a Micronesian ethnic group native to the main island of Yap. Under different administrative rules, Yapese culture has been influenced by Spanish, Japanese, German, and American cultures. Aspects of traditional Yapese culture are still important in modern Yapese culture.

Religion in Yap is predominantly Roman Catholic, which first arrived in Yap in the late 1880s. Before that, the Yapese people practiced traditional rituals and practices and held beliefs about the gods, the spirits, taboos, and death. Through the efforts of Capuchin and Jesuit missionaries, the Catholic Church eventually became the dominant church on Yap. Other religions on Yap include Protestantism and other Christian sects.


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