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Flag of Yap.svg
Yap State Seal.jpg
Map of Yap State
Iles Yap.svg
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.


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 Michelle Yap island proper. The Yapese people's indigenous cultures and traditions are strong compared to other states in Micronesia. [2]

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.


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).

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.

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]

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 from 1966 to 2018. 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 2.4m [8 feet] in height) example of Yapese stone money (Rai) in the village of Gachpar Yap Stone Money.jpg
A large (approximately 2.4m [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, Irish American sea captain 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.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Hōkūleʻa is a performance-accurate waʻa kaulua, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe. Launched on 8 March 1975 by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, she is best known for her 1976 Hawaiʻi to Tahiti voyage completed with exclusively Polynesian navigation techniques The primary goal of the voyage was to explore the anthropological theory of the Asiatic origin of native Oceanic people, of Polynesians and Hawaiians in particular, as the result of purposeful trips through the Pacific, as opposed to passive drifting on currents, or sailing from the Americas. A secondary project goal was to have the canoe and voyage "serve as vehicles for the cultural revitalization of Hawaiians and other Polynesians".

Rai stones Micronesian 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. There are around 6,000 of the 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.

Yap State State in Federated States of Micronesia

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

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Satawal island in Federated States of Micronesia

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Woleaian is the main language of the island of Woleai and surrounding smaller islands in the state of Yap of the Federated States of Micronesia. Woleaian is a Trukic language. Within that family, its closest relative is Satawalese, with which it is largely mutually intelligible. Woleaian is spoken by approximately 1700 people. Woleai has a writing system of its own, a syllabary based on the Latin alphabet.

Fais Island island

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Rull Mens Meetinghouse United States historic place

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<i>Wa</i> (watercraft) Type of outrigger canoe from the Caroline Islands

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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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