Another Homecoming Tale

Capuchin priest with children outside the church of Santa Cruz in Machbob, Rull. (1905)

Yap may be a small island , but there is a lot going on there these days.? ?The Island of Stone Money,? as the place is sometimes called, seems caught up these days in the other kind of money?the green stuff bearing portraits of US presidents.? All week long there have been budget hearings to deal with projected cuts in funding.

Meanwhile, the island is abuzz with talk of the Chinese offer to sink billions into Yap to build a mammoth casino, seven or more golf courses, and housing that would supposedly accommodate 20,000 Chinese tourists or long-term visitors.? That?s about triple the current population of the Yap high island group, by the way.? Interestingly enough, on an island group that prides itself on its regard for its old cultural ways, people are said to be lining up to offer their land for leases.? This is certainly one way of dealing with projected cash shortfalls.

While all this is happening, the Yap Visitors Bureau is planning its annual Homecoming Festival for June 16 to celebrate the island?s past.? The idea, as expressed in the program, is ?celebrating the Yapese spirit by reuniting friends and family.?? This year the focus is on the Chamorros who formed a small community on Yap ever since the 1890s when the Spanish first brought them in to become teachers and administrative assistants for the government.? As their number expanded over the years, Chamorros gave their name to the bay around which they lived.? Finally, in 1948, the 217 Chamorros were packed onto an LST and repatriated at last.

In a program designed by the Yap Visitors Bureau, descendants of those Chamorro families who lived on Yap will be welcomed back, a mass will be held to celebrate the establishment of the church, and a photo exhibit will feature photos of some of those Chamorro residents and Colonia as it appeared a century or more ago.

The strategy of the event, as planned by the Visitors Bureau, is not just to welcome back old friends to the island.? It is to help island people get a firm fix on the past so that they can navigate confidently into the future.? Perhaps never was this needed so much as today, when ?The Island of Stone Money? is contemplating opening its doors to an Asian community a hundred times larger than the Chamorro community that once crowded around its main bay.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.

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