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John Paul Ililau, the Latest Palauan to Leave Us
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Nick Rahoy, My First Island Friend and Mentor
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5) Out of Africa
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4) Through China to Taiwan
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3) The Beginning of the Seafarers
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2) Where the Original Settlers Come From
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1) Back to the First Settlement of Our Islands
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Micronesians:
Where Did They Come From?

Nick Rahoy, My First Island Friend and Mentor

It was in August 1963, shortly after my arrival to begin teaching at Xavier, that I met first met Nick, along with John Rulmal, on the Gunner’s Knot. Nick was one of several Yapese students who had boarded at Yap for the voyage to Chuuk. Air flights were few and planes were small in those days. Over the next four or five days as we crept eastward, Nick began exposing me to the new world of Micronesia. It began with demonstrating how monkeymen were carved from wood, and it went on to other things—how spirits of the dead take possession of people, and why island women once had to stay in special huts during their menstrual period. By the end of the trip, we were good friends. Nick was not just a personal mentor on island life, but one of my very first Micronesian friends.

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5) Out of Africa

50,000 BC – How far back can we go?

Back to Africa where it all began. To the land where the earliest remains of human-like creatures were found, dating back to at least two million years ago. These creatures were the first that walked upright, but they looked more like apes than the humans we know today. Their brain was barely half the size of the human brain today, and they eventually went extinct.

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4) Through China to Taiwan

(5000 BC-2500 BC)

About 5000 BC, just before the people we know as Chinese settled down in their land and before rice fields spread widely throughout the country, bands of hunters and gatherers roamed throughout eastern Asia. Different language speaking groups were very much on the move, wandering this way and that way, looking for places where they could find the resources they needed to survive.

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3) The Beginning of the Seafarers

(2500 BC-1400 BC)

So where did these restless sea-people, the voyagers who sailed to Melanesia and made their temporary home there, originally come from?

The answer we get from nearly all those who have studied this question is Taiwan, an island just off the coast of China. Taiwan is generally regarded as the starting point: the place in which the Austronesian language family–the broad family that embraces nearly all the major Pacific Island languages–originated. It is also where the seafaring tradition, the navigational skills, and so many of the other cultural traits associated with early island societies were formed.

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2) Where the Original Settlers Come From

(1400 BC – 200 BC)

Who were the first people to settle these islands? Where did they come from?

The early settlers in Micronesia left us clues as to who they were and how they lived. They even offered hints of where they had come from. The remains that archaeologists have found in ancient burial sites and in the garbage pits of these people (midden sites, they are called) reveal most of what we know about them. Since these settlers left no written records of their voyages or discoveries, those who wish to learn about them must poke around in the earth to discover what they may have left buried beneath the ground. So, pits were dug on most of the major high islands and even on some of the outer islands like Fais and Lamotrek.

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1) Back to the First Settlement of Our Islands

(2,000 years ago)
Where did we come from?

Most islanders have heard the story explaining how their clan first reached their island. They may also know the tales about the arrival of some of the other clans. One former student of mine, when I asked him about his clan’s origins on Fefan in Chuuk, told me that the founder of the clan was carried to his island on the back of a dolphin.

Even after their arrival, however, clans spread out, sometimes widely and in surprising ways. Often they changed names in the course of their movement. The real story of any clan will show twists and turns over the decades, and there are tales to describe all this as well.

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Micronesians:
Where Did They Come From?

I’ll always remember walking down the road in Chuuk many years ago and glimpsing the flickering light in the wooden houses–the light of the kerosene lamp.

In the old days, before most houses had electrical power, long before cell phones and even before television sets, it was story-telling time as darkness fell. The day’s work had been done, the food cooked and distributed to the family. Now the gathered family could relax in the couple of hours before the children went to sleep.

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