Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where's the Thanksgiving Fish?

People occasionally ask us what we do when Thanksgiving comes around. Since we're only loosely connected to the States, some assume we don't celebrate it at all. Well, as you will behold in these photos, we do celebrate Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings! Yes, we even enjoy succulent turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, and my (Eric's) personal favorite, sweet potatoes. So, at high noon, most of our faculty and staff, along with about half of our on-campus students, gathered in the large classroom to tables loaded with food. After singing and a little sharing, we feasted . . . and feasted . . . and feasted (and then went back for more dessert).
This year, I noticed that something was glaringly missing. A scan across the table, loaded with American fixings, revealed the absence of fish. No fish?! This is the first Thanksgiving in three that has not had fish. Sure, the boatload of obligatory rice was there, but no matching creatures of the sea. Now, I'm not the biggest fish fan, but I noticed how incomplete the table seemed to me. My first thought was, "Wow, I guess my idea about what comprises a traditional Thanksgiving meal has changed." My second thought was more intriguing. The meal, when complete with rice and fish, is actually more traditional than the way I've always conceived of it! The first Thanksgiving wasn't a bunch "English" consuming volumes of food in hushed isolation. It was a celebration with the local natives as an expression of thanks to God who had brought them through unbelievable hardship and irretrievable loss. You can't tell me there wasn't fish and probably (wild) rice at that first Thanksgiving. So, what did we do on Thanksgiving? We celebrate it, perhaps much more "traditionally" than you do in the States! Now for the leftovers . . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chuukese on the Catwalk

The atmosphere was electric with anticipation as the music thumped and a spotlight shone on the runway. Bouncers rigorously guarded the two locked doors to make sure spectators could supply the requisite proof that they had an invitation (aka, were female). What would be the 2009 fall fashion for Chuukese clothing? What surprises might be in store for the spectators who would watch lovely Chuukese models promenade down the catwalk? Well, OK, so I am glamorizing the event to some extent. But, what a great evening we had.

The idea of hosting a fashion show came about after I heard a PIU student extolling the beauty of "the latest" Chuukese skirts. I couldn't see what the fuss was about. At first glance, the skirts looked the same as they always had--same floral cut-outs, same tea-length, and same cotton or nylon fabric. As the students attempted to explain last year's fashion, the fashion of four years ago, and the latest fashion, I suggested we have a night where they could bring the skirts and actually demonstrate the differences for me. I also asked them to explain to me the rules around what they could wear and when. Well, one thing led to another, and eventually we decided we'd have a fashion show in the large classroom at PIU. I'd bring the dessert and drinks, and they'd do the rest. As seems to be consistently true of our Micronesian students, they amazed me with their creativity and ability to provide quality entertainment. Undoubtedly, the students more than took care of "the rest." They had arranged the chairs so there was a long runway proceeding from a set of double doors, they located some special colored spotlights, and hooked up a sound system so that the entire event was narrated by an emcee. Additionally, they had music coordinated throughout the entire show. Not only did they show the latest in Chuukese skirts, they paraded mu mus, "sports-wear," and traditional wear from the Chuuk State islands of Satawal, Puluwat, Faichuuk, Weno, and Bafeng. It was during the showing of traditional clothing that I understood the need for locked doors and attentive sentinels! (Think styles similar to what Adam and Eve would have worn!)

Below I have posted some select photos. I had to be quite discriminating because I didn't want to inadvertently expose a student's knee, a part of the body that most our students are not comfortable publicly revealing. Guess you should have been present to get the full showing! :-)

How Chuukese fashion-astute are you? Below is a picture of Chuukese skirts in various levels of fashionableness. Can you arrange them in order from least to most fashionable? (The answer is at the bottom of this article).

The picture below is what females wear while playing sports! It is a skirt (worn with an underskirt so as to ensure no chance of it being seen through). Then comes a t-shirt. Over the t-shirt is a skirt tucked into itself forming a type of "tube top." Just imagine how hot this must be! (Remember Chuuk is about 7 degrees above the equator and thus ALWAYS blistering hot.)

Mu mus are worn to church and all other formal events.

Skirts are "every day wear" and are worn while cleaning, fishing, playing sports, bathing, swimming, etc. They are considered casual--no matter how "fancy," and therefore not appropriate for church or special occasions.

Traditionally, and even now on many of the islands, women go topless. But, showing one's leg (Knee and above) is taboo! This picture is of a traditional skirt woven and currently worn for special events (e.g. an inauguration) on the island of Puluwat. (It felt like the heavy weaving found in Mexican serapes. Unfortunately, the student was unable to explain the materials used to make it). It is worn as a wrap around and, therefore, it must be very hot to wear. However, when you wear this skirt, you do not wear a top so perhaps that compensates?!

* Answer to the order of which skirts are most stylish: The most sylish are on the left, moving to the least stylish on the far right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Undoubtedly, there are some parts of Micronesian culture that are amazingly beautiful. They remind me of a time in American history when things were purer and far less pretentious. Specifically, I think the overt affection our students show to other same-sex students is precious. It is common to see same-sex students strolling arm-in-arm, or, as in the meeting I attended last night, three female students held hands for the better part of the meeting. During dorm devotions, I'll observe the women softly rubbing each other's backs or playing with each other's hair. The last time I did this type of thing was in first grade! And, the physical contact is not restricted just to women. I'll see the men ambling with their arms slung over each other's backs or with fingers interlocked as they meander along. Here, it is seen purely and readily embraced. Imagine the meaning these actions would have in the States! And, again, it is our loss. What a beautiful aspect of relationships that we Americans are missing out on.