MICRONESIA

ASPECTS OF KOSRAE

           

Kosrae is isolated from other islands of Micronesia and as such the culture of Kosrae combines elements of the traditional culture along with the culture introduced by the missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. According to legend, however, the following story is told on Kosrae about how the four villages on the island were first settled and how they were named.

The legend concerns a mother, her three sons and her daughter who stayed on a small portion of land on the island. As time passed, the mother grew to be very old and could no longer care for her children, so she called them together and told the children that it was time for her to let them go and find their own homes on the island.

The older son wandered westward until he came to a place he wanted for his home on the western part of Kosrae. He named this place Tafunsak. The name came from two Kosraean words, Tafu which means half and sak, which means woods or trees. He chose this name because the place was heavily timbered. Today, Tafunsak is the largest village on Kosrae because it was settled by the oldest son.

The old woman's lovely daughter settled the second village on Kosrae and she called her home Melem, meaning moon. This name was chosen because she arrived at night and the moon was shining very brightly and it is said that Melem looks so beautiful under the moonlight. Because the daughter settled there long ago, young girls from this village are said to be the most beautiful girls on Kosrae.

The second eldest son wandered a great distance until he came to the far side of the island and could not go any further. Consequently, he decided to settle there but could not think of an appropriate name for his home. Then he remembered that when he wondered there, he had come to the back to find his home and for this reason he named it Utwe.

The youngest son did not want to leave his mother alone so he stayed with her until she died. After she died, he decided to name his home and as it was completely surrounded by water, he named it Lelu, meaning the inside of the lake.

The four villages of Kosrae retain the qualities of the people who named them. Tafunsak is the largest because of the importance of the oldest son. From Melem, comes the beautiful girls as it was settled by the lovely daughter of the old woman. Utwe is the village farther south and Lelu is the capital village of the island because it was the home of the mother and the last born son.

CHILDBIRTH ON KOSRAE 

Although there are no ceremonies before childbirth, certain customs are followed by many expectant mothers. Everything that she needs should be prepared before the delivery. According to custom, the woman should not go out at night. Otherwise she will become very weak and will be sick when her child is born. Also, the woman is encouraged to be active to exercise her body and to swim in salt-water. It is felt that if she does not do these things, she will have difficulty in her delivery. She is also restricted in the kinds of foods she may eat.

Responsibility for the pregnant woman is usually in the hands of her own mother. However, others who are familiar with delivering babies may be asked to assist. After the delivery and the severing of the umbilical cord, the husband will bury it and usually plant a coconut tree on top of it to mark the place. The new mother will be provided with food and also local medicine so she can gain strength. The baby will be kept warm by a local leaf that has been heated and placed on its body.

In Kosraean custom, the husband cannot stay with his wife after childbirth. He must stay in a different room or house for a number of months. The practical reason for this is so the mother or child will not contact diseases and become ill. The husband and other members of the family will provide her with food and limit the kinds that she eats. The foods given to her will have very little fat. Also, fish is considered to be the best food at this time.

The main celebration of childbirth on Kosrae takes place one year after the child has been born. Plans for the occasion will be made well in advance of the day and it is the husband's responsibility to organize it. On this day, very early in the morning, the mother will feed and wash her child and dress him/her in his/her finest clothes. The cooking for the feast will begin immediately and different foods such as breadfruit, taro, pigs, and chickens are prepared. Cooking takes place at the houses of both the husband's and wife's relatives. Although men do much of the cooking at this time, women and girls will assist. Also, every woman on this occasion will bring a gift for the baby.

When the cooking has been completed and all of the food is brought together, the father and child will select several men to distribute it. It is the mother's responsibility to keep track of the gifts and food.

There is little difference in the celebration even if the mother is not married. The only difference is that other male relatives of the mother would be responsible for the duties of the father. The actual celebration is the same for all children on Kosrae.

There are names given to children that are particular to the people of Kosrae and different names are given males and females. These names are traditional. Although they were given much more in the past, they are quite evident on the island today and the parents make this decision. Baby boys might be named Sru, Nena, Alik, Kilafwasru, Aliksru, Palik, Palikna, Alikna, Kun, Tolenna, tolensa, and Tulenkun. Popular names for baby girls are Shra, Notwe, Tulpe, Shrue, Kenye, and Sepe, among others. Today, a combination of Christian and traditional names is given and anyone might name the child with the permission of the parents.

FOOD AND EATING HABITS IN KOSRAE

Kosrae has been called the green island by some and the loveliest island in the Pacific by others. From the air or sea its lush vegetation presents a startling contrast to the blue ocean surrounding the island. An enormous amount of plant life exists on Kosrae. Although some were introduced during the Japanese and American administrations, most are native to the island.

Because of the rich soil and comparatively large size of the island, farming is quite common and every man should have farmland. Regardless of its size, he will have certain plants on his land. Some of these are breadfruit, bananas, wet and dry taro, and most importantly, coconut trees. Coconuts are vital because they can serve as a food crop or a cash crop. The size of each holding is decreasing compared to landholding in the past. This is a result of increasing population and the splitting of an inheritance among a number of children.

Men do the farming on Kosrae and sometimes a group will work together as a team. They will come together and decide on which farm to begin with, whose will be next, and so forth. Most Kosraeans tend their farms individually, however. A farmer often takes his sons with him to help, and on Saturday an entire family might work. This is especially true if the father is a government employee and can only visit his land on weekends.

Farming usually takes place away from the home but some crops are grown nearby in gardens. These might include sweet potatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, oranges, limes, and beans. Where oranges and limes are grown, only a few of these trees will be found because of the space necessary for the trees.

Because of farming responsibilities, it is difficult for a family to gather for meals and dinner is the only meal of which most families are together. On Sundays, however, people are not supposed to work and all three meals should be prepared the previous day. On Kosrae, there is no such thing as table manners as they are known in western society. Also, people might eat only twice each day because it takes hours to prepare the main foods. People usually do not have breakfast unless they arise early enough in the morning to cook or they have something left over from the previous evening meal.

It is common on Kosrae that the father always has the first serving at meals so that he might have his choice of food. A special food might be served. If there is not enough for all, it would be unfair to the children if some had that food and some had to do without. In this case, it would be best to leave it for the father and the mother. However, most of the time, enough food is prepared for the entire family. When the father is absent for some reason, the mother will assume his responsibility.

Kosrae has a wide variety of food available for the people as nature has been kind in providing an abundant diet of food from the land as well as fish and animals. 

LAND OWNERSHIP ON KOSRAE

Ownership of land is a fundamental tenant of life in Kosrae. Among other things, land ownership is a means of ranking a family or an individual in the village hierarchy, quite apart from the monetary value of the land. In addition, the land provides the basis for the quality of life of the family in terms of its utilization to grow crops.

Land ownership on the island is associated with traditional customs and is determined in several ways. The most common of these is right of ownership by birth which allows land to remain within the family from one generation to the next. In this context, it is important that division of land between the sons should be undertaken by the father on a very equitable basis. If this is not done, serious disputes can arise which can often sever the ties between brothers and sisters and cause some to denounce membership of the family. Because of this, many fathers choose not to divide the land but instead ensure that all members of the family acquire the same rights and privileges to use the land.

One form of land inheritance which attempts to avoid disputes involves the older child getting the most and the best land. In this way, the oldest child in the family has the responsibility, on behalf of the father, on dividing the land among the brothers and sisters. Since it is traditional in Kosrae culture that older people are respected, many Kosraeans favour this method of distribution. The disadvantage, however, is that distribution of the land tends not to favour the younger members of the family.

Under some circumstances, parents may favour some children over others in the distribution of land. In this way, the younger children may be given a larger share of the property than the elder sons. This is of course an insult to the older children but they are unable to protest as the parents' decision is absolutely final. In this respect, children on Kosrae often try to please their parents otherwise they may not be favoured when the land is distributed.  

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