THE MAGICAL YAP ISLANDS
AN INTRODUCTION TO YAP AND ITS HISTORY
The Western Caroline Islands sit 700 nautical miles east of Manila, 800 miles north east of Manado and 1200nm south east of Tokyo. Within these Islands are the four islands that the local people call Waab. This has been mutated in “Yap Islands” in English. No one quite knows where the people of Yap came from. The Yap islands were quite unknown to westerners - bar perhaps a few sailors traders and colonial servants. This changed in the 1990’s when an American gentleman called Bill Acker put them firmly on the global dive map. Conversely as Bill would be the first to point out, the Yapese have been well known in the world of Micronesia. They were the dominant Navigators in the Western pacific and Yap has been inhabited for a two centuries that we westerners know about.
The Yapese are courteous, polite and overwhelmingly hospitable. But their society is slowly changing. The lack of opportunities in Yap and the compact of free association make the Yapese look east to the United states for their future. The Yap Islands are a series of four verdant forested lumps that rise from the pacific Ocean floor. The villages are linked by a series of ancient stone pathways that are made by hand. The islands are famous for the stone money that abounds. The money was carved from a quarry in Palau and brought to YAP in canoes. The money sits in a stone money bank, but everyone in Yap knows who owns it. The men still meet in meeting houses and talk about the affairs of the village and the system of chiefs still runs well and is respected by all.
No one knows where the Yapese come from. The most popular hypothesis is that they are Austronesians who came from what are now the Phillipine islands. Archeologists have carbon tested various items and have found that there were people living on Yap as early as 179 ad. The Yapese speak a language which shares 13% with a tribe in Guadalcanal in the Solomons, but their own outer islanders speak a series of languages so different that Yapese from different islands are forced to communicate in English. They are excellent navigators and still sail canoes from Guam and Palau to Yap.
Yap was colonised by the Spanish, who then ceded it to Germany, who lost Micronesia to the Japanese after World War 1. The Japanese empire controlled Yap and the pacific until World War 2. Island by Island, they lost Micronesia with Yap being surrendered in 1945. The US Navy then ran Yap until 1952 when it handed it over to the US Pacific Trust Territory administration. Micronesia was ignored until the Micronesians demanded some form of independence. Palau and the Marshals and Saipan took their own road, while the rest of the states, including YAP formed the Federeated States of Micronesia in 1986.
This is a tiny nation which still relies on the United States under the compact of free association for assistance and development. While all of this may sound very grand, the Yap Islands remain undisturbed. And the Yapese must be the friendliest, most hospitable people in the whole of Micronesia.