Material Culture

Carie-Ann brought in a botaw (alternately boataw), gagech style, for younger chewers of betel nut.

Benhart brought in a different botaw, a garwel' style for an older user


Benhard explained the social aspects of the differences in the design. The gagech on the left sits upright allowing elders to freely take nuts from a youth. The elders bag, however, is private and conceals its contents by tipping over when set down.

Pohnpeian mwarmwar

Kosraean pulet sranu presented by Sapino Lee Sigrah


Pulet derives from the English word plate.


Kosraean fohtoh, traditional palm leaf basket.


Spencer Salik


Hanae Shimuzu wore a jimbei.She explained a trio of traditional outfits, the kimono, the yukata, and the jimbei. The jimbei is casual clothing from the edo period. Note that the left front side is on top of the right front side. This is the correct way to wear the jimbei. Hanae noted that this may be due to this arrangement being useful to right handed wearers. If one needs to retrieve a fan or other item from inside the jimbei, then left on top facilitates this for the individual. Right on top would be the arrangement only for a corpse. Traditionally the jimbei had no pockets.




Hanae addresses the class.


Arlen shows a semi-traditional adze.


The original ancient adze used a shell blade, today the blades are steel.

One student brought in an uhm rock. Beyond the fact that the uhm rock is not plant based material culture, the rock is also not a crafted artifact. No particular working of the material occurs. Does a banana leaf umbrella count as material culture? Or is it just use of a "found material"? In future classes I will have to make clear that rocks, including moahl, are not plant-based material culture, and that the item brought in should be a worked cultural artifact.


The Pohnpeian kiam is a worked cultural artifact made from a plant.


The Pohnpeian bread splitting awl, called a pwai, is worked material culture.

Anthon Sother Junior with the pwai


Carlinda Joab shows an ivory nut palm necklace.


Ngarangar. Called kohwa when filled with sakau.


Rico Joab and Senioreen Nickolas each with ngarangar. Rico, unusual in this day and age, took the lecture on material culture to heart, and presented in koahl without a shirt. Producing a good ngarangar takes a lot of work. The shell is not used as it but is scraped and polished, the lip is shaved to form a sharper edge, and the ngarangar is retained in the family for years, even decades.


Francisco Hadley brought back to the fore the question of "worked" cultural artifacts. He brought in half of a coconut shell that is the by-product of producing copra. The shell itself is not worked. Aalthough the shell is used in lieu of charcoal in barbecues, no work is done on the shell. The shell is plant based and would not fully qualify as a "found material" as the shell does not naturally occur dehusked with the copra removed. A gray area but probably not material culture in the spirit of "worked artifacts" that are unique to the culture.

This kopwou, local purse, is definitely a worked plant based object. The purse is made from a coconut shell.

Wescot presents the kopwou.


Rotick and Jenny present the tipw - wooden tongs for handling hot uhm rocks. This is another item somewhere along a continuum of items that fall inbetween clearly worked objects of material culture and found materials. The tipw is typically a short length of debarked Hibiscus tiliaceus that has been split lengthwise. No other working is done. Again, not exactly a found object, but if left laying around the forest few would realize that the object was an item of material culture. The tipw is a stick split down the middle.


Dokia sticks made form koampaniel wood, used in the canoe dances of Pohnpei by the women.


Charlotte Eperiam describes the sticks to the class.


Merlina Edward continues the theme of the boundary between material culture and found objects. She is holding a fibrous mat found on palm trees where the new leaves emerge from the tree. The fibrous mat, called inipal in Pohnpei, is used for squeezing local medicine. No working of the material is required, the mat is a found object that is used as is.

Part of the complication is the loss of traditional material culture. Students are hard pressed to come up with items of worked material culture. Material culture is the area of greatest loss.


Nayleen Doses presents a food pounder called "mehn suk lihli" for making lihli (pounded breadfruit). The pounder can also make pounded banana.


The item is clearly worked material culture and made from a plant. There might be no coincidence in the appropriateness of the item, note that the presenter is wearing a skirt. For women, dresses and skirts replaced the koahl. Dresses remain the culturally favored attired for older women in the cultures of Micronesia. Clothing choices do reflect to some extent the views of the wearer.



Jamie and Monalia brought in wooden rice paddles called samwusi. Rice came into the Micronesian diet during the Japanese era, and the rice paddle came with the food. In Japan the rice paddle is known as syamoji. The class learned that the syamoji can only be used with rice, while Micronesians use the samwusi with a wider variety of foods.



Jamie demonstrates.


LillyJane John brought in the nipwepweia or Chuukese love stick. The artifact is also known as nipwepwe. In the past students have also referred to the stick as a finagi, fenai, and wokun tong. The multiple different words may represent dialectical differences or simply the loss of knowledge of the correct term.



The issue of how a young woman could "recognize" a particular love stick was answered by LillyJane's assertion that a young man would have two sticks. A smaller one that is in their hair, and a larger one they actually used at night.

A few years ago a student from Faichuuk also presented the Chuukese love stick, which she spelled "nipwepweiaa". Although no longer in use, she alleged that young men would make their own love stick and openly display the stick by day so women could come to know his love stick pattern. That night, he would stick the nipwepweiaa through the wall of her thatch hut and snag her hair. She could feel the stick and know what boy was on the other end. If she wanted to meet that boy, she could pull on the stick to let the boy know he can come in. Otherwise she pushed the stick back through the wall to indicate that she was not interested.

With the advent of cement walled homes, this world has been completely lost and now the nipwepweiaa is a trinket sold only to tourists. This is but a small part of what is a huge sea change in dating and mate finding practices in Micronesia. Young people who can afford cell phones now text message each other to set up a secret rendevous.

LillyJane John with a Chuukese love stick

In the fall of 2005 another student also presented the Chuukese love stick. She referred to the stick as a fenai and noted that open display did not occur. This may be a dialectical and regional practice differences in the lagoon. The student also noted that the girl would slip out, rather than the boy coming in. This makes more sense given the mortal danger of being caught in the girl's home

The nipwepwe almost seems to symbolize the changing social structures surrounding mate selection in Micronesia.

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