Material culture or perhaps the loss thereof

The material culture presentations remain the most difficult for the ethnobotany students. So much of the material culture has shifted, changed, or been outright lost. Homes are now made of cement and steel roofing sheets, boats are fiberglass powered by motors, clothing more often reflects the current trends seen in music videos than ancient cultural heritages. Tattoos are, as one student noted, of random animals. Clan line tattoo patterns are, by and large, lost.

Coconut fiber rope from Yap (aw).

The Yapese still produce coconut fiber rope, rolled on the inner thigh by men. Dukay presented a tattoo but noted that the tattoo was in a sensitive place. He noted that chiefs are denoted by a whale's tail tattoo, but only a few still have such.


Angela Solomon presented the Pingalapese dok, a wooden pounder for pounding breadfruit. As I had noted in class, food culture and the implements that generate the food are not usually lost as quickly as other elements of material culture.


A tihpw is a wooden tongs for handling uhm rocks, made by splitting a piece of Hibiscus tiliaceus, this is an unworked implement, other than the splitting of the wood with a machete.


Sunet shows off her ngarangars, called kohwa when filled with sakau. The coconut cup that receives the sakau has a number of names that may reflect municipal or situational differences. The cup can "name shift" during the course of a ceremony. The coconut cup is generically a ngarangar. Other names include kohwa, kohwaleng (kowahloang), and koupahloang (Koaupahloang) (women's cup). [Words that may relate to the cup: Katehria, kowahleng, koahnpwud also called Delen sakau (Doaloan sakau).]

Prior to becoming a ngarangar the cup is known as a poun dal. Once sakau is in the ngarangar the cup is referred to as a kohwa. A ngarangar is special and is not used for anything other than sakau. A ngarangar may be handed down through a family. The ngarangar unites a family around the sakau cup both in the present and across the generations, across time. Tremendous symbolism surrounds the ngaranga. The ngarangar is sufficiently critically important that loss is not likely.


Helen Paul with a local fan (toahrir).


Ravelyn presented a banana fiber women's wrap skirt called a mwoarupw. Over the years no student has ever worn the mwoarupw to class, prompting me to wear a koahl for the second day of presentations. That said, the mwoarupw is apparently not usually worn but is reserved as a gift given at the time of a funeral, and, if I understood correctly, may be used in some instances to wrap the deceased.





Perhaps curio shops for tourists is where material culture goes to die. This is a model of a coconut grinder. Interesting that the student brought in the model - actual coconut grinding stools are still in use across Micronesia. Not sure why the student brought in the model.




Sandra brought in a kohmw, which is Pohnpeian for comb, which is not technically ethnobotanical as the comb has an animal as its source.


Sonja brought in various pieces from the Mwoakillese dancing costume, with the flower being one worn by the Mwoakillese women at the Women's Day dances, the belt being a men's belt. Again, the culture is something brought in and displayed, not functionally worn or regularly used. Special occasions such as cultural day dancing, are the only times these are seen.



 Cherlylinda Augustine presented the asi, a Japanese loan word for the wooden pin that can be used to secure hair. The asi has been almost completely supplanted by rubber bands, elastic hair bands, and plastic spring loaded hair clips.

The students did struggle to find things to bring in, some merely sketched the object on the board. Material culture is the one area where loss is the greatest.

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