Cultural ceremony with Piper methysticum

The term in ethnobotany closes with the observation of a cultural ceremony centered on Piper methysticum. This plant is central to a ceremony that welcomes a new child to a family, permits a husband's family to ask another family for the hand of a daughter in marriage, shows honor to a king and to the head of a kousapw, and says goodbye to those who have departed this life. The plant is central to the birth, life, and death of a Pohnpeian. The plant is deeply embedded in the culture, and without the plant, the culture would, arguably, collapse.

Tehn wehd (Alocasia macrorrhiza) ready to be used as pwei koar. 

The reasons one would invoke the ceremony are many.

  • At funerals
  • By a family to apologize to another family as, for example, a result of fighting or stealing.
  • In all of the traditional festivals (kamadipw)
  • Isimwas New nice house, new nahs.
  • Kapasmwar New title.
  • Kesihpwong (Koasihpwong) from evening to morning
  • Keting en doadoahk (koating doadoahk) to celebrate those people who come and help you at your work
  • Koahmwakele Ask for marriage in Nahnmwarki's place.
  • Koapwoapwoaud Marriage.

Piper methysticum

  • Laid kapw New things such as fishing net, canoe, boat, etc.
  • Mehn tomw rehn sohpeidi (sohpoaidi) When Nahnmwarki gets angry. For Nahnmwarki, use sakau rahmedel (rahmoadoal). Only Nahnken or kids ipwin pohn warawar can do this.
  • Nohpwei Presentation of first fruits such as yams (kehp, koahp) to the Nahnmwarki
  • Pek pwoapwoaud nan tehnpas (poak pwoapwoaud nan toahnpas) Ask for marriage. When asking for marriage both sakau and sugar cane, sehu, must be brought to the father of the intended bride. In this situation sugar cane is not called sehu. Sugar cane brought to ask a father for his daughter as wife is called sakauen pahnta.
  • Pek wini de repen mour erihtik (poak wini de roapoan moaur oarihtik) Ask local medicine.
  • Peki koasoai (poaki koasoai) Pwahda. For talking.
  • Pilen dihdi Husband first delivered a baby
  • To bring home a king or high title who has visited somewhere else (aluhmwur). This ceremony is done to release the high title from the care of those who have cared for the high title.
  • To celebrate a baby's first birthday.
  • To celebrate a birthday.
  • To celebrate the Christening of a baby
  • To welcome a special guest
  • Uhroamoai first time you use your new peitehl (poaitehl).
  • Welienlite (Welioanlit) "almost dead"

Bus arrival 3:41

 The Piper methysticum, sakau, enters the nahs intact, whole with an even number of branches. The branches are cut inside the nahs.

Kimsky as our chief, Sandralynn as female counterpart, Pelida as oarir (erir), her legs now in the culturally correct position.

Sukusuk: pounding the root stock under the direction of the menindei

Wengweng: squeezing the root stock with Hibiscus tiliaceus

Emerika, Kiyoe, Lizleen, Megan Ruth observe the ceremony

Sharisey and Kira watch intently

The women sit on the side of the nahs.

Menindei in position to call cups (minus the central post)

This puts the women above the men in the center of the nahs. As Kira noted, this arrangement was not possible in Yap. When I pointed out that here on Pohnpei this arrangement could and did put male relatives below females, the look told me this was not remotely possible on Yap. I noted that on Kosrae, where there were chairs and floor space for sitting, the women would take the floor and the men would take the chairs. No woman would remain in a chair if there were men on the floor, not that I had ever experienced.

Pwehl went to the honorary Nahnmwarki, arehn sakau to a high titled man present, esil to Nahnalek. Sahp, the fourth cup that closes the ceremony, went to Nahnmwarki who re-directed the cup to myself.  

Sharisey and Kira

After sahp.

Dana and Sharisey

How a culture uses space is of interest to me. Beyond that, to what extent did the traditions and cultural practices act to not only accord respect to women, but to protect women? My statistics class has been looking at the 2014 FSM Family Health and Safety Study. The data that they are working with comes from appendices in the report.

A married woman cannot refuse sex if her husband is drunk52.516.736.714
A married woman cannot refuse sex if she does not want to get pregnant62.722.749.917.1
A married woman cannot refuse sex if she doesn't want to51.626.438.917.5
A married woman cannot refuse sex if she is sick42.812.731.89.6
A wife is obliged to have sex with husband53.841.835.923.4
Experienced any sexual violence11155.14.8
Experienced forced intercourse10.
Experienced physical violence41.555.516.625.6
Gets angry if she speaks with another man56.239.522.218.7
Good reason to hit: husband finds out wife is unfaithful71.883.545.617.8
Good reason to hit: husband suspects wife is unfaithful59.931.516.414
Good reason to hit: wife asks about girlfriends57.113.37.810.6
Good reason to hit: wife does not complete housework47.243.613.75.8
Good reason to hit: wife refuses sex48.
Ignores and treats indifferently34.
Insists on knowing where she is at all times76.64344.827
Keeps her from seeing friends52.731.622.619.4
Needs to ask his permission before seeking health care71.335.431.712.7
Often suspicious that she is unfaithful55.33820.516.7
Tries to restrict contact with family of birth30.414.810.77.1

The metrics were, in some instances, recast so that for every metric a higher value represents less control over their own life and body, less safety, and less security for women. The respondents were women nationwide who were interviewed by women from their own ethnicity in their own language. All of the respondents were women.

A boxplot of the above averages by state suggests real differences between the states. In the boxplot lower values represent better outcomes for women on the metrics. Higher values represent more violence against women, less control of their own life and their own body.

There are those who would argue Yap is perhaps the state that strives most actively to conserve their traditional original Pacific island pre-contact culture. And where Kosrae shifted to a culture of the church in the 1800s, ending the practice of consuming sakau, ending the existence of village chiefs, ending the Togusrai king line, Pohnpei has retained sakau, soumas en kousapw, and the Nahnmwarki lines. What the published data in the study does not reveal is differences inside a state. Are women in more "traditional" settings better protected from violence than women in the burgeoning pseudo-metropolitan areas? Is the position of Chuuk due in part to urbanization in Wene? In other words, where are the "hot spots" for violence against women within a state?

My sense is that traditional titles and structures provided some level of protection for women. In the nahs we physically see the elevated position women hold. The respect they command and receive from the men around them.

Of course violence against women is far more complex than cultural factors. Alcohol plays a leading role in many incidents of violence against women. That said, culture and traditions may play an important protective role for women against the violence that too many experience. And the ethnobotany class visit to a nahs provides a place for the students from the other states to experience this.

My thanks to the college for their ongoing support for SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany.


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