The first humans arrived in Pohnpei around 200 AD after migrating over several centuries through the intervening islands (Nauru, Kosrae), from the Solomon - Vanuatu area.
Local sources claim that the first centralized government was established as early as 500 AD by the Saudeleur Dynasty that reigned until 1450 AD. That initial date is questionable but there is evidence that the construction of Nan Madol, the Saudeleur's political social and religious centre, began sometime between 1100 and 1200 AD.
Nan Madol is comprised of 92 artificial islets built with prismatic basalt beams on shallow tidal flats south of Temwen island off the east coast of Pohnpei. An estimated 500 000 to 750 000 metric tons of boulders were quarried, transported and erected with stone age tools to create this "Oceanic Venice". Its purpose was mostly ceremonial and funerary but it was also the dwelling of a small elite of less than 1000 nobles and priests when the empire's total population reached 25 000 at its zenith near the end of the Saudeleur Dynasty.
Nan Madol remains one of the great mysteries of primitive stone age civilisations
along with other ruins such as
Great Zimbabwe in the country of that name.
books and treatises have been written on Nan Madol but many questions remain unanswered
The last Saudeleur was conquered by Isokelekel who took the title of Nahnmwarki and established the seat of his power in Nan Madol as had the Saudeleur before him. According to the legend, Isokelekel was born of the Thunder god and a human female on Kosrae from where he launched his take over of Pohnpei with only 333 men. The successive Nahnmwarki continued to rule as despots but Nan Madol had been abandoned when the first Europeans arrived, early in the 19th century.
The Carolines (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap) have been subject to the imperialism of four foreign regimes: Spain (1830-1886), Germany (1886-1899), Japan (1914-1945), and the United States of America (1945 - 1986).
Now the islanders are in the unenviable position of having acquired an appetite for modern amenities without having developed the capacity to produce anything that they could offer in exchange...
|Atlapedia CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs|
Pohnpei International Airport is built on Takatik island in the shadow of the great Sokehs Ridge which is one of the island's major landmarks.
Here is Sokehs Ridge on Sokehs Island seen from the side opposite to the airport.
During their 31 year tenure, the Japanese fortified Pohnpei and particularly Sokehs Ridge that was transformed into a mini Gibraltar equipped with naval and antiaircraft guns, pillboxes and tunnels
In Kolonia I stayed at the Sea Breeze Hotel where I had a fine room with air-conditioning for 35 $ US.
Here is Pohnpei's minuscule Lidorkini Museum. I was rather disappointed by the lack of more detailed information on the interesting Saudeleur dynasty that ruled Pohnpei from 500 to 1450 AD and on the succession of "Nahnmwarkis" that followed.
These telecommunication buildings and parabolic dish antenna serve not only Kolonia but also and more importantly, Palikir which is the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
The FSM is nominally independent but in fact, they depend on financial aid derived from their Compact of Free Association with the USA, for two thirds of their 160 million dollar budget. The leasing of fishing licenses to Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese interests brings in some 20 million but the federation's marine resources will not recover if they continue being over fished as they are now.
Micronesia College has a doll house quality about it but that's normal, Pohnpei has a population of only 37 000 people!
The standard of living in Kolonia is high as two-thirds of the the workforce is employed by the government (That is, in effect, paid by the USA).
This restaurant on stilts is a great place to watch the sunset with a cool drink.
I got lucky again and met an interesting Italian expat, Robert Tona, who took me around to see the capital Palikir.
These fine government buildings were quite impressive considering the weakness of the underlying economy.
Here is another fine building whose style is inspired by traditional community meeting houses. It just looks great!
The FSM is nominally independent but, "he who pays the piper calls the tune", especially when there is no other way of survival!
This is Nett Bay, just east of Kolonia.
Roberto Tona his Korean wife Terumi, their two boys and I went to visit the famous Nan Madol ruins on the eastern coast of the island.
Roberto and Terumi were newly arrived missionaries ardently intent on spreading the teachings of the Messiah, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church!
They told me how their marriage had been arranged by the Reverend Moon who had chosen them to bring the light to dark Micronesia.
I like to be photographed with happy kids so when this bunch approached to watch me take pictures, Roberto took this one.
Nan Madol is not very far from Kolonia but the road got rougher as we advanced through the jungle so it was a good thing that Roberto had a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Not everyone is on the government payroll!
Roberto and Terumi had just arrived a few weeks earlier. They were aware of the criticism leveled against their church by ex members and were still feeling their way around the island community hoping to avoid the pitfalls of a bad start.
This was a convenience store in the bush.
I did not fail to express my skepticism about religions and they did not insist so we had interesting conversations about the logistics of missionary work. It's basically the same as setting up a branch outlet to sell "widgets" or "gizmos".
The road gets narrower as we come closer to Nan Madol.
Finally we reach Temwen Island and the coral flats where the 92 islets of Nan Madol were built 8 or 9 centuries ago. Most of the ancient "Venice" is overgrown with a very active vegetation that hides all but the most obvious structures.
The cleared footpath led us to this large structure which I managed to show here by assembling three separate photos.
There was no sign but I later identified it as being the "Naudauwas" funerary double enclosure holding the tomb of the last Saudeleurs.
Here are my well intentioned but misguided missionary friends and their two sons.
It would be easy to blame them for trying to enroll more victims into the Moonie sect which "conventional wisdom" considers to be a scam based on brainwashing. Where is the borderline? Don't all religious organisations practice brainwashing?
Personally I think that there can be no fault if a consenting adult chooses to buy widget "A" in an open market where other competing widgets are also offered even if that widget "A" is completely worthless.
Some of these great basalt "logs" weighed as much as five tons!
It is a completely different matter however if coercion is employed as it is regularly by one very well known sect that I will not name for fear of being sued (but you all know what bandits I am thinking of). Or if brainwashing is forced upon the young before they have had time to develop the ability to judge for themselves. That is why I think it is of capital importance to insist upon the complete separation of the Church from the State and to protect public schools from all religious influences. I think on the contrary that it would be in the interest of "democracy" to introduce courses on critical thinking as early as primary school to provide our future citizens with the means to protect themselves from manipulation by the media.
In civilised countries, fraud is a crime and rightly so for anyone should be protected from false claims that prevent a buyer from making an enlightened choice. But fraud is legally recognised only when the fraudulent claim can be proven false. The supernatural domain is beyond the reach of the courts because what supposedly goes on there cannot be proven nor falsified. If consenting adults who have not been brainwashed from infancy nor coerced in any way, want to give all their money and time to Reverend Moon or to any other guru or shaman, that's their problem. They can be the victim of themselves if that's what they seek. As for my missionary friends, I don't know weather they were credulous victims or aware accomplices of the Moonie scam.
The purpose of this huge Naudauwas double enclosure was obviously to shield, protect and honour the remains of the Saudeleurs whose tomb was roofed with the same great basalt "logs".
Nothing remains, not even bone dust. Several Saudeleurs and succeeding Nahnmwarki were inhumed here. Were they the credulous victims of some illuminated priest or the aware accomplices of the scam used by the ruling elite to exploit the gullible common people who obeyed their every command?
Finally, before I move on to Chuuk, here is a parting view of the southern side wall.
If you found these photos interesting, you will love the series I found on the Controlled Burn website that shows clearly the angle from which each photo was taken.