Why are superstition and custom such a big part of daily life?
“I don’t really know,” said Jessie Tumpap, a native Chamorro.
“They just are.” Many of the others interviewed had the same
Micronesia, like many other islands in the Pacific, came in
to contact with European missionaries and is now predominantly
Christian. Protestant and Catholic religions can be found in
Micronesia. The old customs are still alive, however, and sometimes
are integrated with the new religion.
“Magic” was important to the Yapese of old, and many still believe
in it. There is “good” and “bad” magic, and there are magicians
which specialize in certain types of magic. One magician specializes
in sickness, kind of a kahuna la‘au lapa‘au. He can use his
powers to cure individuals or even a whole village of sickness.
Of the various magicians, there are five main magicians. The
Ganiniy brings rain. Trur brings fishermen good luck. Dafngoch
increases population. Plaw brings successful navigation. Yaw
can bring victory in war.
Pohnpeians believe ghosts desire the souls of pregnant women
because they are among the strongest. If ghosts take pregnant
women, their spirits will kill others. Therefore, much superstition
An islet in Namonuito Atoll in Truk is called Unanu, “Daughters
of the Ghost.” The following story circulated throughout the
western islands of Truk, and is still widely known today. The
islet of Unanu was once unnamed and uninhabited. A group of
ghosts had been moving from place to place, searching for somewhere
they could settle down, when they finally found Namonuito and
decided to live on there.
The people in the Western Islands all knew that Namonuito was
the island inhabited by ghosts, and avoided it completely, except
for a curious man named Olofat. Like the Hawaiians’ demigod
Maui, Olofat possessed supernatural powers. One night he decided
to visit the island. Olofat set out during the day, when it
was known ghosts would be sleeping. Olofat soon came upon the
house of the chief and saw the ghost-chief’s beautiful daughter
sleeping. He went inside, awakened the woman, and they had a
conversation. The two fell in love shortly after that.
The pair decided to leave the island before the chief awoke.
He would surely object to his daughter marrying the young man.
They sailed to Olofat’s island of Weniot. When the ghosts awakened,
they found the chief’s daughter was missing. They realized someone
had taken her away and began to search all the islands in the
The ghosts searched the islands, but they never found Olofat
and his wife. Olofat used his powers to turn the island upside
down and hide its surface in the ocean. When the ghosts were
gone, Olofat turned the island back over.
The lovers lived in Wenuit for two years until the girl became
pregnant. She then asked to go back to her island to give birth
among her people. When they arrived, however, no one could be
found because all the ghosts were searching for Olofat’s wife.
Soon, she delivered twin girls, whom they named Un and Anu.
The girls became the first to settle down on the island permanently.
Even today, on a map of Namonuito Atoll, Unanu is visible in
the east as a reminder of Olofat, his wife, and the twin daughters
of a ghost.