I have never set foot on Yap. But I have heard much about life in the most traditional state of the Federated States of Micronesia. Many Yapese friends, family members as well as former students at Xavier High School, a Jesuit school in Chuuk, have shared with me over the years many beautiful stories of their beloved home.
So, I have come to learn that Yap is paradise on earth, compared to many other places. Also, that the untouched and pristine island known to Hollywood is a very conservative island with many conservative leaders, steeped in their unyielding culture, the most enduring element in Paradise.
I remember a story told by FSM's very first president, the late Tosiwo Nakayama, a few years before his passing, about his colleague, the late John Mangefel, Yap's first governor, who passed away on Jan. 12, 1987. (I was privileged to be part of a team from the College of Micronesia, Chuuk campus, that filmed a series of video interviews with Nakayama for the social science department in 2003-2004).
The story went that during meetings, when the Micronesian pioneers were still discussing the future of their islands prior to splintering off into freely associated states (Palau, FSM and Republic of the Marshalls) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Mangefel would usually open his woven basket to fix betelnut chew every time he was ready to ask a question or make a comment.
During this unhurried betelnut preparation, the wise young man would carefully formulate his deep thoughts before opening his mouth. Meanwhile, his colleagues would wait and wait. And wait some more…
Betelnut preparation, by the way, is a process I have seen young people today complete in mere seconds. Mangefel, on the other hand, was said to have perfected such a task into an artform— in slow motion. Some said I would take him 5 to 10 minutes to fix one. During such process, Mangefel's head would turn and turn at every conceivable angle against the issue at hand, scrutinizing and analyzing every detail until he was thoroughly satisfied.