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  • Writer's pictureBy Alex J. Rhowuniong

Extracting news bits out of Yap is like knocking stone money

Alex Rhowuniong

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.

Such a deliberate process, I was also told, is a typical Yapese way of doing things — always careful, always weighing things.

I recently saw the same process taking place with Yap government regarding the investigation into the murder of acting Attorney General, Rachelle Bergeron. In essence, I saw Mangefel's proverbial basket of betelnut opening up once more, if you will.

This, of course, is one of the things that make Yap and Yap leaders unique. In fact, they take pride in taking their time considering things, seemingly unaffected by the impatience of the world around them, especially with betelnut involved.

This is the element in the lasting Yap culture, which the media faced during the initial phases of Bergeron's murder investigation.

Now, in the world of news reporting, time is of the essence. And while the world and regional media, including the Pacific Island Times, itched for updates out of Yap after Gov. Henry Falan broke the news via YouTube, there was very little new information coming out of FSM's westernmost state. The Yap public affairs took its time.

Soon, internationally reported "updates" of the high-profile murder case became nothing more than background information for the victim with regurgitated old news about the actual case.

Meanwhile, my Yapese connections and "eyes on the ground," suddenly all had their "baskets of chew opened up,” so to speak. I finally found a liberal resident close to the case that broke the silence though. However, state authorities remained mum, neither confirming nor denying the up-to-the-minute accounts we have reported. Then I remembered how the FSM statesman Nakayama finally concluded his story: "I think John enjoyed torturing us."

Nakayama also said the more impatient they became as they'd stare at the University of Hawaii graduate (English major) for a speedy answer, the slower he seemed to become finishing his betelnut chew. Much the same can be said, I think, of the Yap public affairs office in recent months as media eyes and ears became drained intensely on it.

Alex J. Rhowuniong is a freelance writer specializing in regional coverage, Christian B2B content and success stories. Send feedback to Or visit his website:


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