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The end is near

Nan Madol

By Dr. Vincent Akimoto

Maybe, we will wake up to a new day radiant, warm, and yellow. Could be that a cool breeze will blow the cloud-chilled morning mist down through the green swordgrass across our cheeks as we rise to meet the sun. This New Day is Dragon.

As the old year fades, memories of Lockdowns, Covid, and Mawar shimmer into dreams. The New Year bodes auspiciously as a time for progress. 2024 is the Year of the Dragon.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon symbolizes success, intelligence, and honor. Dragons are full of energy and dream of changing the world. It has been said that Dragons possess magic balanced with courage and compassion.

Although separated by thousands of miles of deep blue ocean, the island cultures of the Pacific are rich with dragon imagery. Dragons likely voyaged in the canoes of ancient Pacific navigators who set sail from Asia trained to recognize dragons as protectors of the waters.

Indonesian Komodo lizards, 20-foot-long Micronesian crocodiles, and giant Hawaiian reptiles covered with glistening jet-black scales and reaching lengths of up to 30 feet called Mo’o are among the archetypes from which the Pacific dragon legends may have emerged.

In the Philippines, Bicolano and Visayan legends tell the stories of the Bakunawa which was a gigantic serpent that lived in the sea and caused the moon or the sun to disappear during an eclipse. During certain times of the year, the Bakunawa arose from the ocean to swallow the moon whole. To keep the Bakunawa from completely eating the moon, the natives would go out of their houses with pots and pans in hand and make a great noise in order to scare the Bakunawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky.


In the heart of Southeast Asia are people who call themselves the Cong Rong Chau Tien, a nation of magic and dragons.  According to ancient legend, the people of Vietnam are descended from a dragon mother and a magician father. As in many other Oriental cultures, the Vietnamese Dragon is a benevolent water deity responsible for bringing rain during times of drought and famine.

Here in Micronesia, the people of Pohnpei tell the story of how Nan Madol was built by a dragon. Nan Madol is a wonder of architecture, constructed in a beautiful lagoon, consisting of 92 small megalithic islands linked by a network of canals and has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site.

Made of huge stone blocks some weighing up to 50 tons, these ancient abandoned manmade islands now rise from the emerald sea in quiet testimony to the visionary ambition of a people who wanted to build boldly where no one had ever built before.

Nan Madol’s dark, colossal basalt pillars are the remnants of an enormous stone complex and an intricate labyrinth of waterways that are the final testimony to an ancient Pacific civilization lost in the tides of time.

A proud complex of buildings atop a coral reef, Nan Madol has been uninhabited for centuries now. Despite an absence of red dirt, Nan Madol was likely intended as a multi-disciplinary government complex designed to centralize critical resources and political power. Archeologists and New Age radio talk show hosts now ponder how these humungous stone blocks were transported amidst the crashing waves and dangerous shoals.

According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa. In the legend, these brothers levitated huge stones to build Nan Madol with the help of a flying dragon. Thus, the Nan Madol construction project may be the earliest incidence of the Chinese government meddling in Micronesia. It is unclear whether any of Nan Madol’s other infrastructure developments were funded by the US federal government.

How Nan Madol was built remains an engineering mystery, much like Egypt's Pyramids and eventually the new Guam Memorial Hospital. You see, turns out that Nan Madol was an ego project, a monument to vanity, a tomb.

Like the Pyramids, Nan Madol didn't help anyone. It didn't help society be fairer, or to grow crops, or to provide any social good. Ultimately, Nan Madol was just a really big place to put a dead person.


Happy New Year.

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