Cultural Overview

Yap is within the culture area of Micronesia, which is comprised of the Caroline, Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands. Although the peoples found throughout Micronesia represent a wide range of linguistic, physical, and cultural differences, the one unifying aspect of Micronesian cultures is the scarcity of land. Prior to contact with Europeans, Yap was a densely populated island with as many as 40,000-50,000 inhabitants. Following generations of catastrophic depopulation, Yap's numbers finally stabilized by the late 1940s at around 2,500

inhabitants. Many current Yapese customs and traditions reflect the culture's adaptation to prior times of dense population.

Yap's first contact with the Europeans probably occurred in 1526 with the sighting by the Portugese explorer Diego de Rocha. Except for occasional trading ships and whalers, little contact between Yap and the West took place for approximately 350 years. In 1874, Spain proclaimed sovereignty over Yap and then in 1886 established the first Catholic mission (Capuchin). Yap was subsequently a colony of Germany, and then Japan. From 1945 to 1986, Yap was a part of the United States Trust Territory of Micronesia. Yap is currently a state within the Federated States of Micronesia, which has a political relationship of Free Association with the United States.

Yap might well be the most rigid and rank-conscious society in Micronesia. Prestige and status hold dominant values in Yapese society. Two castes and eight classes form the basis of the political system. Rank is determined by caste and class, and each of the 129 villages in Yap is inhabited by members of the same caste and class. The two castes are piiluung or "high," "chiefly," and pimilin-gaay or "low," "servant." The village of one's birth determines one's caste and class.

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