April 8, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

April 2, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM -Cultural celebrations in Pohnpei over the Easter weekend spanned three days.

On Saturday, March 30, four 25 member teams ran the circumference of the island in a first of its kind relay. Each team member ran at least two miles.

On the next day, Easter Sunday, the Opening Ceremony for Pohnpei Cultural Day began at 3:00 in the afternoon under the direction of his majesty Nahnmwarki of Sokehs, Nahnpwutak Pikeniap, Herculano Kohler. Many of Pohnpei's traditional chiefs were present and the two hour celebration included speeches and traditional dancing.

Later that evening Pohnpei Ladies Club, in partnership with the Pohnpei Women's Council held what was to have been a show of art and crafts from several women in Pohnpei. The show was held on the second floor of the John Sonden building.

Yvonne Neth's stunning art work was to have been a centerpiece for the show but due to some kind of miscommunication it ended up being the entire exhibition. The arts and crafts made by the other women were on display at the Cultural day festivities at Spanish Wall on the next day.

"Australia promoted Yvonne's art. I think it's about time that we stepped up and promoted it too right here in Pohnpei!" Marstella Jack exclaimed.

She proudly showed me Neth's charcoal portrait of a Mwoakillese warrior. That piece of art travelled to an art show in Australia and back but Jack owns it now. "We should support our local artists," she said.

Neth said that when she got her canvasses back from the show in Australia last year they were creased. She ironed the canvasses they returned to her but it still did not undo the damage that had been done. The damage was not evident to me until later when I looked at the photos I had taken of her canvasses.

The ladies served wine and cheese, and a short video of Yvonne Neth working on a canvass played in a corner. Alison MacConnell's shells were on display on a shelf in the front room. In the back room, Marstella Jack displayed souvenirs she purchased from The Village Hotel and Restaurant. "The Village has been here so long its part of our culture," she said. "We'll all be sorry to see it go," she lamented referring to the impending closure of the 40 year old institution.

Besides the arts and crafts from the other ladies, the only things missing from the exhibit on Easter Sunday night were tuxedo clad waiters, a roving string quartet, air conditioning, and suitable lighting for Neth's drawings.

Even in the poor light, Neth's artwork was compelling. Her sense of shadow and light enhances the emotional draw of each piece.

Amongst her works on display was a piece she completed just last week, her entry to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement art contest. She said that she started the work a year ago but didn't complete it in time for last year's PNA competition. The canvas shows a school of tuna as a net closes around them. It is a magnificent piece of work to which I felt drawn over and over again, and yet again for just one more look.

Pohnpei Cultural Day and Micronesia Cultural Day are both on March 31 each year. Because they fell on a Sunday they were observed as public holidays on April 1. Cultural day and College of Micronesia Founding day are not coincident but on April 1 the two big events happened at the same time in separate places.

The morning began with a parade of eight student groups from COM. The parade of floats began just before 9:00 in the morning at the Spanish Wall ball park and continued down Kolonia's main street to the PICS track and field.

This year's theme was "20 years of Unity through Culture". The lavishly decorated floats and the dress of the participants strongly reflected that theme.

The floats were judges by a four person faculty panel. "Pingmwok," the Pingelap and Mwokil group took first prize. "ChuChok," the group from Chuuk, and "YSO," the group from Yap State tied for second place. "Nukap," the group from Nukuoro and Kapingamwarangi took third place. COM President Joseph M. Daisy, Ed.D provided the welcoming remarks, reminding all in attendance that the college has much for which to be proud including the recent successful visit of the accrediting team to the College. "Together we have faced challenges. We confronted them, and we are creating our future-one that will endure and thrive," he said.

Pohnpei's Governor John Ehsa also addressed the crowd and reminded those in attendance of the importance of culture. Paraphrasing the FSM Constitution he said, "The waters of the FSM do not divide us but bind us." Each student group staged cultural performances. Those performances were judged by a panel of seven judges that were chosen by the performing groups. The Yap student group took first place followed by Pohpei National campus, and Pohnpei Campus.

Awards were also given for sporting achievements in Volleyball, Basketball, Softball, Badminton, and Table Tennis.

Meanwhile, across town at the Spanish Wall Park the Pohnpei Cultural Day Celebration was in full swing with traditional dancers and booths containing local products and demonstrations. The theme of the celebration was "Stimulating our economy with our unique cultures, traditions, and products."

The celebration kicked off on island time and closed a few hours before it was scheduled to close but those factors did not dampen the celebration. Smiles were everywhere as hundreds of people browsed the booths that contained luscious locally grown vegetables, elegant handicrafts, "urohs", Pohnpei's intricately stitched skirts, black pearls, weaving demonstrations, handcrafted textiles and much more.