In my recent post “Thai Iced Tea” of favorite postcards from Asia, I included one from a series of photographs of Micronesia, promising to devote a future post to the complete series. Being that I focused my last post to my collection of Janet Klein And Her Parlor Boys postcards, following up on my promise to do so after sharing one of them previously, I thought I should continue catching up with myself by making today the day to feature the Micronesia collection.
I came upon this clutch of cards last summer in Grandma Snail’s shell when I was helping her move out. I knew the postcards must have been souvenirs of Grandpa Snail’s. A civil engineer, he worked on extensive projects in the Pacific in the 1950’s and ’60s. Hailing from a mean little town in Iowa, Grandpa Snail loved to travel. Grandma Snail, however, does not. So those business trips gave him an excuse to go without her or to drag her along. They were the happiest times of his life.
Therefore, I thought his work in Micronesia was part of that period. But it turns out, he was hired for the job toward the end of his career in the ’80s. This was probably related to the fact that the post-WWII U.S. trusteeship of Micronesia was up, allowing Micronesia to declare its independence in 1986. The U.S. seems to have conducted infrastructure work in preparation for the shift of power; Grandpa Snail’s projects tended to be roads, schools, and hospitals. But in selecting these gorgeous, culturally authentic postcards, he clearly appreciated what the islands already had.
On the island of Truk, now called Chuuk
Boat builder in Yap
Ponape, now called Pohnpei “upon (pohn) a stone altar (pei)”
Nan Madol ruins
Originally called Soun Nan-leng (Reef of Heaven), this city was occupied from roughly the 12th through 17th centuries. Built on a manmade island of stone and coral off the shore of Pohnpei, it is now called Nan Madol, meaning “the spaces between,” after its criss-crossing canals.
This postcard’s caption says Micronesia, but it also reads, “Japanese Bunker in Marshalls,” presumably meaning the Marshall Islands. In that case, this postcard speaks for the many island paradises caught between Japan and the United States in World War II and after, occupations that included mass starvation and U.S. nuclear testing.
Yap’s famous stone money
This is in fact a bank! The state of Yap’s traditional currency is coins of shiny calcite stone. Quarried from distant islands where the natives were not always welcoming, a coin’s value depends on its size and the difficulty in bringing it to yap. That’s why the coins in this photo are larger than the children. The holes allowed them to be carried by pole. The largest ones require twenty men to carry the pole. Although the U.S. dollar is now the national currency, ownership of stone money is still transferred (though the coins usually stay in place at the bank due to the effort of moving them) for traditional occasions such as marriages, transfer of land title, and to compensate an aggrieved party for damages.