Story and Images by Anjannet Fredrick
Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean lies the ruins of an ancient city of Nan Madol which is located on Temwen Island, a small outer island of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Nan Madol is composed of many small islets with twisted canals separating the islets. On some of these islets, there are huge rectangular wall constructions of an ancient city . Nan Douwas, one of the islets, holds the biggest construction. The rocks are neatly piled up forming a closed wall with square holes as entrances on the sides. The rocks are not just any small tiny rocks that people can lift but huge basalt rocks that are impossible for the strongest men in Pohnpei to carry. Consequently, the most asked question for visitors is “how was it possible for builders of Nan Madol to build those huge constructions?”.
However, as a Pohnpeian, I strongly believe in the oral history that was passed down from our ancestors about the creation of Nan Madol. According to the oral history that I have learned as I grew up, the ancient city of Nan Madol was built by two brothers who were believed to have come from the west of Pohnpei. The two brothers, Olosohpa and Olosihpa, came to Pohnpei seeking for a perfect spot to build a sacred altar so that they can worship their gods. On Pohnpei, they attempted to build their place of worship on many places but weather and strong current didn’t allow for it. The two brothers, then, came to a mountain to look for a suitable place and saw Temwen Island. By using their magic, the two brothers flew huge basalt rocks from other parts of Pohnpei to Nan Madol where they built the ancient city. By the time the construction was finished, one of the brothers died and the other one started the Saudeleur Dynasty.
I grew up on an outer island of Temwen called Mwudokalap which is located near the Nan Madol Ruins. I’ve gone to Nan Madol a great number of times before just to see the beauty of the ruins and enjoy the cool breeze from the open sea. The view of the open sea and the nearby islands always amazed me. As a small girl, I grew up hearing stories, legends, and myths about Nan Madol from older people but I didn’t seem to care about it. On Sundays, I would always see tourists come to Temwen Island to see Nan Madol.
I remember because they used to stop their cars and asked us the direction to Nan Madol Ruins. By that time, I started wondering why they would waste all of their money to fly all the way here to our little island to see those old ruins. I was too small back then to understand the importance of the ruins of Nan Madol to everyone, even a Pohnpeian like me.
The most recent time I visited Nan Madol was very different because I was with this group of students who shared the same interest in the ruins of Nan Madol. As always, the islets lay quietly as the birds joyfully sang as they fly from tree to tree.
I wondered what it would be like in the past when those people still live there. It must have been a peaceful place to live.
Though nobody lives there today, I can still feel the presence of the people who must have cherished the place. Upon my recent visit, I suddenly felt like I had a connection to my ancestors. At the same time, I felt proud to be a Pohnpeian.
That day was my first time to go to one of the islets and to my surprise, the sand there was really different. Pohnpeians call it “the red sand.”
Maybe there is another story behind that special looking sand, but I don’t know it. Much of the beauty of Nan Madol lies in the mystery of it. As a Pohnpeian, knowing about the history of Nan Madol is very important. The traditional political structure of Pohnpei started in Nan Madol. The culture of Pohnpei originated from there as well. The ruins of Nan Madol are the only evidence left for us to believe how great our ancestors were. It will be used as a reminder of how powerful our ancestors were for the magic and skills they must have possessed.
We will always remember our ancestors every time we see the ruins of Nan Madol.