By Faith Bishock, September 23, 2008
Pohnpei is a high volcanic island with three named mountains, the tallest reaching 2100 feet. It has an area of 350 square kilometers (135 square miles) and a population of about 35,000. A road circles the island, taking about two hours to drive around. The island is divided into five provinces, each headed by a chief who has descended from ancient royalty. This is an island rich in history, myth and mystery.
The ancient city of Nan Madol is a spectacular, 200 acre archaeological site that is comprised of 92 man made islets off the coast of Pohnpei. The islets were constructed on a large section of near-shore coral reef, using quarried stone and crushed coral. Paths and walls were made of basalt rocks brought from the opposite side of the island. Huge stone walls surround the tombs and buildings, and the rocks range in size from 600 pounds to 60 tons. To this day, there is no good explanation for how the largest of the rocks were transported. Construction probably began around 800 A.D. and lasted several hundred years. Nan Madol was the government and religious center, and also the home of royalty – similar to the Lelu ruins on Kosrae.
We were fortunate to tour the ancient city with Bill Raynor, 30-year resident of Pohnpei and Micronesia Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He explained some of the history of myths of Nan Madol, showing us some points of interest. The myths include stories of kings who were also wizards and could fly from place to place and mythical beasts like the giant chicken and giant moray eel God to whom sacrifices were made.
Now to the real reason we’re here – palms, of course! Finding them is such a thrill and much easier here than in Kosrae. Many stands are along the road. We found Metroxylon amicarum, Clinostigma ponapense, Ponapea ledermanniana and a few Nypa fruticans. Our first sighting of Ponapea hosinoi on Sunday afternoon was truly a religious experience. As we gazed into the forest for a look at our first large stand of specimens, choir voices rang out with powerful harmonies as the nearby church began its evening worship service. We later found out that Pohnpeiians are famous for their religious choral singing. It was an appropriate accompaniment.