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According to Pohnpeian oral history, many ages ago a voyaging canoe arrived on Pohnpei, bringing two brothers named Olsihpa and Olsohpa. It is not known exactly where the brothers originated from, but it is said that they were wise and rode in a large vessel that could carry more than a hundred people. The canoe had a single mast with three sails. The brothers guided their craft and landed at an island off the northwestern shore of Pohnpei. The place was called Soupaip. The brothers settled there with the intention of constructing a ceremonial, religious complex, but the ground was too unstable for building. They called the place Sokehs, and it retains that name to this day.
From there they moved east to present-day Nett and again started to work, but this too was not to their liking. They continued to Likinmoli, but the place was too windy and rough. Finally, they found a favorable location to the east, in what is now the chiefdom of Madolenihmw. The story says that the brothers found the location perfect for their plans and named it Soun Nanleng, The Reef of Heaven.
They gathered all the people of Pohnpei to help with the project. It was said that the brothers were great magicians, and they used their magic to transport massive basalt stones from around the island to the building site. The stones were piled up at the edge of the sea, creating rows of rectangular structures.
The brothers built places for many purposes; those for refuge, for war, for canoes, and for the nobles. The royal mortuary and war temple was named Nan Douwas. The ruler’s seat, called Pahnkadira, was also constructed by use of magical powers. The seat had four corners made by four stone fitters-- one from Madolenihmw (corner of Likapar), one from Kitti, one from Sokehs, and one from Kosrae (Peinkatau). The stonefitter from Sokehs was called Kiteumanien and it was said that he rode a column of stone across the water from Sokehs to the construction site. He used a magic spell when laying the foundation for his part of the wall. The belief was that, if one of the walls collapsed, the state associated with it would also fall (incidentally, the wall of Sokehs tumbled just before the Germans brutally put down the Sokehs Rebellion, banishing most of the inhabitants of the state).
At their newly-founded capital, the brothers established a powerful empire. Olsohpa set himself up as the first in the dynasty of Saudeleur-- supreme overlords who reigned on the island for as long as four centuries. The royal residence that these rulers built was called Nan Madol, and it exists today as a 150-acre complex of stone ruins on the tidal flats off Temwen Island.
The empire apparently collapsed in the early 1600's when the exiled Pohnpeian warrior, Isokelekel, invaded and conquered the last Sau. Isokelekel is an interesting figure in Pohnpeian lore and one about whom many stories are told. According to the legend, the Pohnpeian Thunder God, Nahnsapwe, enraged the Saudeleur who was convinced the god was having an affair with his wife. He imprisoned Nahnsapwe at Nan Madol, but the Thunder God escaped and rode upon a magical needle fish all the way to the island of Kosrae in the east. There he married a mortal woman, and she bore him a son-- half man, half god. Isokelekel grew up learning the art of warfare and trained an army of 333 warriors. They sailed for Pohnpei, toppled the Saudeleur dynasty, and laid claim to Nan Madol. Isokelekel became the first in a legacy of paramount chiefs, called Nahnmwarki. These chiefs occupied Nan Madol for another hundred years, but by the 1800's the site was deserted. The reasons are still unclear. It's possible that the sharp population decline after the arrival of disease-carrying foreigners and the diminishing power of the Nahnmwarki made it impossible to maintain the complex, which was never designed to support itself. Without servants on the main island to coordinate food and other resources, Nan Madol could not function. Mass plagues, droughts, or damage from powerful typhoons may have also played a part.
In 1907, the German colonial administrator, Viktor Berg, attempted to excavate burial vaults at Peinkitel, despite stern warnings that doing so would activate a curse. It's not clear what he found, if anything. This particular tomb allegedly contained the remains of Isokelekel, but in all likelihood the site was looted almost 70 years earlier by the crews of whaling ships operating in the vicinity. Either way, Berg didn't have much time to talk about his discoveries. He died mysteriously the following day. The Pohnpeians said it was the curse. The Germans claimed it was heat-stroke.
The details of Nan Madol's engineering feat have baffled Westerners since they first visited the site in the late 1800's. The idea that Pohnpei's relatively small population was responsible for such a mammoth undertaking-- for its intricate planning and for moving and stacking stones that would even challenge modern construction technology-- has been too much for some to believe. This has led a few scholars and uncounted amateur theorists to propose that Nan Madol was built by outsiders.
Plenty of quackery has surrounded the topic, including ideas as far-fetched as extraterrestrials having a hand in the building process. The same imaginative individuals claim that Nan Madol is part of a world-wide network of stone monuments (including the Egyptian pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu) that form some sort of spiritual power grid. Others have proposed that a lost ship from Alexander the Great’s fleet found Pohnpei, enslaved the natives, and forced them to build Nan Madol. There is no scientific evidence for any of these ideas and they stink of the ethnocentric tendency of Westerners to believe that other peoples are incapable of monumental accomplishments.
Archaeologists have determined a few things about Nan Madol’s history. Radiocarbon dating seems to indicate that the construction of Nan Madol began around 1200 A.D., though excavations show that the area could have been occupied as early as 200 B.C. A number of probable quarry sites around the island have been identified, but the exact origin of the stones is yet undetermined. None of the proposed quarry sites exist in Madolenihmw, which means the stones (which weigh several tons on average) must have been transported some distance to their current location. It has been suggested that they were floated around the island via raft. No one has successfully demonstrated the process to date. However, a large number of cystal basalt columns, indentical to those used at Nan Madol, have been found on the bottom of the lagoon nearby Temwen Island and on the shores of other islets in the vicinity. This seems to support the raft hypothesis. It’s concievable that not all the stones would have reached their final destination safely. Some of the rafts may have sunk or capsized during transit, dumping their cargo into the sea. The whole truth remains elusive. Archaeologists have been frustrated in their attempts to unravel the mystery, and modern Pohnpeians are unable (or unwilling) to shed light on the matter. They believe the stones were flown over the island by use of black magic. Arguments aside, even with a significant number of workers or slaves tackling the large-scale building effort and using ramps and levers to move the stones into place, it might have taken more than a century to complete Nan Madol.
you smile because iam different,i laugh because your all the same
Sep/13/2008, 7:41 pm
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