‘Becoming Beautiful in the Dance’: On the Formation of Ethical Modalities of Being in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia


  • C. Jason Throop

    1. UCLA
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    • The article is based upon 15 non-consecutive months of research on morality, pain, and suffering on Yap (September 2000, July-August 2001, September 2002-September 2003, and August 2005). The research was generously funded through UCLA's Department of Anthropology and the Social Science Research Council and Andrew W. Mellow Foundation's International Dissertation Field Research Fellowship Program. While my primary research project was devoted to exploring the experiences of chronic and acute pain sufferers on the island, my more general interests in the body, morality, and suffering quickly brought my attention to dancing as a key site for the expression and cultivation of core cultural virtues. As a result throughout my time in Yap I video-taped a number of dance performances, interviewed a number of elders who were renowned for their skills in teaching dance, and engaged in numerous informal discussions with individuals who participated in dances both as dancers and audience members. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Council of Pilung and the Yap State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for all of their help and for granting me permission to conduct the project from which the data for this article were drawn. In particular, I would like to single out HPO's former director Al Fanechigiy, current director James Lukan, and staff member Peter Tun for providing me with much needed guidance throughout my time in Yap. I am very grateful to Leo Pugram at the Yap State Department of Education, as well as to my two extremely knowledgeable and gifted language teachers Francisca Mochen and Charles Taman Kamnaanged, for sharing their linguistic expertise and their knowledge of Yapese grammar. I am also indebted beyond words to my two research assistants: Sheri Manna and Stella Tiningin. Thanks to Alessandro Duranti, Linda Garro, Douglas Hollan, Allen Johnson, Cheryl Mattingly, Jill Mitchell, Keith Murphy, Angela Nonaka, and Elinor Ochs for reading over and commenting on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to Jim Egan and Sherwood Lingenfelter for sharing their many insights into Yapese culture and for all of their support and encouragement over the years. Finally, I would like to especially thank the people of Yap for so generously accepting me into their lives and for sharing their cares, concerns, and understandings of what it means to lead a life the Yapese way. Siroew ngoomeed ma karimagaergad! Of course, any mistakes, omissions, or errors in this piece are the sole responsibility of the author.


ABSTRACT This article examines how the ideals of self-monitoring, self-reflexivity, self-restraint, and self-governance, as well as assumptions pertaining to the mastery of the body, its movements, and forms of expressivity, lie at the heart of one of Yap's (Federated States of Micronesia) most important aesthetic institutions - the dance. In so doing, it suggests that Yapese dancing and the forms of self-vigilance that are associated with it can be understood as implicated in the formation of a distinctly Yapese moral modality of being. That is, Yapese dancing - including its performance and appreciation - plays a role in helping individuals craft particular forms of feeling, thinking, appreciating, judging, imagining, and behaving that are consonant with local understandings of the good person, the good life, and right action.

A polite and agreeable exterior was maintained at all times to reveal nothing of internal mental states. Yapese frequently played games testing each other's abilities to keep their concentration and sense of restraint. Spectators at a Yapese dance who had forgotten themselves and had become enthralled by a particular dancer were singled out and reminded to chew their wad of betel (mu ko bu'), much to the delight of all present.