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  • Joyce McClure

A Pedacito Of The Sweet-Smelling Flower Crowns And Garlands Of Yap

Updated: May 17

When I first arrived at Yap International Airport after midnight on one of only two weekly flights from Guam, the air was hot and humid. My glasses fogged over as I stepped out of the airplane’s air-conditioned interior.

Members of a children’s choir adorned in flower nunus and marmars
Members of a children’s choir adorned in flower nunus and marmars

Descending down a flight of steep metal rolling stairs onto the tarmac, I followed the line of travelers queuing up at the entrance to the small terminal that’s shaped like a traditional, steep-roofed Yap building.


Chatting quietly, we inched forward – foreigners on one side, citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia on the other – for a passport check.


Once inside the terminal’s cramped one-size-fits-all luggage retrieval/customs area, a young woman wearing a rustling grass skirt placed a fragrant flower garland called a “marmar” around my neck and welcomed me to this remote island in the far western Pacific Ocean.


Several marmars woven of white, pink, red, and yellow tropical flowers spilled down her bare chest and a crown of fresh flowers called a “nunu”, encircled her head.


During the five years that I lived in Yap, I received many more nunus and marmars, each one unique.


Given to men and women alike, both guests and participants, for celebrations ranging from birthdays and graduations to airport goodbyes and welcomes, or simply for no reason at all, sweet-smelling flowers like plumeria are collected and woven into a tightly braided band made of strips of palm fronds and leaves.

Nunus and marmars are piled high on graduates by family members
Nunus and marmars are piled high on graduates by family members

For graduations, family members pile marmars and nunus high around each graduate’s neck and head, interspersed with brightly-colored crocheted yarn leis and strings of candy.

Boys receive nunus and marmars after graduation from family, too
Boys receive nunus and marmars after graduation from family, too

Traditional nunus and marmars are made by hand of all-natural materials with the skill passed down through the generations from mother to daughter. For larger occasions, a group of village women comes together in the women’s house to make dozens of head wreaths that are strung on bamboo poles to carry to the event unharmed.

Nunus are given to everyone attending a presentation, this one is made of pink plumeria
Nunus are given to everyone attending a presentation, this one is made of pink plumeria

On Yap Day, an annual by-Yapese-for-Yapese cultural celebration held on or around March 1st, I watched as two women sat on woven mats and demonstrated how to split the green palm fronds and braid them together, carefully choosing, plucking, and weaving the flower blossoms into the green braid.


Using their big toe to hold the braid taut, the process takes them only a few minutes to complete the circle. The ends are tied off but left loose for the wearer to fit his or her own head.

Walking down the road one day, I passed by a woman and complimented her on her nunu. She immediately took it off and began to place it on my head. Surprised at the gesture, I tried to decline but she told me that it was the custom to give one’s nunu to a person who comments on its beauty.


From then on, I admired them silently, not wanting to deprive the recipient of his or her flower gift.

Dance master leads dancers to the performance area
Dance master leads dancers to the performance area
 

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