Volume 72 1963 > Volume 72, No. 1 > Some ancient beads of Yap and Palau, by Inez De Beauclair, p 1-10
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SOME ANCIENT BEADS OF YAP AND PALAU
THIS ARTICLE DEALS with the presence of antique glass beads on Yap Island and their shift to Palau, and discusses briefly the routes by which beads may have reached Micronesia. In recent years Palauan money, consisting of glass beads and crescentic or prismatic pieces of opaque and translucent glass, has formed the subject of a number of publications 1 and it may be assumed that the following data from Yap are not without interest. 2
The excavations of Gifford 3 on Yap yielded only several shell beads, which he likens to those found by Spoehr 4 on Saipan and Tinian. Finsch5 mentions tridacna beads for Yap and Palau, and ascribes a considerable age to their manufacture, which has long since been given up. For historical times it is known that Yap obtained its shell ornaments from Palau, Fais, the Woleais and Ngulu.
Glass beads, as far as Micronesia is concerned, are attested only for Yap and Palau. Their absence from the Marianas is of historical importance. Finsch reports some very old and worn glass beads as parts of a bracelet he found on Namoluk (Mortlocks), but he adds that the ornament may well have derived from some other island. Though Kubary 6 refers to the occasional occurrence of beads on Yap, where they are found in the ground and also to the fact that he observed Yapese exchanging beads for various goods on Palau, he does not describe or illustrate any specimens. Finsch was the first to discuss and illustrate a few glass beads from Yap, which were inserted in a necklace of coconut shell and spondylus discs.
The Museum in Berlin 7 possesses an areca-nut cleaver from Yap, with four glass beads, a large red one, two small and dark blue, and one ornamented bead of ochre colour.
Mueller 8 illustrates such a cleaver (or ornament?) with three glass beads from the Museum in Hamburg. Mueller visited Yap in 1909-10 and he deals briefly with the glass beads of the island. Two authentic cases of beads having been found in the ground came to his knowledge, - 2 but he gives no details. In Rumung, the northern-most island of the Yap group, he observed a man wearing several pieces, red, yellow and green in colour as an ear ornament. He was told that the “pseudo-chief” Rengenbai of Rul, kept a great number of beads which he traded from time to time to Palau. This is well remembered on present-day Yap, and also on Palau. 9
The present writer first heard of beads on Yap in connection with the story of Giluai, 10 who went to the sky in search of a shell bracelet which had been buried with his brother. Before leaving the sky-world, he was permitted to pick a number of magic fruits, which he wore as a necklace when he descended to earth. The largest of these was not round but crescentic in shape, and after having been kept for several generations, it ended up with Rengenbai, who bartered it away to Palau, for the permission to quarry stone money. It became known on Palau as balul-ap, and it ranks high among the valuable pieces. 11 However, two smaller specimens of the heavenly fruits were still kept in Numigil, the southern part of the Yap islands (see Fig. 1), the place where Giluai came down from the sky. One of these, brownish in colour, is of the opaque glass characteristic for the pieces classified as barak and bungau by Kubary. (Ritzenthaler: barak, munugau.) It matches exactly the colour of Kubary's fig. 2 on his colour plate, a bungau. The beads were kept in a bamboo tube, wrapped in a piece of cloth. A woman of Map, one of the two northern islands, keeps three beads which she inherited from her grandmother, who had worn them when she was not in the state of ta-ai, impurity, i.e. while menstruating or mourning. The beads are traced back to the ancestress of the matrilineal clan to which the woman belongs. One of the beads, round in shape, was of opaque glass, reddish in colour, corresponding to what is described for Palau as bleab munungau by Ritzenthaler. The largest one, of bluish-green translucent glass, measured 1 cm. in length. The third bead was very similar in colour to that described above for Numigil, light brown, of the opaque barak material.
Miginigad, a chief of Map, owned three beads, which had been found by a woman, long ago, when digging in her camote field. After consulting a diviner, who approved of her keeping the beads, she carried them home in her mouth. Two of the beads were identical, round and of green colour, with five red stripes, each stripe bordered by white lines. The third and largest one, could at first sight be taken for a piece of light agate, especially as an opaque vein was running through - 3 it (see Fig. 2), but the conchoidal fractures at the ends proved it to be of glass. The piece had a triangular cross-section, and on Palau would be classified among the kaldoyok, glasses, possibly as bakal, according to Kubary. The bead was kept by Miginigad's father as a vonod (a charm imbued with protective magic power). The two smaller beads had been taken by Miginigad to Palau, when quarrying stone money to be used for barter in case of an emergency.
A woman of Tamil, in the central part of the Yap islands, possesses three beads inherited from her father, a former chief, who had owned six, three of them, which had been yellow, red and dark green with white spots respectively, were buried with him. The remaining three beads consisted of a barrel-shaped eye-bead of brownish colour, an oval black glass bead and a round bead of red translucent glass. The woman also remembered that her grandfather was buried with a number of beads, which he used to wear, strung on a sennit cord, around his wrist.
Another chief of Tamil, who died during the time of the Japanese occupation, had twelve beads inserted in his shell necklace, six on each side. Finally, a man of Merur village, Tamil, showed us a drop-pendant (length: 3 cm., weight: 1½ ounces) of yellowish-white glass, flat and smooth on the base, with a slightly convex surface. The story of this piece, which is said to be very old, was unknown. Occasionally a few beads were seen interspersed in the red necklaces of shell (thaual), or the long strings of gau money, consisting of spondylus discs. Doubtless, inquiries in the different parts of Yap would have brought to light further specimens.
It must be assumed that many beads were buried with their owners, or got lost when, in cases of danger, precious belongings were hidden in the ground, enclosed in a fassu shell, a species of tridacna. But the heaviest drain on the store of Yapese beads was no doubt their exportation to Palau, where they were so highly valued. Early sailings to Palau were undertaken not only for the purpose of quarrying stone money, but also in search of pearl shell and the giant tridacna for adzes and the large ceremonial pestles.
As to the origin of the beads several stories are current on Yap: 12 the beads had fallen from the sky (which accounts for their being found in the soil), or had dropped at night out of the blossom of the yornim banana. Or, as told above for Map, they had been brought along by the mythical ancestress of the matrilineal clan.
Besides these narratives, of supernatural derivation, two more substantial traditions are worth relating. One of them refers to two tsukupin, the fastest of the different types of Yap canoes, which on their return from Saipan to Yap were driven off by a typhoon and reached the shores of kiwan (Taiwan), where they were attacked but succeeded in overwhelming and killing the hostile people. With a booty of beads as well as bows and arrows, the Yapese returned to their - 4 island. The other tradition points to the north of Yap, where on the island Maerual 13 a chief of Gatsapar, the highest ranking village of Gagil in the north-eastern part of Yap, met with some people who had arrived in a canoe which had one high end and a rectangular sail. As this part of Maerual was tributary to Gatsapar, they asked the chief for permission to go ashore, and offered him beads in return. This was accepted under the condition that the strangers handed out as many beads as could be strung on the cord that held the chief's basket together. 14 These beads were later on kept in Gatsapar and distributed by the chief to canoes that set out for long sea voyages, to be used as a medium of exchange on strange islands. There existed a special symbol among the pictographs painted on cliffs or rocks to indicate that such a transaction had taken place: a horizontal line ramifying in several vertical ones, ending in circles or drops, their number corresponding to that of the beads exchanged on the island. note type="footnote" id="footnote-15"> It was customary for voyaging canoes in former times to paint certain signs on the rocks of an island visited as a message or advice for subsequent canoes. The signs indicated the numbers and type of canoes that had landed on the respective island, the phases of the moon for the time of landing and departing, possible dangers from sharks or whales, the items taken from or left behind on the island and so on. McKnight, 1961, has reproduced a number of pictographs from the rocks of Ulong Island, which seem to allow an interpretation in the Yapese sense, but before more of these rock paintings have been published, nothing definite can be said.
The general name on Yap for ornaments worn by men or women is nu-nu. To nu-nu belongs the beads, tsruo, neck ornament. Matchaf are precious objects that can be exchanged, as the stone discs (rai), the large pieces of tridacna shell in form of pestles (ma), the long rolls of mats, woven of banana fibre (mbul), shell money and the gau chains of spondylus discs. Whether or not beads once ranked as matchaf seems doubtful. It appears that for a considerable time in the past, pre-dating European contact, Yap traded beads to Palau. 15 This is confirmed by traditions on Palau, concerning Yapese who settled on the islands, bringing along a supply of beads, intermarrying with the natives and transferring Yapese village names to their settlements. 16 That not only beads but also crescentic pieces found their way from Yap to Palau is proved by the Giluai “beads”, which are explicitly stated to have been of curved shape. Furthermore, the present writer found a - 5 complete green glass ring in the possession of an old chief. 17 The crescentic pieces of opaque glass on Palau have been proved by analysis to be of material identical with that of bracelets found in the southern Philippines, together with ceramics of the 12th to 16th century. 18 The pieces may therefore be regarded as segments of armrings. Beyer believes the Philippine rings to be of Cambodian or Southeast Asian origin. 19 Whether also some of the translucent blue glass crescents, on Palau called merimer, ornamented with a design of double spirals and dots or helical lines in pink, red, yellow and green, came to Palau from Yap has not been ascertained. 20 As pointed out elsewhere, the origin of these pieces is still doubtful. Are they too fragments of armrings, of which the prototype is still unknown, or must they be regarded as portions of handles, or rims of glass vessels as Kubary assumes?
A barter of beads, not only from the coast to the inland (Borneo, Philippines, New Guinea), but also from island to island took place in other parts of the Indonesian bead area, of which Yap and Palau together with the north-west coast of New Guinea represent the easternmost offshoots. Nieuwenhuis, 21 whose observations date from the turn of the century, reports that the reddish-brown beads, known in the Timor archipelago as muti-salah, and which also occur in South Sumatra, were brought from the Lampong Districts to Timor, where they yielded a high price. Likewise, inhabitants of Kroé in Benkulen travelled from Sumatra to the west coast of Borneo and traversed the island to sell their ancient beads profitably to the Bahau and other tribes.
The crucial question is, how did the beads reach Yap and Palau? With regard to Yap Kubary 22 discusses in detail the possibility that they were brought along by early settlers, from Indonesia, who also drifted to Palau. If this view holds some truth, the question of the beads shifts to the starting point of the immigrants from Indonesia. The earliest beads reported from the area, those found by van der Hoop 23 and others in Sumatra and Java, date from the Dongson period, 300 B.C. Indeed, comparing the eye beads depicted by van Heekeren 24 with the beads Osborne 25 calls a millefiori and two crumb beads, a striking similarity reveals itself. However, studies of beads, such as those by Nieuwenhuis 26 and Beck 27 have taught us the pitfalls in attempting to relate beads from the similarity of their appearance.- 6
It is beyond the scope of this paper to enter in a discussion of the early Arabian and Hindu trade that must have brought Mediterranean and Indian beads to Indonesia, 28 from where they may have reached Oceanic islands to the east. The Arabs, who had settled in Canton since the third century A.D., took their way to China over Palembang and Java. At the end of the tenth century China began to trade directly with Java, Sumatra, Western Borneo and certain islands of the Philippines. A number of articles, exports and imports, are listed in the annals of the Sung Dynasty, for the end of the tenth century, among which, however, no reference is made to beads. It is from the work of Chao Ju-kua, Description of the Barbarian Peoples, written in the middle of the thirteenth century that most valuable information about the Chinese foreign trade of this era can be gained. Chao Ju-kua was inspector of maritime trade at Ch'üanchou near Amoy on the Fukien coast, whereto part of the trade had been diverted from Canton, to facilitate the commerce with Japan and Korea. Though leaning heavily on earlier Chinese sources for the description of foreign countries, Chao Ju-kua adds a good deal of first hand information, obtained from the navigators he met at the port of Ch'üanchou. He presents not only a register of 43 items of import, discussing the country of their provenience, interspersing interesting ethnographic detail, but also mentions frequently the goods for which the foreign products were bartered. Among these appear the glass beads mentioned for the trade with Borneo and the Philippines. A number of island names, dependencies of Java to the east, are recorded in the part dealing with this island, while other “oceanic islands” are added to the paragraph on Borneo. The identification of these from the Chinese transcription has been attempted by western scholars. Beyond the Lesser Sundas, Hirth 29 considers them to be Timor and the Moluccas, including Ambon, Ternate and Ceram. That their inhabitants preserve antique beads, has been affirmed mainly by Dutch writers, beginning with Rumphius, 1740. 30 Van der Sande, 31 discusses in detail these beads, and stresses their similarity to those he found on the north-west coast of New Guinea. 32 He remarks, that the yellow disc-shaped beads of Palau (of the opaque barak material) which Kubary 33 describes and illustrates on his colour plate, closely resemble the yellow bead chris on New Guinea, also reported for Timor and Ceram. The similarity of the green glass rings, mamacur, found in this area, with the bracelet recently discovered on Yap, has been dealt with by the present writer. 34 Though Chinese sources do not mention any direct trade with the Moluccas and the - 7 north-west coast of New Guinea, the existence of a Chinese navigation at an early date is proved by the findings of Chinese pottery. 35 This brings us fairly close to the islands of Western Micronesia, and taking into consideration the inter-island sailings of former times, reaching as far as the north-west coast of New Guinea according to Yap folklore, the beads may well have reached Palau and Yap from the south-west. 36
The relative proximity of Micronesia to the Philippines, 350 sea miles from Palau to Mindanao, suggests maritime connections, but relevant protohistoric data are lacking. The crescentic pieces of opaque glass, so highly priced on Palau, deriving with all probability from armrings of the same material found on Cebu, so far remain the only concrete evidence for an intercourse between these groups. The bracelets from Cebu date from the 12th to the 16th century, a period in which the China and Indochina trade with the Philippines was most prolific, and Chinese merchant colonies had been established. 37 According to Haddon and Hornell 38 the British Admiral Anson (1697-1762), who rested in Tinian in 1742, found regular trading voyages between the Marianas and central Carolines still functioning, and “there is ground for belief that trading trips were made to the Philippines, both direct and by way of the Palau islands, to supply Chinese traders located in the Philippines with trepang and other island articles of Eastern commerce”.
For how long in the past had these trading trips been going on? Considering the presence of pottery and the large size of the pots in Western Micronesia—trepang (bêche de mer, sea cucumber, holothuria spec.) requires cooking and drying—the trade may well have been established before it was systematically undertaken by the Spaniards and the large iron pans were introduced. What could have attracted the fancy of the Micronesians among the articles the Chinese had to offer? For the Philippines Chao Ju-kua speaks of porcelains, black damask, various silks, tin, leaden sinkers for nets and glass beads of all colours. Accordingly, the Philippines must be looked upon as another possible source for Micronesian beads. The Chinese trade that brought beads to the Philippines, persisted until the time of the Spaniards. 39
It appears that the beads of Yap and Palau, for the origin of which the population of both islands has no plausible explanation to offer, were either introduced by early immigrants from their original homes, - 8 or found their way by inter-island barter, starting from an Indonesian trade centre in Sumatra or Java, and proceeding eastward over the Moluccas. There is a fair chance that beads also shifted from the Philippines to Yap and Palau in the course of a trade maintained with early Chinese settlers on the Philippines. If they were introduced by early immigrants, the beads of the Micronesian islands could be contemporaneous with the early beads of Sumatra and Borneo, dating from the 4th and 3rd century B.C., having reached Indonesia by overseas trade from Arabia or India, or by way of Central Asia and China. 40 For the second possibility, there is the historical proof of a prolific trade including the import of glass beads into Indonesia by Arabs and Persians. This trade was gradually taken over by the Chinese, beginning in the 10th century. Flourishing glass industries in Persia, the Near East and India met the needs of the merchants. Finally, as mentioned above, there may have existed a trade with Chinese settlers in the Philippines, for a period preceding the arrival of the Spaniards.
To solve the question of the ultimate origin of the Micronesian beads by comparison with specimens from Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, Formosa and the Malay Peninsula, more data would be required. Ritzenthaler's inventory 41 lists almost 3,000 beads of 282 types, including the crescent-shaped pieces. Of the interesting merimer, of blue glass with coloured ornamentation, he reports 70 pieces still in use. However, of all this wealth there exist only the two colour plates by Kubary, executed in the technique of 80-90 years ago, a sketch of 11 pieces by Kraemer, 42 and two photographs of a number of beads and “gorgets” published by Osborne. 43 Detailed descriptions, as well as mineralogical, chemical, microscopic and spectroscopic analyses of beads, as carried out by Beck 44 for ancient Chinese beads, Colani 45 for beads from Laos, and lately by van Heekeren 46 for beads from Borneo, Java and Sumatra, have provided a basis for comparative study, and it should be possible to subject Palauan beads to similar examinations.
So far, as is evident from the few published illustrations and descriptions of Micronesian beads, it can only be said that specimens of natural stones, including agate and carnelian, that occur in nearly all the other parts of the bead area are absent. So are the yellow cane-beads, with inlays of gold-leaf, called pango in Luzon, which were formerly frequent on the west coast of Formosa. Beck, 47 when examining the beads of Sarawak, was especially intrigued by a certain kind of chevron bead, skilfully fabricated in imitation of European chevrons. He knows of no identical beads elsewhere, either in Europe or in India, and concludes that these imitation chevrons, which appear to be of - 9 considerable age, must have originated from a hitherto unknown centre. Beck concludes that “probably many, if not most of the other elaborate beads were made in the same place, but where and when?” Could the Micronesian chevron beads belong to the same kind? Kubary 48 who depicts two views of one of this type, states that there are only four specimens on the island which belonged to the necklace of the King's daughter, and according to tradition had come from the north-east.
Though we are exhaustively informed about the part the beads play in the social and economic life of the Palauans, and have been confronted with a bewildering number of names for families and types, illustrations indispensable for a comparative study are wanting. Barnett 49 reports that in 1948 the natives are still reluctant to display their wealth. Let us hope that an anthropologist will gain their confidence, so that adequate descriptions can finally be presented. 50
1 Barnett 1949, Ritzenthaler 1954, Osborne 1958, Force 1959.
2 The writer did research on Yap from March 1961, to January 1962, with the financial assistance of the German Research Association and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and expresses her gratitude to these institutions.
3 Gifford 1960:191.
4 Spoehr 1957:158-159.
5 Finsch 1914.
6 Kubary 1889.
7 The writer is indebted to Dr. G. Koch of the Berlin Museum f. Voelkerkunde for this information. Dr. Koch further mentions a bead necklace from Palau in the possession of the Museum.
8 Mueller 1917:63 fig. 86.
9 Dr. R. K. McKnight, District Anthropologist on Palau, has collected further data on Yap-Palau relations which will complete my statements.
10 Mueller 1918:771-779 gives two versions of the Giluai story, in which however the beads are not mentioned.
11 Faimao, an old man from the village of Ateliu in the southern part of Yap, told the writer that the balul-ap, which he saw on one of his frequent visits to Palau was very large, of curved shape, and showed many colours. Could it have been a merimer? Faimao further mentioned having seen another bead brought over by Rengenbai, called taverimthiu, apparently a large barak of yellow colour, with holes on both ends, the perforation not passing through the length of the piece.
12 de Beauclair 1962, for the story of a bead, the galdait, reaching Palau from Yap. With regard to the rich folklore that exists on Palau concerning the derivation of the beads, reference must be made to Semper 1873, Kubary 1889, Kraemer 1917, Ritzenthaler 1954:11.
13 Maerual, together with Ruk and Rag, are unidentified islands in the north, which the present-day Yapese identify as Japan! (perhaps Okinawa?). Certain land in Gatsapar, Gagil, formerly had a sawei (tributary) relation with these islands, which functioned up to five generations ago. The goods exchanged were a fragrant resin for which Yap gave spears of areca wood. The people of Maerual were tattooed and their hair was twisted in a knot.
14 Every man and woman of Yap carries a rectangular basket of palm leaf in which areca nuts, leaves, and lime, together with other personal belongings are kept.
15 Kubary 1889:26.
16 Kubary 1889:27.
17 de Beauclair 1962.
18 Force 1959.
19 Beyer 1949:287, 289.
20 Cf. footnote 11.
21 Nieuwenhuis 1904:142.
22 Kubary 1889:25-28.
23 van der Hoop 1932.
24 van Heekeren 1958 plate 13.
25 Osborne 1958:171 fig. 16.
26 Nieuwenhuis 1904.
27 Beck 1930.
28 Hirth and Rockhill 1911, introduction.
29 Hirth and Rockhill 1911:86, note 7.
30 Bumphius 1740:245.
31 van der Sande 1907:218-225.
32 Heine-Geldern 1945:146 remarks that “there is a fair possibility that they (the beads) date from the same period as the bronze celts which van der Sande found on Lake Sentani”. These celts, depicted by van der Sande 1907, plate XXIV, belong to the Dongson culture.
33 Kubary 1889:plate 1, figs. 7, 12.
34 de Beauclair 1962, addenda.
35 van der Sande 1907:223.
36 The islands Tobi, Merir, Pulo Anna and Sonsorol form stepping stones between the northern Moluccas and Palau, while another Micronesian colony lived on the island Mapia (St. Davids Islands) close to the northwest coast of New Guinea. This small archipelago was visited by Kubary in 1885, where he met the last Micronesian survivors of whom he gives an account in “Notizen ueber einen Ausflug nach den westlichen Karolinen” (notes on an excursion to the western Carolines) in Ethnographische Beitraege zur Kenntnis des Karolinen Arehipels, 1889.
37 Beyer 1948:XIII.
38 Haddon and Hornell 1936, 1:439-440.
39 Beyer 1948:XV.
40 Heine-Geldern 1945:145.
41 Ritzenthaler 1954:42-46.
42 Kraemer 1926:158.
43 Osborne 1958:170-171.
44 Seligmann and Beck 1938.
45 Colani 1935.
46 van Heekeren 1958:41, 47.
47 Beck 1930:179.
48 Kubary 1873:52, plate 2, figs. 8, 9.
49 Barnett 1949:50.
50 In a letter of November 6th, 1962, Tom Harrisson informs the writer that the Sarawak Museum possesses over 5,000 beads from Borneo, indexed and arranged by types. There is further exchange material from the Philippines, Malaya, the Himalayas, N.W. America, Holland and East Africa. Regular bead analyses are done in the Museum. Classified beads from archaeological sites in Borneo which have been chemically analysed, will now be exchanged for beads from Formosa as kindly suggested by the curator of the Sarawak Museum.