Background: The informant was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mom and a white dad, and spent his childhood, from age 2 to 13, from 1966-1977. Yap is a small group of islands in Micronesia, of which he grew up on the main island of Yap. I was told of this legend over the phone.
Informant: A mitmit is a Yapese ceremony … a ceremony that… or rather a festival that signifies an exchange of wealth. Dances are performed, in this case, this is a stick dance, a bamboo dance and this next photo is men and boys bringing or delivering—and you can see, there’s stone money in the background—they’re bringing shell money, which is made out of mother of pearl shells, and they’re hung on a piece of coconut husk twine. So what they’re doing is they’re presenting this… well all of this money, really, currency, to another village.
Me: Why are they presenting it? What’s the significance of that exchange?
Informant: Yap has a very, very stringent caste system, not unlike the caste system in the Hindu tradition. There’s no concept of priests or Brahmins like in the Hindu system or the concept of an “untouchable,” but the caste system is based on another legend actually, and the caste system is based on villages, well actually, municipalities.
Within a municipality, there are a number of villages which contain a number of family units. Frankly, the outer islands of Yap as well are included in this same caste system. There is a ranking system, a social hierarchy if you will, that is based on one’s municipality and even further, there is a village that holds the highest caste ranking within a municipality.
There are the municipalities of Tomil and Gagil, and those are the highest ranked two in Yap.
A mitmit is a celebration of a number of things however, but a very common reason for it, particularly if someone in a lower caste village slighted someone in a higher caste village. One village is paying tribute to another village or the chief of another village, so they bring these offerings of stone money—to the extent of which they can transfer it.
In addition to the dance, there is a long procession of offerings. The stone money, again to the extent of which it can be carried, and the shell currency on coconut twine.
Me: So, would you say a mitmit is a way for a village to atone? And does the mitmit have to be “accepted,” or is it unspoken that after a mitmit happens that all is well between the villages again?
Informant: Yes, and all is better after the gifts are accepted.
Me: Has it ever happened where the gifts aren’t accepted?
Informant: I am not aware of gifts being refused, I think the point is to overwhelm with lavish gifts so as to truly atone.
Thoughts: I’d never heard of a mitmit before, and it really shows the diplomacy and the level of respect that holds true between the villages. It’s hard to imagine a culture where disputes and issues were solved with a ceremony and then put to the side, and it’s beautiful that it’s a festival and ceremony where people can enjoy themselves while also atoning and solving their issues or disputes that they may have had.