Notes on a ceremony involving Piper methysticum (sakau) on Pohnpei
The information on this sheet is provided as is and may not be either wholly or partially correct. All errors belong to the author and his misinterpretations. This document is an ongoing work in progress and at any one time has many errors. Spellings are those of the informants. The author has deliberately chosen not to contradict the spellings offered by his informants. Where two spellings are constitutionally supported, including by municipal constitutions, either spelling or both may appear. This accommodation is necessary as the class may observe the sakau ceremony in either Sokehs or Kitti, depending on the term. In general, the northern phonetic is given followed by the Kitti alternate phonetic in parentheses. Where a word is used repeatedly in a section, sometimes only the lead instance is provided the Kitti alternate.
Reasons for the ceremony and cultural importance
The sakau ceremony is performed for the following reasons:
- To celebrate a baby's first birthday.
- Pek pwoapwoaud nan tehnpas (poak pwoapwoaud nan toahnpas) Ask for marriage. When asking for marriage both sakau and sugar cane, sehu, must be brought to the father of the intended bride. In this situation sugar cane is not called sehu. Sugar cane brought to ask a father for his daughter as wife is called sakauen pahnta.
- Koapwoapwoaud Marriage.
- Isimwas New nice house, new nahs.
- Kamadipw Traditional festivals
- Kapasmwar New title.
- At funerals
- Aluhmwur To bring home a king or high title who has visited somewhere else. This ceremony is done to release the high title from the care of those who have cared for the high title.
- Kesihpwong (Koasihpwong) from evening to morning
- Keting en doadoahk (koating doadoahk) to celebrate those people who come and help you at your work
- Koahmwakele Ask for marriage in Nahnmwarki's place.
- Laid kapw New things such as fishing net, canoe, boat, etc.
- Mehn tomw rehn sohpeidi (sohpoaidi) When Nahnmwarki gets angry. For Nahnmwarki, use sakau rahmedel (rahmoadoal). Only Nahnken or kids ipwin pohn warawar can do this.
- Nohpwei Presentation of first fruits such as yams (kehp, koahp) to the Nahnmwarki
- Pek wini de repen mour erihtik (poak wini de roapoan moaur oarihtik)
- Peki koasoai (poaki koasoai) Pwahda. For talking.
- Pilen dihdi Husband first delivered a baby
- Uhroamoai first time you use your new peitehl (poaitehl).
- Welienlite (Welioanlit) Almost dead.
- Asking for treatment with local medicine.
- By a family to apologize to another family as, for example, a result of fighting or stealing.
- To celebrate a birthday.
- To celebrate the Christening of a baby
- To welcome a special guest
The sakau ceremony is truly central to every important activity from birth to death, cradle to grave. Every important point in one's life is celebrated with sakau. Sakau is central to Pohnpeian culture. In some sense one could not be born, one could not marry, and one could not pass away with dignity without sakau in traditional Pohnpeian society.
- Ahmwadang: Can refer to food served prior to a formal sakau ceremony, also to sakau served before a formal meal.
- Three varieties of Piper methysticum are on Pohnpei, the rahmedel (rahmoadoal), rahmwanger, and malahd. Malahd: Sakau me rahmwanger ah sakau rahmedel osada loale. Sakau pwoatet kin mwadang sansarasang. Rough translation: when rahmedel and rahmwanger grow together the sakau is referred to malahd and these should be pulled up quickly.
- Rahmedel (rahmoadoal): smooth stems, light color, long internodes. Other names for rahmedel: kohre and kalaidong.
- Rahmwanger: darker stems, spots on stem (not smooth), short internodes. Other names for rahmwanger: kohkore and nahniepw (nahnioapw).
- Another name for the sakau plant is Sinahni.
- Order of kavalactones in Rahmwanger: DHK, Kavain, DHM, Methysticin, Demethoxy-yangonin, Yangonin
- The first cups contain more of the Kavain compound that is psychoactive and numbs the lips.
- Later cups have a greater proportion of DHK and DHM. These induce sleepiness but can cause nausea as a side-effect.
Entering the nahs and who sits where
- The uniquely designed local hut with a "U" shaped platform that hosts the ceremony is called a nahs.
- One enters the nahs at what is considered the back of a nahs.
- "Hanging" one's legs of over the edge of the nahs during a formal sakau ceremony is culturally inappropriate.
- The front platform is reserved for men and women with high titles. Those who serve the high titles (oarir) also sit on the front platform beside the high titles.
- In a formal ceremony, titled men sit down in the central bay by the sakau stone, the peitehl (poaitehl).
- Women with high titles sit along the "sides" of the nahs.
- When not in use, no object can be placed on the peitehl (poaitehl), nor can people sit on the peitehl, nor can the peitehl be used as a table.
The left front peitehl, as one enters the nahs, is reserved for use only in the presence of the Nahnmwarki. This stone is referred to as poalen koadu and soumoahl (soaumoahl). Nahnmwarki is served from this stone. The right front stone would serve Nahnken if he were present as is referred to as poalen mwahu and pelien soumwoahl (poalioan soaumoahl). The stone called uhpeiuh (uhpoaiuh) refers to the situation in which the uhpeiuh stone's ngarangar is full (pei), the one who holds the ngarangar can stand, but then must wait for the front stones to stand prior to approaching the menindei (moanindei). The rearmost stone on the Nahnken's side sounds a little like the title Kanku, the Kosraen equivalent to Nahnken. Further information on the diagram on the right is available in separate Pohnpeian language and culture documents written in Pohnpeian..
- The arrangement on the platform is important. The front left is reserved for the highest chief in the first line, the king of the traditional nation, the Nahnmwarki. The front right is reserved for the highest chief in the second line, the Nahnken. Posts usually mark their positions.
- On the front platform no one may stand up except a single title, the menindei (moanindei) who is permitted to stand and relay to the people what the king has said. This person stands at a single central post, keidu (koaidu) located between the two front stones. Not all nahs have this post, it is "retrofitted" as necessary. The menindei must hold the center post. Any command given without holding the post need not be obeyed. The menindei relays the commands of the Nahnmwarki to the people. At the back of the nahs menindei ras relays to those gathered outside the nahs what the menindei has said.
- The Nahnmwarki and Nahnken are from two different clans. The titles are in a particular clan in each Pohnpeian nation-state, of which there are five: Madolehnihmw, Kitti, U, Nett, Sokehs. (Moadoaloanihmw, Kiti, Uh, Noat, Soakoahs). On Pohnpei, clans are matriarchal, that is, one's clan derives from one's mother's blood. Traditionally clan exogamy was practiced: men married women from other clans, not their own clan. This rule was not apparently hard and fast as some men married into their own clan (clan endogamy). This flexibility may differ by Pohnpeian nation-state. Land issues and land inheritance may also play a role. The first Nahnmwarki was Isokelekel in Madolehnihmw. His son was the first Nahnken. Because Isokelekel's wife would not have been in his clan, the son is in another clan - the clan of the wife. Isokelekel's son is also said by some to be the first Nahnmwarki, in which case the first Nahnken may have been his son.
- Traditionally, men who sit in the central bay of the nahs must remove their shirts. Today one might see higher titled men retain their shirts, but those who are sitting at the peitehl will still remove their shirts in a formal ceremony.
Sakau in the nahs: the building has meaning
- When sakau is brought into the nahs the whole plant is brought in, complete with one, three, five, or any odd number of branches. The roots alone cannot enter the nahs in a formal ceremony. In an earlier term a student reported that an even number of branches - typically two to four - must be used, there may be municipal differences.
- There is a right way to cut off the branches.
- The root is pounded with basalt rock pounders (moahl) prior to squeezing.
Moahl for Nahnmwarki:
Moahl for Nahnken:
- moahlasang katau
- moahleileng (moahleiloang)
- moahlmwahu (moahlamwahu)
- souriahtek (soauriahtik)
- souriahlap (soauriahlap)
- Tehn wehd (toahn wed) refers to the four taro leaves (Latin: Alocasia macrorrhiza) are placed around the stone to catch pieces of sakau that fall. These are called pwoaikoar. Pounders should place their feet under the pwoaikoar.
- At the proper time, the lead pounder will call keidihd (koaidihd), a call to stop and flip the sakau. A special hand motion is used to flip the sakau.
- Women are allowed to pound sakau here on Pohnpei
- Those who pound (sukusuk), squeeze (wengweng), and carry the cups (ngarangar) to the front of the nahs are referred to as wie koanoat. Koanoat is the sakau in the presence of the king, wie koanoat are those who make the process happen. If Nahnmwarki is not present, but a Nahnken or a chief of a land subdivision, soumas en kousapw (koausapw), is present then these workers are referred to as wie sak.
- At a kamadipw, once the sakau is pounded (mwut), the preparers play a lively and happy "tune" on the sakau stone, peitehl (poaitehl) called sokamah or tempel to call the hibiscus bark wrap (keleu, koaloau). The word for the tune may derive from the sound made when rust was pounded off of the hulls of steel ships in days gone by. Thus the tune might be translated "pound the rust off." The specific rhythm and tune can vary from kousapw to kousapw (traditional land unit). The final chords are repeated in one kousapw because a Nahnmwarki once gave that kousapw (koausapw) permission to do so in honor of winning a great battle.
- The squeezing (wengweng) is done using the inner bark of the hibiscus tree (Latin: Hibiscus tiliaceus). This layer is the phloem and contains polysaccharides (long chain sugar molecules) that are good for the "gut" yet can also cause "gasiness" the next day. The viscous and slimey sap is referred to as meteitei (moatoaitoai). Rehr is another name for keleu (koaloau).
- The coconut cup that receives the sakau has a number of names that may reflect municipal or situational differences. The cup can "name shift" during the course of a ceremony. The coconut cup is generically a ngarangar. Other names include kohwa, kohwaleng (kowahloang), and koupahloang (Koaupahloang) (women's cup). [Words that may relate to the cup: Katehria, kowahleng, koahnpwud also called Delen sakau (Doaloan sakau).]
- Women are allowed to squeeze sakau, if they are strong enough to be productive. This applies to men too, not all men are necessarily "good" squeezers.
- The method of squeezing the sakau is essentially the same in all ceremonies except the apology ceremony. The apology ceremony squeeze is a special technique, not all squeezers can perform this, maybe only a few.
- The apology ceremony may also vary in the sequence of events and in the service. Due to the structure of the ceremony wherein the cup is offered in apology, talking may occur prior to and during the first cups.
- Nohpwei is the first four cups in Madolehnihmw, U, Sokehs, and Nett. In Kitti Nohpwei is the first five cups. Nohpwei may stem from the German times. Prior to then the Nahnmwarki "owned" all land in the nation-state. At that time each Nahnmwarki gave their land to the people for "no pay." In gratitude, the people now present first fruits and the first cups of sakau to their leadership. Thus the word might be English in origin.
- During nohpwei no one can speak. If someone comes to your nahs with sakau, you might not know why they have come until after nohpwei.
- Sakau is served in a cup called a ngarangar or kohwa. The ngarangar can be very old, passed down through a family, sometimes from a father to a son and on to a grandson and beyond. In some sense you are sharing a cup with not only the living members of the family, but with their ancestors as well.
- In Sokehs the first cup (pwehl) goes to the Nahnmwarki, or if not present, the highest titled man in the nahs. After each cup, the cup (ngarangar) returns to the stone.
- The cup returns to the stone and then the second cup (arehn sakau) goes to the Nahnken.
- In ancient traditional times the third cup (esil) may have gone to the Wasahi (second title in the Nahnmwarki line). In modern times the cup goes to the wife of the Nahnmwarki. In Sokehs, U, and Kitti her title is Nahnalek. In Madolehnihmw, Likend. If she is not present, then to the highest titled female present. One theory that presupposes third cup went to Wasahi suggests that four municipalities substituted the "women's cup" for the Wasahi while Kitti added the women's cup to the existing four cups. Supporting this position is the importance of groups of four seen in medicinal recipes, number of sakau plant stalks, and pounders needed to pound sakau. The argument goes that four cups was the original norm and five is a modern adaptation by Kitti to accommodate the women's cup.
- In Sokehs, the fourth cup (sapw) returns to the Nahnmwarki (or the highest titled man present). He may drink the cup or redirect the cup to honor a special guest.
- Kitti [Kitti wekisang wehi teikan - sapw ni alem. Soakoahs, Uh, Noat, Moadoaloanhimw - sapw ni oapoang.] Rough translation: Kitti kingdom is different in having five cups. Sokehs, U, Nett, Madolenihmw have four cups.
- Pwehl to Nahnmwarki
- Arehn sakau to Nahnken
- Esil to Dauk
- Oapoang to Nahnalek (kapahrak?)
- Sapw returns to Nahnmwarki who can then redirect to honor someone.
- The cup is usually passed by holding the cup in the right hand and crossing the right forearm over the left forearm for support. The recipient also forms this arrangement with their arms. Acknowledgment of cup receipt is signaled when the recipient lifts their left forearm to touch the server's left forearm.
- When one drinks, one must close their eyes. This is a matter of tradition. Looking into the sakau in the ngarangar is simply not done.
- Those who are called up onto the front platform to greet Nahnmwarki must go up to the left of the centerpost as they face the front, the king, and come down to the right of the center front post.
- The ngarangar (coconut cup with sakau) also goes up on the left of the post as one faces the king, and comes down on the right side of the post. The cup must "orbit" the center post. If the recipient is not on the front platform, then the menindei (moanindei) will reach around the center post with the his left arm, his left hand holding the cup, to pass the cup around the post and then down to the recipient. This is symbolic of the cup going up to the king, and then coming down to the recipient from the king. The recipient then passes the cup directly back to the cup-bearer. When there are multiple cup-bearers at the front of the nahs, the recipient has the responsibility of knowing to which cup-bearer the cup should be returned. The result is that cup bearers go up on the left, pass the cup to the menindei, and shift right, receive the cup, and return to their stone.
- One term the class had no Pohnpeian women to take the third cup, so the third cup went to a Kosraen woman in honor of one of the legends of the origin of sakau, that it came from Kosrae where it is called seka.
- In a hypothetical sakau ceremony including the king of Kosrae (Togusrai) and the kings of Pohnpei, the instructor was once told that the Togusrai would get the first cup. Bear in mind this will never happen: Kosrae no longer has a Togusrai.
- The Nahnmwarki is the king and the Nahnken is the second highest title in a kingdom. A Nahnken cannot rise to the rank of Nahnmwarki. As noted above, titles are restricted to a particular clan.
- In an "all nations" gathering U and Kitti sit on the right (pali maun, pali moaun) while Madolehnihmw, Sokehs, and Nett would sit on the left (pali meing, pali moaing).
- The server in front of the Nahnmwarki usually comes from the clan of the Nahnken, and the server in front of the Nahnken comes from the clan of the Nahnmwarki. Their task is to ensure that the sakau is free of harmful magic or sorcery (kau). If such is present, the server drinks the cup, sacrificing themselves for the Nahnmwarki or Nahnken. The number, arrangement, and names of the servers varies with nation-state.
- In Kitti two servers (oarir) sit in front of Nahnmwarki. On the left is one skilled in magic to shield and defend the Nahnmwarki. He handles the ngarangar. On the right, the oarir woadoai (he who talks) informs the Nahnmwarki who has entered the nahs.
- The municipalities do not all use the same number of special cups during nohpwei, and the sequencing can vary.
- In Nett two first cups are simultaneously delivered to the Nahnmwarki and the Nahnken, symbolic of the respect given to the Nahnken. In Nett, the Nahnken is a very powerful title. The second cup goes to the wife of the Nahnmwarki, the third to the squeezer (dipen keleu, dipoan koaloau), the fourth is redirected by Nahnmarki, and the fifth is a double cup simultaneously served to Nahnmwarki and Nahnken.
- The last sakau brought into the nahs during a kamadipw would be reserved to be pounded. That sakau plant can only be broken apart by a stick made of Morinda citrifolia. The Morinda citrifolia, while usually refered to as weipwul, is called kirikei in this situation.
Announcement, speeches, and post sakau
- After nohpwei, and only after nohpwei, can the reason for the gathering be announced.
- At this point younger women will often enter the nahs and apply marekeiso (coconut oil) on the skins of the men in the central bay.
- After this, people can get up, move around, talk, and generally relax.
- Even after the first four cups, you are called to the cup by your title. You could never call the cup, you are not higher than the sakau.
- If your title is called and you are outside the nahs, you must run, not walk, to the cup. If you are slow, maybe something could happen to your sakau that could cause you misfortune or illness. This is why some traditionalists say that sakau markets are culturally inappropriate: the cup is "passed" to people instead of people being called to the cup. This is also the situation that can lead to the most confusion as to which cup-bearer to return the ngarangar.
- Wengmad The sakau has lost its power, squeezed out.
- Final processing of the sakau for the last squeezes is termed wengpoar. High titles cannot be served these final cups. The last squeeze to extract the final juices is termed wengkid. The drained and depleted sakau is called wensakau (woansakau).
- Lider: the food or drink used as a "chaser" with sakau, removes the taste from one's mouth. Kosraen fafa fiti, only prepared by men and once reserved to high titles only, is nearly a perfect size and flavor for lider. The restrictions on preparation suggest that it might have linked to suhka in Kosrae in times of old.
- Kenei sakau (koanoai sakau): the food eaten after sakau. Light snack before, bigger meal after was the tradition. The modern tradition of koapohpo (the drinking of alcohol after sakau) has no precedent in culture and tradition and may cause liver damage.
- If a Nahnmwarki were to leave a nahs because he felt disrespected in some way, he can only be stopped by throwing a sakau plant in front of him. If he turns another way, another plant can block his progress. The Nahnmwarki cannot cross a sakau plant. Even his title would not allow such a disrespectful thing. While on the ground, sakau is to be treated as if it were a living human being laying there. In some sense, sakau has the highest title at a gathering and must be shown respect by all. In showing respect for sakau, Pohnpeians show respect for their culture and for each other. Note from an informant in Kitti: Only Nahnken and ipwin pohn warawar (the sons and daughters of Nahnmwarki) can do this for Nahnmwarki.
- The apology ceremony should start with a traditional nohpwei. An additional cup, either fifth or sixth depending on the municipality, was originally the cup offered in apology. Modern usage oftens sees the first cup offered as an apology.
- Tentative explanation at best: Titles in a nation-state exist at two levels: high title (mwaren wehi) at the nation-state level and "titles in kousapw" (mwahr en kousapw, mahr en koausapw) at the kousapw level. The high titles are given only by the Nahnmwarki. Each kousapw (land units) has a paramount chief for that kousapw from a particular clan line, and a second highest chief from another clan line. The kousapw structure mirrors the wehi structure in some ways. Pohnpeian high language must be used when speaking to high titles.
Title Lines of Kitti
|Oloiso: Nahnmwarki line||Serihso: Nahnken line|
|Title||Wife (Mwarepein)||Title||Wife (Mwarepein)|
|4.||Noahs (Nahnno)||Nahnado||Nahlik Lapalap||Nahlikiei Lapalap|
|6.||Nahnpoai||Nahnpwoaipoai||Nahnmoadoau en Idehd||Nahnkoadin Idehd|
|7.||Nahnkiroun Pohndake||Nahlikiroun Pohndake||Souwel Lapalap||Eminalau Lapalap|
|8.||Nanihd Lapalap||Nanidipei Lapalap||Loapoan Ririn||Lampein in Ririn
|9.||Loampwoai Lapalap||Pwoaipoai Lapalap||Oauririn||Lioauririn|
|10.||Saudel||Koadindel||Kaniken Ririn||Kanipein Ririn|
Table above based on notes from Felicy Spencer and the 1978 documents cited below. Differences exist between municipalities. Wein Kitti Nahlik Lapalap kohsangoloiso kolahng serihso, nanpwungoan Nahnsahuririn oh Nahnapas #3 oh #4 Serihso. [Preservation of Ponapean Culture seventh grade, 1978, page 2-3 where the note is attached to a table in a non-Kitti order.]
Title line order is not necessarily the same as social rank order. Municipalities (wehi) have other lines other than Nahnmwarki and Nahnken lines. The following tables lists the highest ranking titles in each wehi in their rank order. The Nahnmwarki of each municipality also has their own unique title.
Top titles by wehi, spellings consistent with wehi constitution
|Nahnmwarki: Isipahu||Nahnmwarki: Soaukisoa||Nahnmwarki: Sahngoro||Nahnmwarki: Soumakahn Pikehn Iap||Nahnmwarki: Pwoud Lepen Nett|
|Lepenmoar||Rohsa||Nahnalek||Lepen Palikir||Lepen Nett|
|Rohspein||Lampein in Palikir|
- Oral testimony at sakau ceremonies attended by SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany class
- Preservation of Ponapean Culture [sic], Benjamin Lopez, Linter Hebel, Ihper Dison, Norman David, John Billiman, Domingko Martin, Ioakim David, Joseph Hallens. 1978 by Pohnpei Department of Education.
- The assistance of Robert Andreas, Paul Gallen, Wilson Kalio, and Joana Nanpei.
- Felicy Spencer Samuel worked her way through multiple revisions providing valuable clarifications and proof-reading.
- What was your reaction to the sakau ceremony?
- Should ethnobotany classes in future terms attend a sakau ceremony?