Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name

Woleai Region

Culture Description

The Woleai Region is an administrative section of Yap State of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in the central and west-central Caroline Islands. The Woleai Region consists of a group of five closely related atolls, namely Eaurupik, Elato, Faraulep, Ifaluk, Lamotrek and Woleai. All of these atolls lie within a region where tropical storms and typhoons are near constant threats. Residents of each atoll depend on traditional fishing, gardening and some trade.


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Oceania --Micronesia


Federated States of Micronesia

OWC Code


Collection Information

Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The OR21 Woleai Region collection consists of 28 documents, including this culture summary, and focuses largely on the atoll of Ifaluk. The collection contains information on three main time periods: the early 20th century, the late 1940s-mid-1950s, and the late 1980s to the early 1990s. The earliest information on the Woleai region comes from travel reports by German explorers and missionaries who lived and worked in the region from 1904-1910. These reports provide important historical data. Professional anthropologists conducted fieldwork in one of the five atolls of the region in the late 1940s, mid-1950s, late 1980s and early 1990s. Burrows and Spiro (1953, no. 42) provides a first hand account of culture and society in Ifaluk atoll including social organization (households, lineages, sub-clans, clans, chiefs and ranks), economic activities (fishing, gardening, palm oil supping, food processing, meat sharing, canoe making, navigation and inter-island trade), religion (spirits, gods, ghosts, conversion and aspects of change) and life cycles (birth, adoption, child care, socialization, rites of passages, marriage, etc.). Burrows and Spiro (1953), which evolved from earlier field reports by Burrows (1949, no.1) and Spiro (1950, no. 29 and 1949 no. 28), is the most comprehensive ethnographic work in the file. Alkire (1965, no. 45) focuses on social structure and inter-island relations from the vantage point of Lamotrek atoll. All the other works examine more specific aspects of culture in Ifaluk including arts (Burrows, 1963, no. 43), emotions (Lutz, 1982, no. 44), illness and health issues (Alkire, 1981, no. 46), child care (Betzig, et. al, 1989, no. 47), adoption (Betzig, 1988, no. 48), chiefly privileges and food distribution (Betzig, 1988, no. 49), and organization of labor (Sosis, 2005, no. 50). Together, the documents show that life in the Woleai region remains largely traditional, despite many years of administration by successive external powers.

This synopsis is from the article “Woleai,” by William H. Alkire, in The Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 2, Oceania, Terence E. Hays, ed., Boston, Mass: G. K. Hall and Co., 1991. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by Teferi Abate Adem in November 2005.

Overview by

John Beierle

Collection Indexing Notes

AIRO (literally, “fellow clansmen) – use KINSHIP RELATIONSHIPS (602)

AIVAM (adopted children) – use ADOPTION (597)

ALUS (general name for spirits) – use SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

BWARUX (serenade) – use SONGS (533)


GAPENGPENG (invocations) – use SONGS (533) or PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)

IM (homesteads) – use HOUSEHOLDS (592)

KAILANG (clan) – use SIBS (614) or CLANS (618)


PALU (master navigator) – use OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALIZATION (463)

SENNAP (master craftsman) – use OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALIZATION (463)

TAUPOTU (tattooing specialist) – use OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALIZATION (463)

TARANG (celebrations on a girl’s first menstruation) – use PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)

UR (men’s dance) – use DANCES (535)

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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