Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The people of Ulithi live on the Ulithi atoll in the west-central Caroline Islands of the western Pacific. Their language is a dialect of Chuukese, a subdivision of the wide-spread Austronesian language family. Some internal trade takes place among individuals, but most of it is external in a complex system of exchange with Yap, the Woleai region and Chuuk. Horticulture dominates subsistence activities, supplemented by fish and other sea foods. Ulithi has undergone strong culture change since the atoll came under United States control in 1944.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Micronesia


Federated States of Micronesia

OWC Code


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Collection Overview

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

The OR20 Ulithi file consists of two documents, both in English, covering the time span from about 1900 to 1949. The primary work for this file is Lessa, 1950, no. 1, presenting a comprehensive ethnographic study of Ulithi Atoll by the author over a nine month period of fieldwork from 1947 through 1949. Major topics include data on culture history, the physical and mental characteristics of the people, exploitative activities, property, family and kinship, political and social organization, law and social control, conflict, religion and magic, and the life cycle from infancy to old age and death. The second document by Lessa (1961, no. 2) is a collection of previously unpublished myths and folktales from Ulithi, which are compared to similar motifs and themes appearing in the folk literature of other ethnic populations in Oceania.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is a slightly revised version of the article “Ulithi” by William A. Lessa in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vo. 2, Oceania, 1992. Terence E. Hays, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in March 2006 who also updated the population information.

Overview by

John Beierle

CHAI – doctors - use "MEDICAL PERSONNEL (759)"

Commensally units - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

District chiefs - use "DISTRICTS (634)"

FANGELIÄ LUS – spirit shrines - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

FANGELMARAESPA – a special shrine to the ghost MARESPA - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

FEFEL – female counterpart of the MAL - use "LINEAGES (613)", and “SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

FEFELKAWEIACH – women’s councils - use "COUNCILS (623)"

HAILANG - use "LINEAGES (613)"

HALARMAL – “men’s food”; the ceremonial gift of plant foods by the women of a village to all its men - use "GIFT GIVING (431)", "DIET (262)", and "EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS (437)"

HAPELAM – the village - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

HASUPSÚP – a sorcerer - use "SORCERY (754)", and "MEDICAL PERSONNEL (759)"

IÄlus – supernatural beings - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

IMÖ IPÖ - menstrual house - use "OUTBUILDINGS (343)"

IMUSA – canoe house - use "RECREATIONAL STRUCTURES (345)"

KUFÄR – the puberty ceremony - use "PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)"

LEGABWÖL – amulets against disease - use "PREVENTIVE MEDICINE (751)"

MAL – the headman of a lineage - use "LINEAGES (613)", and "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

MALKAWEIACH – men’s councils - use "COUNCILS (623)"

Men’s and women’ councils - use "COUNCILS (623)"

MEPEL – religious offerings or tribute to Yap - use "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)", and "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (648)"

METALEFAL – the men’s house - use "RECREATIONAL STRUCTURES (345)"

METANG – council heads - use "COUNCILS (623)", and "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

MWOLMOI – first-fruit rituals - use "GIFT GIVING (431)", "MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE (436)", "TILLAGE (241)", and "ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)", depending on context

NGOL – the soul - use "ANIMISM (774)"

Paramount chief - use "CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)"

PELÜ - canoe captains; navigators - use "WATER TRANSPORT (505)", "NAVIGATION (502)", and "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

PI SUPUHUI – a pagan holiday involving a special form of participation in sex relations of a mild sort - use "REST DAYS AND HOLIDAYS (527)", and "SEXUALITY (831)"

RALÏRFEFEL – a return gift by the village men to the women for the HALARMAL - use "GIFT GIVING (431)", "DIET (262)", and "EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS (437)"

REBWE – a diviner - use "MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)"

SAWEI system – a system of gifts and hospitality between landlord and tenant sibs on Yap and Ulithi - use "GIFT GIVING (431)", "EXCHANGE TRANSACTIONS (437)", "VISITING AND HOSPITALITY (574)", and "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (648)", depending on context

SIÄL – the pregnant woman - use "PREGNANCY (843)"

TAMOL – territorial moiety chiefs - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)", and "MOIETIES (616)"

TEMALIP – the fish magician - use "MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)"

TOTAFEI – a herbalist - use "MEDICAL PERSONNEL (759)"

TUTHUP – the ghost - use "ESCHATOLOGY (775)"

UBWOTH – use of young coconut leaves - use "ETHNOBOTANY (824)"

WASOAMA – the medium - use "MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)"

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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