Wordcatcher Tales: Dawasi, Kousapw, Sakau

Three words from the Micronesian language Pohnpeian (aka Ponapean) that surfaced in my background reading about the church shootings in Neosho, Missouri, tell stories of distant connections across time and space.

Dawasi – When I first heard about the Neosho church shooting, I assumed the Micronesians involved were from the Marshall Islands, because I know that many Marshallese work for Tyson Foods in nearby Springdale, Arkansas. But one key term (which I’ve italicized) in the following passage cited in a posting on the Marshallese YokweOnline network hinted that the Micronesians involved were from the state of Pohnpei, not the Marshalls. (They were actually from the outer islands of Pingelap, not the main island of Pohnpei.)

Kernel [Rehobson] owns a retail store that is a gathering place for Micronesians from dozens of miles around since he stocks his store with the type of down-home items that are so difficult to find in the US: the large plastic combs that women wear in their hair, zoris, dawasi and brushes for showers, and island-style skirts with embroidered hems.

Dawasiscrub brush’ (made of coir bristle) is the official Pohnpeian spelling for a word borrowed from Japanese before the Pacific War. The same word was borrowed by Palauans, who spell it tauas(i). In current Japanese, tawashi (束子) can refer to scouring pads made of acrylic yarn, but the bristle brush variety is such a Japanese cultural icon that tiny replicas dangle from cellphones and backpacks.

The passage above cited on YokweOnline comes from the article on Micronesians Abroad by Francis X. Hezel, S.J., and Eugenia Samuel, that I blogged about earlier. The two words italicized in the next passage from the same article tell of very different connections.

Our team intended to visit Kansas City, home of a growing Micronesian community, largely Pohnpeian, that sprang from students who attended Park College during the 1970s and 1980s. Small colleges, once well attended by Micronesian students, have frequently served as the seedbeds for migrant communities in the US, accounting in part for the seemingly odd locations of Micronesian strongholds. Kansas City is said to have been constituted a kousap by a Pohnpeian chief not long ago when he paid a visit to his compatriots who had settled in that city. He was feted with sakau—the type made from powder rather than pounded—and left a week or two later with several thousand dollars, which had been collected as tribute from Pohnpeians who are now living 8,000 miles from their own island.

Kousapw – The kousapw (sapw means ‘land’) is a Pohnpeian land unit—translated ‘section’ below—intermediate between a farmstead and a district (or “municipality”). According to Douglas Oliver’s (1988) Oceania: The Native Cultures of Australia and the Pacific Islands, p. 983:

Most sections extended from coast to island center, and consisted of from fifteen to thirty-eight farmsteads. Each section had a meeting house of its own, and was headed by an official known as a kaun or soumas, who was usually the senior male member of the section’s senior sub-clan. The section functioned mainly as an administrative subdivision of the district.

This raises several questions. (1) There seem to be many old cultural connections between chiefly high-island Polynesians (possibly from Samoa) and Pohnpei. Is it just coincidence that the kousapw in Pohnpei usually runs from seashore to mountaintop, like the ahupua‘a of Hawai‘i (and presumably other large islands in Polynesia)? (2) Which of the major districts on the island of Pohnpei was the Kansas City kousapw assigned to? (3) Does this mean we now have a third Kansas City to contend with: one in Missouri, one in Kansas, and one in Pohnpei?

Sakau – One strong indication of old Polynesian influence on Pohnpei is the cultivation and use of Piper methysticum, known in Pohnpei as sakau, in Hawaiian as ‘awa, and in Samoan as ‘ava. In fact, the Pohnpeian word sakau derives by regular sound correspondences from the earlier Polynesian article+noun combination *te kawa.

4 Comments

Filed under Japan, language, Micronesia, Polynesia, U.S.

4 responses to “Wordcatcher Tales: Dawasi, Kousapw, Sakau

  1. Patricia J Rew

    what was the very first date and the specific the very first Micronesian family moved to Neosho Missouri and where specifically did they come from. And how did they get there (mode of travel)

  2. I have no idea. Maybe a Pingelapese student went to school in the area, or a Pohnpeian in Kansas City moved south to look for work with other Micronesians near Springdale, AR.

  3. john

    Please tell me the name of the Kernels store, and let me know if it’s also on line. It is a shame that lives were lost, but thank god for our redeemer Christ Jesus.
    Sincerly, John Ornelas

  4. I don’t know. I only cited news reports already online. You’ll probably have to ask someone in Neosho or Springdale, Arkansas.

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