Menginpehn lien Pohnpei: A poetic ethnography of urohs (Pohnpeian skirts)
This thesis perpetuates a legacy of menginpehn lien Pohnpei (the handiwork of Pohnpeian women) through a poetic ethnography of urohs, Pohnpeian appliquéd and machine embroidered skirts. I trace the “social life” of these valuable textiles and their relationships to the women who make, sell, wear, gift and love them on two Micronesian islands, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the U.S. Territory of Guam where there is a small Pohnpeian migrant community. As a lien Pohnpei poet, this reflexive multi-sited research project is rooted in an “oceanic imaginary.” It is indigenously framed within the scholarship and creativity of Pacific Studies and critical ethnography that responds to the creative, which is so important to urohs and the lives of Pohnpeian women. I explore a genealogy and evolution of women’s nting (writing) from pelipel, tattoos, that marked Pohnpeian bodies to cloth production, including dohr, likoutei (wraparounds), as well as contemporary urohs, to my poetry, another kind of dynamic, textual and textured “writing.” Pacific Literature evolved from the visual, and in Pohnpei this included various forms of menginpehn lih, which this thesis seeks to continue through experimental ethnographic and poetic practice on the sensual textile art of urohs. Thus, it made sense not only to take photographs to “capture” these stunning textiles, but to visualize my thesis as an urohs—the central design or mwahi are my poems, essential to the making of an urohs kaselel (beautiful urohs), appliquéd or embroidered to the scholarly, academic writing or likou, the fabric, that forms the larger skirt, all sewn together with a misihn en deidei (sewing machine), the theory and methodology, on which this thesis runs. My seven months of ethnographic “homework” consisted of oral history interviews, koasoai (conversations), and time spent experiencing urohs with the women whose lives are so entangled in them. The voices of lien Pohnpei are privileged in this Pohnpei-centric study written bilingually in English and Pohnpeian to best reflect our worldviews and the skirts that often function as our “second skins,” threading us in complex ways to other lien Pohnpei at home and in our homes away from home, such as Guam. Lastly, this thesis-skirt reveals what our urohs do for us as lien Pohnpei, how they create meaning in our lives, as opposed to having an essentialist “meaning”—urohs are an unacknowledged force in Pohnpei’s and FSM’s economy; these textiles are “women’s wealth,” dipwisou kesempwal (valuable goods) that give women power and agency within Pohnpeian culture, tiahk, and allow them to support their families; urohs are one of the most expressive ways for women today to display their identities as lien Pohnpei at home and in the diaspora. The poetry I write in response to these innovative, colorful textiles reflects the multilayered ways women articulate our relationships with urohs within the social fabric of Pohnpeian lives, which perpetuates our creativity through the labour of our “fine-hands” and minds.