Last month, UNESCO officially announced 21 new additions to the World Heritage Sites list. One of these — located on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei — is the ruins of Nan Madol. Once an ancient city and capital of the Saudeleur Dynasty, Nan Madol is comprised of giant megalithic structures that span across a series of over 90 man-made islets.
The origins and construction of Nan Madol is, like many other ancient ruins in the world, still shrouded in mystery. Some of the basalt rocks making up the base of the structures weigh upwards of 80-90 tons, yet they have been there for over 1000 years, piled neatly on top of each other.
According to Pohnpeian legend, twin sorcerers Olosohpa and Olosihpa built Nan Madol—a sacred space to worship their gods and the seat of the future Saudeleur Dynasty. These brothers used, what local elders refer to as, “black magic” to move the massive basalt stones from one side of the island to the other. Recent archaeological research confirms that the stones are indeed from a quarry in Sokehs, located more than 40 km away from the ruins. Needless to say, many scientists and researchers of Nan Madol still wonder about the “how” behind these structures.
Celebrating this momentous occasion was a group of local Pohnpeian college students, who took on the responsibility of providing the international community with their own local stories and images of Nan Madol. With support from the Pacific Storytellers Cooperative, these young men and women explored, researched, and wrote stories about this sacred site from their perspective — the perspective of people who carry the legacy of Nan Madol in their DNA.
On the topic of responsibility and indigenous perspective, one of the local storytellers, Erika Billen:
“Where the heck is Micronesia?” I have heard that question more than once in my travels [off island]. Initially, I had no problem with explaining where I was from through the same dialogue over and over—but at this point I am driven to tell everyone where and who we are. I believe that we are a vital part of the world’s history and should be recognized. “Pohnpei met!” This is Pohnpei—where the land unites and identifies us. Nan Madol is part of the fiber in the twisted lines that tie us all together. Come and see the mystery, revel in the beauty of its enigmatic origins. Beauty does not need to be understood here—just admired. After all, this is Pohnpei, the land of beautiful mysteries.
For more stories told through the voices and lenses of the young Pohnpei storytellers, see their Nan Madol Stories page.The young men and women of Pohnpei who have committed to sharing the story of Nan Madol through their eyes (and lenses). (Photo by Dan Lin)