The Sleeping Lady crowns the isle, breasts jutting to the sky.
Though born in cataclysmic fire, now quiet she does lie.
She lifts the clouds above her head and turns their mists to rain,
Transforming barren soil below to blossoming terrain.
Her gown of green rain forest flows down to the circling sea
Enfolding all in soft embrace of kind maternity.
First people came in great canoes. Behind her reef was calm.
They planted taro in the swamps, thatched roofs with Nipa Palm.
Lagoon had clams and octopus and many kinds of fish.
The breadfruit was abundant and became a staple dish.
Their king decreed his dwelling place must have the finest view
Of Lady on her mountain bed, and so a fortress grew.
Basalt was quarried from the hills and corals from the reef
For walls which rose both thick and tall to guard this mighty chief.
Canals and landings, entrance gates, connecting avenues,
Designed to guard against attacks from foreign war canoes.
His men were warriors, proud and strong, their duty to obey,
Protect their King and island too when dangers came their way.
Once Isokelekel, son of Thunder, sailed from Lady’s bay.
He conquered fortress Nan Madol and ruled all Ponape.
When safe from hunger and from foes their culture blossomed bright.
A way of life to suit the place evolved and was proved right.
They learned the use of every plant and cured most common ills,
Passed knowledge on to younger folk, developed special skills.
A hierarchy of the chiefs coordinated plans,
Enforced taboos, gave punishments, controlled the use of lands.
Each person had a part to play, a role they must fulfill,
And knowing what their goals should be made life more meaningful.
Canoes were key to daily life - more useful than rough roads -
Designed for fishing, making war, or carrying big loads,
So trails were cut through mangrove swamps, canals were dug for boats,
All homes were linked by waterways on which canoes could float.
One stream ran from the island’s heart between the Lady’s knees,
So priests built shrines right at the source of her fertility.
The clay along this sacred stream, quite red from menstrual flows,
Was painted on canoes to give protection from all foes.
Sakau was ground on sacred stones up at the holy site
And drunk to alter consciousness, observe the Goddess rites.
On feast days of the Goddess gay processions climbed there too.
The battle-ready warriors carried King in his canoe
While tattooed elders, laughing kids and handsome folk who smiled
All came to honor their own Goddess, spirit of the Isle.
Tail feathers of the Tropic Bird crowned heads of noble guests
And fragrant flowers round all necks hung down on naked breasts.
In woven baskets came pig meat and breadfruit from the trees
To roast on rocks and feed them all beneath the shading leaves.
The buttress roots of soaring trees were living drums they beat
To make the verdant valley throb with rhythms for their feet.
On seashell trumpets lengthy blasts were to the heavens raised.
Anointed maidens danced and sang in rituals of praise.
Released from daily toil they joined in happy revelry.
The feasts and dancing helped to build a strong society.
With sacraments in sacred vale they all renewed their faith
In ancient values and beliefs. Tradition had its place.
Their island culture lasted long, at least five hundred years,
Until the Europeans came to fill the isle with fears.
The whalers filled their water casks, with many ribald jests,
From streams of water, pure and sweet, which ran from Lady’s breasts.
The island girls were pleasant treats for rough seafaring men
Who used their bodies just for sport, then sailed away again.
The Lady sunk the “Leonora” - justice for the ways
Of slaving, swindling, womanizing pirate Bully Hayes.
In trading ships rapacious men came crossing all the seas.
They carried cannons, muskets, knives, and (worst of all) disease.
The trees were cut, the shrines defiled, the walls were breached in strife,
The people died, and with them died their ancient way of life.
When Boston missionaries came to sell their different god,
Describe the devil, shriek of sin, it didn’t sound too odd,
For something gave the whites great powers, massive ships, and guns,
And spared them from the horrid fevers killing Lady’s sons.
In desperation they converted, quit their ancient ways.
The Goddess fled her ravaged isle and went to Yap they say.
New styles and customs were required for the Christian creed.
The islanders accepted what the mission folk decreed.
They all put on New England clothes, despite the tropic heat.
To hide their bodies, once shown proud, they covered head to feet.
In World War Two the Japanese enslaved the island men,
Took all their food and let them starve - just spared by warfare’s end.
They now eat food from distant places, dream of richer lands,
And listen to the TV rappers, guzzle fizz from cans,
Devoutly pray for Christ’s salvation, sing the mission hymns,
Complain without a lot more money futures will be grim.
They turn their backs on their own Lady, present all the while,
And ready to sustain and nurture in unchanging style.
The one who helped her people prosper, saw them turn away,
And watched the foreign white invaders change her island’s ways,
Does she feel that it might be different, pride could be restored,
Her islanders again could conquer, gain a rich reward?
So quiet is the Lady’s nature people say she sleeps,
But now perhaps the streams which flow are tears the Lady weeps.
This is about the island of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia. The stone city there at Lelu and the better-known Nan Madol on nearby Pohnpei are the only ancient stone cities on Pacific islands. Very little is known about the people who lived there but their social organization was elaborate and their civilization lasted hundreds of years. While many of the ideas in this poem came from observations made on the island, much is conjecture. The religious site in the rainforest in the center of Kosrae is deserted today. The islanders do not even know how extensive those ruins are and they have never been investigated by anthropologists. The mountain profile of the “Sleeping Lady” is a major part of the island's modern advertising campaign to increase tourism.