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Bouvier's Red Colobus Monkey: the Inspiration Behind Wahea

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "“Is she a pet?” Amanda asked.

     “We don’t have pets here, and I can’t imagine Wahea being called that.”  Analei giggled.  “She’s called a Bouvier’s Red Colobus monkey on the surface.  Scientists from your surface world deemed them extinct fifty years ago. As you’ll see, they’re very much alive in the subterranean cities.”

    “I can’t wait to meet her!”

    “Let me forewarn you. She’s quite a character!”  Analei laughed."

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "A small monkey with red and white fur and black-hooded eyes suddenly swung down from a nearby tree onto Analei’s shoulder. “There you are, Wahea! What have you been up to? No good I’m guessing.” Analei smiled and hugged the little monkey, who returned the hug and stared at the newcomers over her shoulder.

    “This is my friend, Wahea,” Analei explained. The two-and-a-half-foot monkey jumped to the ground, looking at them curiously.

    “Cool! I’ve always wanted to see a monkey up close. You’re so cute!” Sam said, picking up the monkey. Wahea was surprised by the sudden movement and screamed, slapping Sam across the face. Danny and Amanda couldn’t help themselves and laughed.

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "“I’ve never seen a monkey like her before,” Danny said.

    “She’s a Bouvier’s Red Colobus monkey from the jungles of the Congo. The last time they were seen on the surface was about fifty years ago. They’re not extinct in the third dimension, just well-hidden. They have no fear of humans, so they were hunted almost to extinction,” Analei explained, stroking Wahea while the monkey snuggled closer to her."

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Giacomo Brazza, courtesy Archivio Storico Capitolino and Lieven Devreese

Bouvier's Red Colobus Monkey:

The Inspiration Behind Wahea


    The story of the Bouvier’s red colobus monkey is mostly still a mystery. Long thought extinct, it’s been rediscovered in the Republic of the Congo, but is still in grave danger. Photographed for the first time in 2015, very little is known about the tendencies of the monkey, and it took a three month expedition by scientists to rediscover them.

“Extremely little is known about Bouvier’s red colobus.” -National Geographic

    The Bouvier’s is a fairly small species of colobus monkey with brownish-red fur and a patch of black to chocolate brown fur on its head. A black brow-band reaches from the eyes to the temple. It’s chin and whiskers are white and around its eyes are pink rings. Their faces vary from light to dark, with light lips and noses. The Bouvier’s tail is long and dark at the root, turning brownish red and its underside is paler in color.

    They live and travel in large groups and do not seem to fear humans. This lack of fear could easily lead to their demise, as it makes them an easy target for hunters. Instead of fleeing or hiding as most monkeys do, the Bouvier’s red colobus is more curious than its relatives. They watch hunters and scientists alike from their perch in the trees, occasionally acting aggressively, but often just curious.

““When talking to the local people, we learned there is an active trade of bush meat using the rivers as highways. When the forests are not inundated, only a couple of months a year, commercial hunters shoot whatever they can and empty the forest,” Devreese says. Local people claim they don’t like the taste of red colobus, but most meat is smoked and transported to city markets. Hunting is traditionally part of the Central African culture, but the population increase in the cities, the relatively higher purchasing power of some urban dwellers and the easy availability of firearms, has altered the scale of the trade, putting an enormous pressure on wildlife. The team found an even more disturbing discovery. “Huge dug-out canoes loaded with deep freezers and generators go up the river to collect meat from the most remote villages and hunting camps,” Devreese explains.” -Lieven Devreese

    Another major threat to the Bouvier’s red colobus, also known as Piliocolobus bouvieri, is habitat degradation. Through logging, their population has been decimated. They live in swampy forests along the right bank of the Congo River between the mouths of the rivers Alima, Oubangui and Likouala-aux-Herbes. This area is difficult, if not impossible to access except by boat along the river, making it difficult for scientists to study them. However, this difficulty also slows hunters and loggers, and can possibly be attributed to their survival. Even still, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has listed the monkey as Critically Endangered. This has made the study of the monkey’s genetic disposition almost impossibl

Devreese and his assistant collected fecal samples from Bouvier’s red colobus and hope to conduct the first genetic tests on the monkeys.” -Jeremy Hance, Mongabay


    We don’t know much about the history of the Bouvier’s monkey. In 1884, Giacomo Savorgnan di Brazza, the sibling of a famous explorer, shot two between the villages of Bonga and Mongo in the Congo, stuffing them and bringing them back to Europe. Before 2015, the only known photographs of the species were of these two deceased specimens, on display at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

    Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, several other specimens arrived in museums, but the only people who knew anything about the monkey were those living in the swampy forests of the Congo. In 1887, Alphonse Tremeau de Rochebrune was the first to describe them in Faune de Senegambie, and until 2007, they were considered a subspecies of Pennant’s colobus, also critically endangered.

“No individuals had been seen in the wild since the 1970s and was thought to have lost at least 80% of its population since then, due to hunting and habitat loss.” -Wikipedia

    In the 2000s, F. Petter and F. Vincent reported possible sightings of the species south of where they had previously been found, but no confirmation was made. In 2007, Colin Groves reclassified Piliocolobus to a full genus, its own species, although others still believe it to be a subspecies of Procolobus. Also in 2007, and again in 2014, the Wildlife Conservation Society documented the Bouvier’s red colobus in surveys inside a new National Park, but listed them only as “red colobus.” It was in 2008 that the IUCN reassessed the status of the Bouvier’s red colobus and classified them as critically endangered, including that they could also be “possibly extinct.”

“For years, research groups called for an expedition to find out if Bouvier’s red colobus still survived in the forests of the Republic of Congo.” -Jeremy Hance, Mongabay

    Finally, in 2015 Lieven Devreese, an independent researcher from Belgium, set off on a three month expedition to the Congo to find the Bouvier’s red colobus. Only 27 and having already studied other primates in Africa, he was a perfect fit to begin the excursion. He teamed up with a local from the village of Bomassa, Gael Elie Gnondo Gobolo, 25, who had researched and worked in the National Park for his Bachelor thesis.

    Through crowdfunding and donations, including support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, they were able to start the expedition. The first step was to meet with local people, starting in Owando, to learn what they knew about the monkeys: their behavior, calls, and where they had been seen. Locals were already well aware of the monkey’s existence. At times, the strange biologists with all of their equipment were met with suspicion. Able to speak their language, their skepticism, even deep in the forest, was usually soon abated.

    They hired a dugout canoe in Makoua and got on the Likouala River, the only way to travel through the dense swamp forests. High water levels and waist-deep mud made the grounds not easily accessible.

“The tricky Congolese terrain, which is rife with swamps and rivers, may have contributed to the long wait for the world’s first photo of the species.” -National Geographic

    With the help of local guides, they soon entered the new Ntokou-Pikounda National Park. Just created in 2013 with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society, this 1,765 square-mile park is one of the richest in the area, home to thousands of western gorillas, and almost a thousand chimpanzees and elephants. As a new park without enough funding to hire rangers to enforce a hunting ban or for development, it is still in need of much support.

    They made their first sighting of the monkey in the new National Park, the first confirmed sighting in four decades, on the Bokiba River. On March 3, 2016, the explorers announced their find to the world, and then in April revealed the first ever photograph of a Bouvier’s red colobus, a mother and her baby.

“The Bouvier’s red colobus monkey had never been photographed until now.” -National Geographic

    Although the Bouvier’s red colobus was found in a protected National Park, they are not safe from threats. Logging and destruction of its habitat will be curtailed here, but the monkey is still at risk from hunters until active protection and monitoring have been instated. Some areas, away from rivers, are too dense for even hunters to manage, and may be the reason the species survives today. In addition, the sale of monkey meat has decreased in popularity because of the perceived risk of contracting Ebola. Much still needs to be accomplished before this rare and unique species can thrive.

How Can I Help?

  1. Do not participate in the hunting of any endangered species.

  2. Do not partake in the sale of any meat or parts of any endangered species.

  3. Recycle and buy sustainable products.

  4. Learn about endangered species in your area.

  5. Donate to the new National Park to increase the protection from hunters or

  6. Visit the park to help.

  7. Donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society, who helps fund expeditions and is currently working to protect the Bouvier’s and many other species.

By Nicole LeBoeuf


Nan Madol, the Inspiration Behind the Ancient Weather Station


From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“The boat ride was smooth around the tip of the island and it only took ten minutes. The sun was just beginning to come up as they made their way into the canals. Father Jakob was right. It was a strange place. Instead of roads, there were shallow waterways among the enormous silent rocks. As the sun rose, she could see the stacked crystal logs, now covered with vines and dirt, so they were no longer bright and beautiful. They were piled high, just like in Father Jakob’s story.”

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “Yes, the crystals are not even from the local area and had to be brought in. It still stumps most scientists as to how that was accomplished.” Father Paul laughed.
“Yes. You see, in those days, Gaia was still young and unstable. She would shake and have volcanic eruptions that would cause massive tsunamis. These events kept wiping out civilizations, so the weather station was built,” Father Jakob said…
“It was built with a technology that no longer exists today. You’ll see tomorrow. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. That station is a series of man-made islands and canals and tons of stacked crystal logs,” Father Paul said.
“Why so much crystal?” Sam asked.
“This much crystal in one place allowed it to become one of the most powerful beacons in the world. The whole area has been abandoned for thousands of years, but in its heyday, it stopped tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions across the world just be centralizing the power of the basalt crystals and sending it out to strategic locations,” Father Jakob answered.”

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “Can we get out there tonight to get this done?” Sam asked.

“No, we can only travel into the man-made canals by boat at high tide. There’s no other way into the area except by water, protecting it from people who shouldn’t be there,” Father Paul said.”

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “The weather station has been a mystery to scientists and researchers around the world. What we know about it has been taught to us by the local islanders and the Elders,” Father Jakob explained.
“Which is more reliable than any history book,” Father Paul said.
“The weather station of today is one of the few places left on the surface from Lemuria, the ancient continent that sank. Part of it is under the sea, but most is still on land and accessible. It was built with a technology learned from the Star People at the dawn of modern man.” Father Jakob stopped for a moment to let that sink in.”

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “Thousands and thousands of years ago, this island was a jungle so thick and full of wild animals no people lived in it. This was when Gaia was young and unstable. Back then, lands were still forming and shifting. Every time great civilizations formed, terrible earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and massive tsunamis wiped out all the people who lived there…

There was a great magician who lived on an island near here. His name was Puleleiite, which means ruler who can see the future. He saw great tragedy coming to his people and knew he had to figure out a way for Gaia to become stable, so he thought and he thought and he thought. He even climbed the tallest mountain on the night of the full moon to find an answer.

Great Moon, what should I do? Puleleiite pleaded with the moon.

Suddenly, he heard something behind him and when he turned around, he found one of the Star people he had heard about his whole life standing there. She was at least ten feet tall, with long flowing black hair and skin so radiant, it seemed as if light shined from inside of her.

She said, Puleleiite, your cries have been heard today and I am here to help you.

He bowed down in front of her, too afraid to look at her.

She gently put her hand on his shoulder, and said, Rise and come with me.

She took him up into the nighttime sky where they could look back and see the earth from the stars. She said, Puleleiite, you have earned great respect from the Seven Sisters for your honorable and fair ways. You were given the power to see what happens in the future, and you have never used it for greed or to hurt others. For this, we are going to entrust you with a great task.

He bowed low and said, I am not worthy of such a great honor.

She helped him to his feet and said, You are the only one who is. We know that you will use it only for the good of Gaia and her people.

With that, she bestowed great powers on Puleleiite, and then gave him one final gift. She explained to him: this scroll contains the way for you to create a weather station so civilizations will no longer be destroyed.

He looked down at the scroll and then asked her, Where should I build it and how? But she had disappeared… back to the stars where she lives today…

Well, Puleleiite, being a smart and great ruler, opened the scroll and said the incantation the Star Woman had left for him. It read:

We, the people from the stars, summon from the air the Ancient One, the one who dwells in far-away lands.

We ask you to answer the pleas of this man, this ruler with a pure and true heart.

We call upon you to use your knowledge of the ancient powers

To build a place of balanced energy that will serve Gaia for the highest good.

We ask you, O Mighty One, to stand tall before this fair and just King.

Together you will accomplish what must be done to balance the beautiful and noble Gaia so civilizations will be wiped out no longer and be able to grow strong and powerful.

We call upon you today, O Mighty One, to draw upon the most ancient knowledge known in the universe to create a weather station for Gaia.

And when he was done, he heard a great roar and saw something flying towards him from the heavens. It was a great dragon!...

(He knew the truth about dragons. They weren’t mean and would never hurt a human on purpose. The dragon stories we’re told today aren’t true. Dragons used to help people, especially children. When people tried to enslave them for their powers, they decided to leave.)

The dragon landed and asked Puleleiite in his deep, soothing voice, You summoned me?

Yes, I am supposed to build a weather station so that earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and other bad things will no longer happen on Gaia. But I don’t know how. A great being from the stars gave me this scroll and said with it I would receive the help I needed.

The dragon nodded wisely and said, The star being would never have entrusted something as valuable as this with someone not worthy of help. So yes, I will help you.

I am Puleleiite. What should I call you? he asked.

My name is Enos, the dragon replied, his silvery voice soothing Puleleiite’s worries. There is only one place on Gaia that could house the power of a weather station. It sits in the place where the energy grids of the planet meet, so great power runs through it, but it is in the most inhospitable place imaginable. You can only access it by sea because the jungles are so treacherous.

Would we be able to build the weather station there if it is so dangerous? Puleleiite aske.

Oh yes! It wouldn’t be easy, but it could be done, Enos answered. Please get on my back and I will take you there.

Puleleiite was also a very brave warrior, so without a second thought, he leapt up on the dragon’s back. They flew to the island with a jungle and stood on its rocky shores.

Looking at the impassable mountains, Puleleiite said, I don’t think we can build anything here.

The dragon smiled and said, Great leader, have faith in me! With that, Enos stood tall and roared a great roar…

Moments later, a dozen more dragons landed on the rocky beach. With your permission, my friends and I will build you a mighty weather station greater than any Gaia has ever seen!

Then go to it! Puleleiite said. First the dragons stood in the jungle and breathed fire, melting trees, dirt and stone into a dozen deep trenches. The tide soon came in and the trenches became canals. Then they breathed more fire and thinned out the trees on the sides of the canals and on the little island in the middle. Once this was complete, they flew off, leaving Puleleitte by himself. He thought he had been abandoned until he saw the dragons flying back two by two, holding huge volcanic rocks between them. When they landed, they breathed fire on them, transforming them into crystal logs and then stacking them in enormous crisscross pattern throughout the area. It’s a good thing dragons don’t tire, because it took hundreds of trips before they were finished.

Before Puleleiite stood the most beautiful crystal weather station imaginable. The last thing Enos did was secure a rare and beautiful green crystal at the top of a pole on the center island. Then the dragons bowed to Puleleiite and flew off. From that day forward, the weather station helped save Gaia from the most horrific disasters countless times over thousands of years.””

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “What we need is a huge source of electric power to give the activation a boost. There’s no electricty and I can’t think of any place we could find a source like that near here!” said Danny.

“I have an idea!” Analei said. “These islands are known for having the largest colonies of electric eels in the world. They were used in healing and war rituals during ancient times. I could call for them to come here. Is that the kind of energy you’re talking about, Danny?”

“Yes! That’s it exactly. We’ll have to figure out a way to get them close enough to the pillar,” Danny said and contemplated the pillar for a few moments.

“I think I know a way!” Father Jakob’s voice squeaked with excitement. “I’ve spent a good deal of time exploring the weather station. See these ditches… look a little closer. There’s small drains attached to each one. If we could get the drains open, the water could flow in and give the eels a place to go.””

From Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals by Cherie Ruffo, 2015

“ “What happened to the weather station? Why is it deserted now?”

Father Jakob replied, “Well, over time, almost all men forgot about it, until the very worst of men were the only ones who remembered…

This was during the darkest times of humanity. The bad men convinced the great magicians of the time to use the weather station to cause death and destruction on Gaia instead of preventing it. When the start people found out what was happening, they sadly came and took the green crystal that operated the weather station until the day when man was ready to use it for good again. Hidden on Gaia remains the only crystal that will enable the weather station to become active again.””

Nan Madol

The Inspiration Behind the Ancient Weather Station

    On the other side of the world, in the humid Federated States of Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean, lies the ruins of an ancient city. No one knows how it was built or why it was abandoned. Locals are afraid of it, a sacred place where spirits rule the night. To disturb the ruins is believed to be bad luck upon those who do, and possibly the entire society.

    Nan Madol was constructed between the main island of Pohnpei and Temwen Island in a lagoon, but it wasn’t built on land. Instead, 92 different artificial islets were created on a coral reef flat in shallow water by filling them with stone, coral fill and basalt crystal boulders. Narrow, overgrown channels separate each man-made island. The platforms, spread over 200 acres, are surrounded by an outer seawall built with enormous crystal logs.

“It is the only ancient city ever built atop of a coral reef.” -The Smithsonian Institute

    Each islet contains varying structures, some immense and some destroyed by the passing of time. Each was formed by columnar basalt, a hexagonal or occasionally octagonal rock created from basalt crystal through the cooling of a thick lava flow. According to Ancient Origins, the average weight of each stone is 5 tons, but some weigh as much as 50 tons. It’s been estimated that it took up to 750,000 metric tons of basalt to construct Nan Madol. Biblioteca Pleyades estimates that walls were piled up to 80 feet in some places and whole columns reach up to 16 feet long. Other sources say they could be as long as 20 feet! Without the help of machinery, how did the ancient residents create this archaeological complexity?

“It’s imposing yet graceful ruins are made of stones and columns so heavy that no one has figured out how it was built.” -The Smithsonian Institute

    To further confuse historians and archaeologists alike, there is no quarry site for basalt in Madolenihmw. Probable quarry sites on the island of Pohnpei have been located, and underwater, a trail of drop stones can be found, but how did an ancient civilization transport rocks of so many tons for such a great distance?

    It was proposed that the logs were floated on bamboo rafts from the quarry, but no one has yet been able to prove that this was possible. Rufino Mauricio, Pohnpei’s only archaeologist, even attempted the feat once. When the basalt was placed on the bamboo raft, it sank straight to the bottom. Some modern Pohnpeians still believe they were flown to Nan Madol with black magic.

    The ancient community was not an urban city at all, but a sacred and special home to those of high birth and religious leaders. Nan Madol means “spaces between,” most likely after the many canals that separated each islet. It is only fitting that many today call it the “Venice of the Pacific,” but Nan Madol was not its original name. Some believe it’s name to be Soun Nan-leng, or “Reed of Heaven,” a fitting place for sacred religious rites and burials.

    But for a sacred city, aside from its megalithic architecture, it lies relatively unadorned. The walls of basalt are not carved. There is no art. No traces of writing or inscription have been found. There are no sources of fresh water here, or food other than sealife. So what was Nan Madol used for and how were the people that lived there sustained?

    One theory is that the quasi-rectangular islets were part of the lost continent of Mu, or Lemuria as James Churchward and David Hatcher Childress have suggested in their books. Bill S. Ballinger, in his book Lost City of Stones, suggests that it was built by Greek sailors in 300 BC.

    What we do know through excavations is that Nan Madol was a scene of human activity, and could have even been occupied, as early as 200 BC. Rufino Mauricio reports that “the islands closer to the mainland are older that those on the outskirts of the site, facing the sea, which is where the most elaborate structures are.”

“The early inhabitants made and used earthenware pottery, though it ceased to be made by AD 1100. Initial construction of the artificial islets began at least by AD 900.” -International Archaeological Research Institute

    It is believed that in the 8th or 9th century, basic islet construction had started but it wasn’t until the 12th or 13th centuries that the distinctive megalithic structures we see today were begun. Carbon dating suggests that construction did not really get going until 1200 AD. So how did this ancient society, over 800 years old, construct such a masterpiece?

    One theory that Pohnpeian tradition claims is that builders of Lelu, another great complex of stone, migrated to Pohnpei and used their experience to construct the even larger Nan Madol. Radiocarbon dating says this theory is unlikely, as Nan Madol seems to predate Lelu.

    Another legend says it was built by two twins who were said to be much taller than native Pohnpeians.

“According to Pohnpeian legend, Nan Madol was constructed by twin sorcerers Olisihpa and Olosohpa from the mythical Western Katau, or Kanamwayso. The brothers arrived in a large canoe seeking a place to build an altar so that they could worship Nahnisohn Sahpw, the god of agriculture. After several false starts, the two brothers successfully built an altar off Temwen Island, where they performed their rituals. In legend, these brothers levitated the huge stones with the aid of a flying dragon. When Olisihpa died of old age, Olosopha became the first Saudeleur. Olosohpa married a local woman and sired twelve generations, producing sixteen other Saudeleur rulers of the Dipwilap (“Great”) clan. The founders of the dynasty ruled kindly, though their successors placed ever increasing demands on their subjects.” -Wikipedia

    Many other legends surround the mysterious city of Nan Madol. A folktale tells of a city built by giants, strong enough to move the rocks. Another local story holds that a powerful magician came from the northwest and flew the stones to Nan Madol.

    But whatever the origin of the ancient city, it’s construction is impressive. As Rufino Mauricio said, “not bad for people who had no pulleys, no levers and no metal.”

“Given Pohnpei’s population at the time was less than 30,000, the building of Nan Madol represented a much larger effort than the pyramids were for the Egyptians. The total weight of the black rocks moved is estimated at 750,000 metric tons, an average of 1,850 tons a year over four centuries.” -The Smithsonian Institute

    But who were the residents of Nan Madol? Pohnpeians and historians alike suggest that a people known as the Saudeleurs, who united all of Pohnpei’s estimated 25,000 people, were the ones to construct Nan Madol. It was believed to be the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur Dynasty, which lasted around 500 years. The Saudeleurs were thought to be the descendants of two brothers in the 6th century, who founded a religious community focused on the adoration of the sea. The rulers of the Saudeleurs were known to be deeply religious, some good, others tyrants.

    It is thought that Nan Madol was built to insulate the nobility of the Saudeleurs from the commoners. Nobility lived in the elite centre. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the city was created to organize and control chiefs and potential rivals by requiring them to live there instead of their home districts, where their activities were difficult to monitor.

“Excavations of these elite residences have revealed the presence of beads and other ornaments, which may have marked their owner’s social status.” -The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    The population of the city was never more than 1,000 at its height, but may have been far less. Most likely, the inhabitants were largely commoners, servants to the chiefs and rulers. They lived in traditional thatch huts built on the basalt platforms. Plebeians from all of Pohnpei were required to bring frequent tributes of food to Nan Madol, sustaining their rulers.

“The highly stratified social system at Nan Madol is the earliest known example of such centralized political power in the western Pacific.” -The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    But what was the point of all of these individual, man-made islands that took many years and great labor to construct? It was believed that most were residential, but some served special purposes. Peiniot and Usennamw were used for the commoners to bring food and water by boat to supply the other islands. Peinering was used for coconut oil preparation.

Portable artifacts recovered at Nan Madol number several thousand and include shell tools and ornaments, pottery, and stone tools.  Food remains that provide a basis for dietary and activity pattern reconstructions have been collected from a variety of contexts.  Nan Madol ceramic collections show considerable variability suggestive of major stylistic changes and non-local production sources typical of chiefly exchange.” -University of Oregon

    The mortuary sector in the northeastern part of Nan Madol contained 58 islets and was known as Madol Powe. Most were homes to priests. The islands of Peinkitel, Karian, Pahnwi and Lemenkou are surrounded by high walls up to 60 feet high, protecting tombs. This sections contains the largest of the islands, Nan Dauwas (aka Dauas, Dowas, Douwas).

    Nan Dauwas, the royal mortuary with gracefully upswept corners, was reserved solely for chiefly burials. Walls of 18 to 25 feet surround a main courtyard and central tomb. Larger than a football field, it’s estimated to contain 150,000 cubic feet of basalt and 475,000 cubic feet of coral fill, weighing 45,000 metric tons, according to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

“One cornerstone is estimated to weigh 50 tons... Eight columns form the basis of a roof that lets in shards of sunlight… The bodies of kings were placed here and later buried elsewhere.” -The Smithsonian Institute

    The islet of Dapahu was used to construct canoes, essential to get from island to island. Legend says that there was an escape tunnel through the reef at the center of Nan Madol and into the ocean. Dapahu may have been the geographical center, but it was unlikely it was the center of activity on the islands.

    The small island of Idehd was used for a sacred ritual. The oral history Pohnpeians have passed on says that priests sacrificed sea turtles there. They would then feed the innards of the turtle to a sacred eel kept in a well and allowed to enter from the sea through small canals cut into the islets. As a sacrament, the participants would share the rest of the turtle. The canals and remains of the sacrificial turtles have been unearthed during archaeological excavations, possibly confirming the oral stories.

    The islet of Peikapw was where the rule of the Saudeleurs ended between 1625 and 1628. Isohkelekel, an outsider from the island of Kosrae to the east and a semi-mythical warrior, overthrew the last Saudeleur ruler and made this island his residence.

    There are many differing accounts of the invasion by Isokelekel, at least 13 that have been published, and many more oral legends. One of the more popular legends tells the story of the last Saudeleur leader and his tyrannical rule, so oppressive that he offended the Thunder God. So the Thunder God left Pohnpei for Kosrae, where he fed a lime to a human and thereby impregnated her, producing the demi-god Isokelekel. He grew up to achieve his destiny of vengeance

    In another legend about the actual battle, Isokeleke’s warriors are helped to reverse the tide of war by the sudden appearance of weapons, as if sent from above. After much battling back and forth, the Saudeleur retreated to Pohnpei. The Saudeleur ruler retreated uphill to a stream, where he transformed into a fish and dove in. The legend says that he remains there to this day.

    Oral history also tells the story of Isokeleke’s death on the island of Peikapw where he saw his reflection in a pool. Shocked by how old he looked, he is said to have committed suicide there.

    But the rule of Isokeleke did not truly end with his death, as it began the Nahnmwarki Era, a system of multiple tribal chiefs that remains today. Each of the island of Pohnpei’s five municipalities are run by a modern Nahnmwarki. The Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw, the municipality containing Nan Madol, is said to be directly descended from Isokeleke and therefore believed to be the legitimate supervisor of the ruins by the people of Pohnpei.

    Living at Nan Madol proved difficult for the Nahnmwarkis, as they had to gather their own food and fresh water. This trouble combined with a sharp population decline sometime after 1500 AD, was thought to be the reason Nan Madol was largely abandoned. It was occasionally used for religious ceremonies until the late 19th century, but no longer was it a bustling city. It’s demise correlates with the development of a similar site on the island of Kosrae, suggesting the Nahnmwarki brought his people back home. All that is certain is that by the time Europeans arrived in 1595 led by Pedro Fernandes de Quiros of Portugal, Nan Madol seemed to be abandoned.

    In 1686 the Spanish took over the entire archipelago of Ponape and deemed the islands the Carolinas after King Charles II. In 1889 Spain sold it to Germany and in 1919 the Caroline Islands became Japanese mandated territory. In 1926, Nan Madol inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmare city of R’lyeh, home of monsters, in his short story, Call of Cthulhu. During the war in the Pacific in 1944, Americans occupied the islands and deemed them an American Trust Territory in 1947. In 1985, the U.S. declared Nan Madol a National Historical Landmark and in 2002 it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places (#19741219 74002226).

    Now Nan Madol is part of the Federated States of Micronesia and on the Pohnpei State Register of Historic Properties. In 2002, it became protected under the Pohnpei Historic and Cultural Preservation Act and a greater effort is being made to preserve the ruins. They are mostly covered with impenetrable jungle and brush needs to be cleared to make the buildings accessible. The main channels need to be dredged to provide a route in by boat for tourists and rehabilitators.

    Rufino Mauricio has dedicated his life to the study and preservation of Nan Madol. For many years, ownership disputes between the state government and the Nahnmwari blocked rehabilitation efforts and Nan Madol becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With this designation, the flow of grants and visitors would increase, and the number of visitors could rise above the fewer than 1,000 it saw yearly.

    On July 16th, 2016, largely thanks to the patience and perseverance of Rufino Mauricio, UNESCO declared Nan Madol a World Heritage Site and added it to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

“Nan Madol is one of the most significant sites not yet on the World Heritage List,” says Richard Engelhart, an archaeologist and former Unesco adviser for Asia and the Pacific.” -The Smithsonian Institute

“The easiest way to see Nan Madol is to take a cab from Kolonia, the little capital of Pohnpei, park on an unmarked spot and walk for nearly a mile through a primitive jungle path. When you arrive, only a channel separates you from the main building, the Nandawas. Representatives of the Nahnmwarki with a boat are on hand to collect $3 and take you across. The odds are good that you will have the place to yourself. Having your own boat at high tide allows you to go much farther.” -The Smithsonian Institute


By Nicole LeBoeuf