ETHNONYM: Mortlock Islands

Nomoi includes the cluster of Etal, Lukunor, and Satawan atolls in the Mortlocks and the lone Namoluk Atoll 56 kilometers to the northwest. Nomoi is located in the central Carolines at approximately 5° N and 153° E. The population of Nomoi has gone through several crashes and recoveries. In 1968 there were some 6,000 inhabitants in Nomoi, and many "official" residents actually live away from their home island. Mortlockese is classified in the Micronesian Family of Oceanic Austronesian languages. Settlements are nearly always on the lagoon side of islets, and they may be either discrete or contiguous. Some inhabited islets also have garden islets where supplemental cultigens are grown, especially swamp taro. Traditional dwellings had cleared courtyards and were mainly used as sleeping quarters, with a floor of breadfruit planks raised up from the ground. Most houses are now of "European" style, made of corrugated metal.

The Nomoi diet includes coconut, breadfruit (fresh and preserved), taro, swamp taro, rice, flour, bananas, pandanus, papayas, limes, sour oranges, squashes, fish (canned and fresh), shellfish, octopuses, turtles, wild fowls, chickens, and pigs. Taro is the staple. Both island-grown and imported foods are eaten. Men generally fish and do the gardening, and they bring the food to the cook house for the women to cook. In precontact times regular trading and visiting voyages were made to all of the islands of Truk and to several islands in Ponape (Ponape, Ngatik, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi). Today both men and women travel to Moen, Truk, to earn cash through wage labor. Copra is widely grown as a cash crop. Food exchanges among the islets' inhabitants serve to terminate mourning and resource taboos. Formerly, all land was held in full title by the sibs, but individual land tenure was instituted in the 1930s. Clans were also important in the organization of group tasks, such as house building, fishing, gardening, canoe construction, etc.

The people of Nomoi are organized into several named, exogamous corporate matrilineal sibs. The sibs are ranked based on the sequence of their initial arrival on the islands. The matrisibs of Namoluk and Etal are thought to be especially closely related. Some writers refer to the presence of two primary sibs in Nomoi as a loose moiety organization. The sibs, in turn, are organized into subsibs and lineages. Adoption is very common in Nomoi. A rule of sib exogamy is observed, and marriages tend to be arranged by the couple's parents. Bilateral cross-cousin and sibling-set marriage is the ideal. Interatoll marriages are quite common, with most spouses coming from other parts of Nomoi and from Truk. Residence tends to be matrilocal. The sororate and levirate are also practiced. Households consist of the women of a matrilineage, their children, and their resident husbands. The household is headed by the husband of the oldest woman in the lineage. Nuclear families are discernible within the household, but the latter is the real economic and social unit of importance. Members of a household share a cook house, and many households have adopted members. Households, then, are localized lineages. Matrilineages are hierarchically arranged into matrisibs, which are also hierarchically ordered in their relationship to the two primary matrisibs. Lineages were formerly the property-owning group. The sibs were cooperative and mutually supportive bodies whose members aided one another in economic activities, child rearing, litigation, warfare, etc. Today, sibs serve mainly to regulate marriage.

Beyond kinship ties, there are formal friendships ( pwiipwii ) between two nonkin, which extend incest and exogamy restrictions to these two individuals and their children. The traditional leader of each sib was the chief, who was the oldest brother or son of the oldest female clan member most closely related to the founding ancestress. The chief controlled land use and usufruct, organized work groups, approved marriages, settled disputes, oversaw rituals, organized clan contributions to ceremonial exchanges, and trained and readied men for combat, among other duties. Clans were ranked hierarchically, and on some islets there was a paramount chief, who was also the leader of the senior clan. Political positions were formerly kin-based, but they are now elective offices. Island leaders cannot force their wishes on followers; they must govern by influence and persuasion. Nomoi was formerly divided into two military alliances, with Etal, Namoluk, and part of Lukunor and Satawan allied against the remainder of Lukunor and Satawan.

Today, nearly all of the people of Nomoi are Catholics or Protestants. The conversion was nearly complete by the early years of the twentieth century. Shortly after the missionaries' arrival, in 1905 and 1906, a nativistic movement involving dancing and shamanism sprang up. The Nomoi people originally believed the world to be flat, and they referred to it as "inside heaven." In the "above heaven" were winds and gods. Also included in the latter were the sib heavens, which were located above certain parts of various islands. The ancestors were worshipped and charged with both the protection and the punishment of living people. The natural and supernatural worlds were thought to be directly connected and correlated with the Nomoi social structure. Shamans were the intermediaries between the natural and supernatural worlds. The hypnotic trances into which the shamans fell were thought to be spirit possession. During a trance the spirit would express its wishes and would provide information and divinations through the shaman. Breadfruit and other natural products were believed to be possessed of a soul or spirit. Each person was thought to have two souls, with the primary soul ( ngun ) going to its sib heaven at death. The souls of stronger individuals could elect to undergo a series of trials and become sib heroes.

See also Kapingamarangi , Pohnpei , Truk


Marshall, Mac (1975). "Changing Patterns of Marriage and Migration on Namoluk Atoll." In Pacific Atoll Populations, edited by Vern Carroll, 160-211. ASAO Monograph no. 3. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Nason, James D. (1974). "Political Change: An Outer Island Perspective." In Political Development in Micronesia , edited by Daniel T. Hughes and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, 119-142. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Tolerton, Burt, and Jerome Rauch (1949). Social Organization, Land Tenure, and Subsistence Economy of Lukunor, Nomoi Islands. Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology, Report no. 26. Washington, D.C.: Pacific Science Board.

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