Woleai - Orientation

Identification. Woleai is the largest of a group of closely related atolls in the central and west-central Caroline Islands of Micronesia that also includes Eauripik, Ifaluk, Faraulep, Elato, and Lamotrek. Collectively, they are sometimes called "the Woleai." Residents, however, label themselves by means of a nominal prefixed to their particular island name, as in reweleya, which means "person of Woleai [nationality]."

Location. Woleai is located at 7°21′ N and 143°52′ E. Eauripik lies 111 kilometers southwest, Ifaluk 55 kilometers east, Faraulep 150 kilometers north-northeast, Elato 250 kilometers east, and Lamotrek 280 kilometers east of Woleai. Each atoll consists of a reef-enclosed lagoon with a number of islets distributed along that reef. These average 1 or 2 meters above sea level with a maximum elevation of 7 to 8 meters. At Woleai there are twenty islets, totaling 3.9 square kilometers in area. Eauripik's five islets only total 0.23 square kilometer, Ifaluk's four islets have 1.5 square kilometers, Faraulep's four islets equal 0.41 square kilometer, Elato's four islets total 0.31 square kilometer, and Lamotrek has three islets equaling 0.96 square kilometer. The year has two seasons—that of the trade winds (November to May) and the other of variable westerly winds (June to October). All of these atolls lie within a region where tropical storms and typhoons are near-constant threats. Rainfall is high (250 to 300 centimeters) and relatively evenly distributed throughout the year, but the coralline soils are poor. Each atoll, therefore, supports fewer than 200 plant species. Terrestrial fauna are also limited, composed primarily of domesticated dogs, pigs, chickens, cats, wild lizards, rats, crabs, and a variety of tropical marine birds.

Demography. In 1980 Woleai had 638 inhabitants settled on five of its islets; Eauripik, 121, all on one islet; Ifaluk, 389 on two; Faraulep, 132 on two; Elato, 51 on one; and Lamotrek, 242 on one islet. The region's population density is a relatively high 600 persons per square kilometer. The population throughout the region is growing at a rate of 2 to 3 percent per annum.

Linguistic Affiliation. The peoples of these islands all speak dialects of Woleaian, a Micronesian language of the Eastern Oceanic Branch of Austronesian. This language is part of a linguistic chain that includes Ulithian and Sonsorolese to the west and Satawalese and Trukese to the east. They are only distantly related to the Non-Oceanic Austronesian Western Micronesian languages of Yap and Palau.

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