Through the Eyes of the Youth: Stories of Nan Madol

An important part of the work of UNESCO Office for the Pacific States is to assist with the safeguarding of heritage sites that have significant value for the individual member states, the Pacific region and the people. During the week of 22 – 18 July 2016, the region’s newest declared World Heritage Site, the Nan Madol archaeological sites in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), hosted a Storytellers Workshop. The objective of this workshop was to highlight the sites’ outstanding cultural and historic value to the worldwide community through the lens of youth.

The Nan Madol remains are a series of stone palaces, residential domains, temples and mortuaries built on 99 islets off the south-east coast of Pohnpei. These remains, made of basalt and coral boulders, were part of the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur Dynasty (1200- 1500 CE).  This time period was significant in contributing to the Pacific Islands’ vibrant and dynamic cultural practices, including religious and social. During the 1970’s, various archaeological and anthropological studies were conducted to uncover the historic importance of the region’s rich cultural history. Following several years of extensive research with various stakeholders, including the government of FSM, UNESCO, Japan Consortium for International Cooperation (ICIC)-Heritage in Japan, and the US National Park Service, to name a few, the Nan Madol remains officially gained recognition as a World Heritage Site this month.

This monumental occasion propelled a coalition of organizations to organize a Storytellers Workshop aimed at promoting publicity around Nan Madol, through the lens of college students from the country. Over a course of several days, participants of the workshop learned about the multidimensional significance of the sites.

“We spent several days learning about the significance of the site from experts, researchers, and community elders. The Storytellers learned both the scientific and archaeological significance of the site as well as the cultural and spiritual significance,” said Daniel Lin, one of the lead organizers of the workshop from the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning organization (PREL).

The participants then visited the site to document their own experiences visually, using cameras, and by writing down their thoughts. The final step of the workshop consisted of the students sharing their stories on an online platform. In essence, the Storytellers Workshop provided opportunities for community members to share their views and tell their own stories.

“We are seeking to foster a generation of storytellers by empowering young Pohnpeians to harness the power of their voices while simultaneously providing them with the tools and digital media platforms to help them succeed,” said Mr Lin.

This project serves as a reminder of the importance of using inclusive and participatory approaches to safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritages as foundation of identity and aspirations of the community.