The women’s houses on the various “outer” islands of Micronesia originated as places for women to take refuge while they were menstruating, since the culture of the islands prohibited them from participating in many activities during those peeriods. Traditionally, menstruating women could not work outside their own houses nor could they participate in community gatherings.
The women’s houses gave them additional places to go—places where men were never allowed to enter, where they could socialize among themselves. They could sleep there and not be bothered by men, and could seclude themselves during childbirth. The houses were built at 90 degree angles from the other buildings on the islands, according to the blog post.
But uses of the women’s houses have changed in recent times. On the island of Falalop Ulithi, the women’s house is now only open sporadically for meetings and conferences. On Asor, Mogmog, and Federai Ulithi they remain unlocked, open, and used, though not to the extent they used to be. Married women, even ones who are menstruating, rarely spend the night in one. Younger, unmarried, women do commonly stay overnight in a women’s house, and female visitors to those islands often sleep in one if they have no women relatives with whom they can stay.
The blog post indicates that on the outer islands further to the east (that is, farther from Yap Island, the administrative center of the Yap State)—on the islands of Ifaluk, Wooleai, and Eauripik—the continuing uses of the women’s houses is even more widespread. Two photos complement the blog. One is of a couple young women weaving in a women’s house around 1920; another, more recent, picture shows a large group of people thatching the roof of a women’s house.
Evidently, last May three Americans launched Habele, the organization that sponsors the blog and a website of the same name. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed to advance education in the more remote, outer islands, of Micronesia. According to their website, their primary goal “is to provide scholarships and tuition-assistance grants to children living in the ‘low’ or ‘outer’ islands, so they can attend independent schools located in the larger district centers.”
The blog mentions Ifaluk several times during the past year. An entry last July 13, for instance, defined the “outer” islands as the Atolls of Ifaluk, Ulithi, Wooleai, Eauripik, Lamotrek, Faechlap, Sorol, and Ngulu. These islands are part of the Yap State, within the Federated States of Micronesia.
The term “outer island” also used to refer to islands in neighboring island groups such as Palau and Truk (Chuuk), though the term is now used primarily for the atolls of Yap State. These atolls do not have hills or mountains as the larger islands do. They have very little elevation above sea level, little land mass, and rocky soil. The outer island atolls, however, do have common cultural and linguistic affinities that they do not share with the Marianas or with Yap Island itself.