The Origin of Fais



The beach at L'oosiyep, near where the canoe petroglyph is found.


This traditional story is still told today by the Elders of Ulithi and Fais:

"Once upon a time on the island of L'oosiyep in Ulithi Atoll, there lived a woman called Looaroab. She had three sons. The oldest one was called Songsongmwaal, the second one was Chemweegur, and the youngest one was Mootigtiig."



"Every day the three brothers went fishing, while their mother prepared food. When the brothers came back from fishing, they found their food ready and waiting for them.

"The three brothers began to wonder where all these delicacies came from, for surely there were none found on their island. So it happened that the youngest brother, Mootigtiig—being the cleverest of the three—decided to stay back on land and try to solve the mystery that lingered in their minds.

"The three brothers put their canoe into the water and paddled to the end of the island. There, Mootigtiig got out of the canoe and hid in some shrubs growing near the shore."



He hid in some shrubs growing near the shore....



She assumed that all three sons were on the canoe....


"In the meantime, mother Looaroab prepared her baskets to go out and get some of the local produce that was growing in her hidden garden. As she looked out to the canoe, she assumed that all three of her sons were in the canoe, since they were too far away for her to see that one of the forms in the canoe was a piece of driftwood.

"She walked out to the sea to the place where the waves were breaking. There she counted three of the incoming waves, and then she dove into the water.

"All this time, the clever one, Mootigtiig, was observing all that his mother was doing. As he waited and waited, his mother didn’t surface."




He stood and counted the waves....


"Then Mootigtiig walked out to where his mother had stood. There he counted one wave and dove into the water. Guess what happened? He hit his forehead on the coral, and he had to come back up.

"The second time he counted two waves and dove into the water again. And again he hit his head on the coral and rocks, so he had to surface.

"Then he counted the waves up to three and dove for the third time. This time he went to a very strange place under the ocean. This place was very different from their island, with all kinds of food crops all over. Mootigtiig changed himself to a black bird, jumping and flying from tree to tree. He then came to the place where his mother was busy picking different kinds of food for her sons. The black bird flew from tree to tree, tasting the ripened fruits."



“When mother Looaroab saw him, she scolded the bird, telling it to get away from her son’s fruit trees. But when she realized that there were no birds on the island, she knew that the black bird had to be Mootigtiig, the clever one. She called her son to come down. from the tree.

“As Mootigtiig climbed down from the tree, his mother was lying down under a very tall tree. She called Mootigtiig to her side and told him that now that he had seen the secret place where she got their food, she must die. She also told her son that he must bury her under the tall tree in the middle of the island.

“Mootigtiig did as he was told, and after he completed the burial, he took the baskets of foods up to their island."


Black Bird

Mootigtiig changed himself into a black bird, so he could watch.



Baskets of breadfruit.


“There he busied himself fixing their supper before his two older brothers got back from fishing. By the time that he had completed his chores, his brothers were calling him to help put up their canoe. He helped them with the canoe, unloading their catch for the day, and began cooking the fish.

“His two brothers asked him where their mother was. He told them the whole story of what had happened. All of them were very sad that night.

“The next day, all three of them went out to fish. When they reached their usual fishing spot, they stopped the canoe and dropped their lines. Mootigtiig was catching some strange things. While his two brothers were catching fish, he was catching baskets of food!

“First he caught a basket of taro. Next he caught a basket of yams. By the time they got back, they had both fish and other foods for their day’s catch."



“This went on for some time until one day while they were fishing, Mootigtiig got something unusual on his line. He pulled and pulled and that something on the line began coming up very slowly. He asked his brothers to help him but they told him to pull his own catch.

“So he pulled and pulled until his catch came up to the surface, and guess what Mootigtiig caught this time? He caught the island of Fais! Their canoe landed in the middle of the island.


Fais Island. Photograph courtesy of David Keck.

“Each of the other two brothers declared that the new island belonged to him. But Mootigtiig told them that the island belonged to him, since he was the one who had pulled it up from the bottom, and neither of his brothers had helped.

“The two brothers were furious with their youngest brother and just as they were about to teach him a lesson, Mootigtiig said, ‘Let’s ask our mother'."



“He showed them the spot where their mother was buried and Songsongmwaal, being the oldest, said that he would be the first to try. He seized a good-sized stick and hit the dirt where their mother was supposedly buried, and asked, ‘Oh Looaroab, oh Looaroab, to whom does this land belong?’

“They all listened, but there was no answer. Chemweegur, being second oldest, seized the stick and hit the earth as hard as he could and asked, ‘Oh mother Looaroab, oh mother Looaroab, to whom does this land belong?’ They all paused to listen for an answer, and again there was none.

“Then Mootigtiig grabbed the stick from his brother and hit the spot where Looaroab’s head was located and asked, ‘Oh mother Looaroab, Oh mother Looaroab….’ They all listened very quietly, for they heard a soft humming sound, going, ‘Mmmmmmmmmm!’ ‘To whom does this land belong?’ asked Mootigtiig. ‘To you, my beloved son—to you,’ said Looaroab."



A rock slab on L'oosiyep, marking what might be a grave.


Fais Chiefs

Remains of a chief's house on Fais. Photograph from Beardsley, 1999.


“‘You see? This land belongs to me!’ said Mootigtiig. The other two brothers were sad.

“Mootigtiig, being the clever one, said to his brothers, ‘Okay, I'II tell you what! I will make each of you chief of each end of the island, while I, the high chief, will be in the middle of the island. The first crops that you grow must be given to me, as well as other things. Got that?’ "'We got it!’ said Songsongmwaal and Chemweegur.

"So that was how the island of Fais came about, according to our legend, and how there are three chiefs of Fais, with the one in the middle being the high chief.

"The fishhook that Mootigtiig used to pull up Fais Island is said to be somewhere in Gachpar village in Gagil.”




Pacific Worlds > Yap: Ulithi > Footprints > L'oosiyep