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Island Ghosts

Gardner D. Smith

Ghosts are taken very, very seriously on Fefen, an island in Chuuk, Micronesia. They can come in many different forms, from old, child-devouring men to beautiful women who lure young men into the mangrove swamps to drown. They can trick you into giving up your land or teach valuable lessons about loyalty, honesty, and sharing food.

Or they can just scare the heck out of you.

I'm not a big believer in ghosts, despite the stories of apparitions in Japanese bunkers from the second World War, the tricksters who shake the trees and make the breadfruit and coconuts fall in your path, or the ghost of the mountain who leads people astray into the thickest jungle.

On the other hand, I am a fan of Halloween, the day when all the spirits come out to play. None of my elementary school students, however, had ever heard of it. So, in the week leading up to Halloween, I decided to build my lessons around themes of the undead. We made masks, wrote scary stories, drew pictures of the local ghosts, and even carved a jack-o-lantern out of a round watermelon.

Then, on October 31st, we had a party in the uut, or meeting place. My mother had sent me some face paints, candy, and a freakish devil mask that I was sure would cause quite a commotion, especially considering how missionaries have affected people here in the past.

To start out, some of the teachers told ghost stories in Chuukese. The students from grades one through eight were enthralled. This is how education here should be, I thought, especially in this oral culture. It didn't matter just then that our school didn't have walls, or electricity, or basic materials. What mattered was the passing on of knowledge, history, and values, all through stories.

Afterward, when all the kids were primed for scaring, I came flying in wearing the devil mask and a lava lava cape, roaring for all I was worth. The reaction was a little more than I expected. Half the first graders ran away. Some ran all the way home. Some didn't come back. I chased the rest all over the place and roared myself hoarse. After a while, the kids remembered to shout, "Trick or Treat," and I threw the candy to them. The other teachers painted their faces as ghouls and chased the children around some more. Then we ate and we sang and we danced.

That night I visited with some of the families whose kids had run away. We all laughed about it and shared more stories.

But on the way home the strangest thing happened. The huge mango tree near our house shook and the leaves fluttered violently. But there was no wind. No wind at all.

Gardner D. Smith (Micronesia)

Gardner was a teacher at UFO Elementary School in Chuuk, Micronesia. He has an M.S. in Elementary Education from the College of St. Rose and a B.A. in English from Colgate University.

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