POHNPEI "PUWHU" PLY SPIRITUAL TRADE

By Jaime Espina

KOLONIA, Pohnpei (Marianas Variety, Nov. 17) — They come around midnight or early in the morning, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. Their cars, engines running low, turn into the dark grounds of the Pohnpei state government complex and creep up the driveway toward the Supreme Court building.

They get out, hurry over to the locked courtrooms and start touching and rubbing the doors or windows, often leaving behind small pieces of coconut fronds or stones, before rushing off into the night.

This, say security guards assigned to the Office of the Governor, is a sight they have gotten used to over the years, especially whenever there are several cases up for hearing.

According to Retty Thoses, 55, a guard for six years, these men are "puwhu" or traditional magicians. The strange touching of the windows and doors and the leaving behind of the stones or fronds are part of spells cast, say Thoses and his fellow guards, to ensure that the court cases to be heard in the morning go well for the puwhu’s "clients."

"People pay them to do this," says Thoses. Although a preacher in a local Protestant church, Thoses says he believes there is something to this magic, although he professes not to know any of the puwhu nor where they live.

All he and his fellow guards can say is that, while many puwhu live high in Pohnpei’s highlands, many others undoubtedly live "normal" lives in the villages and municipalities of the state.

This was, in fact, confirmed by a puwhu this reporter happened to know and who consented to be interviewed about his "craft" on condition he not be named.

This puwhu lives in a municipality and, like everyone else, has a day job. And among the reasons he asked not to be named is because he is active in his church and insists that, despite his trade, he is a devout believer in the Christian God.

There are, he said, two kinds of puwhu: the puwhuset, or puwhu who commune with Aniset, the spirit of the ocean; and the puwhumar, those who deal with Anilap, the earth spirit.

Asked how he reconciles this with his Christian faith, the source replied: "God is in heaven, Aniset and Anilap are in this world."

Explaining his trade, he said that, like most traditional skills, his knowledge of the puwhu’s craft "is a family thing, handed down from generation to generation," he being the latest link in a chain that extends for generations into the murky past and that he said would continue long after he is gone.

Asked how many puwhu exist, he said, "Only very few, and not everyone knows who we are," although he admits that, for people needing their help, the word somehow gets out.

But for all his claims of secrecy, the puwhu readily admitted that he and others like him have had clients from as far as Guam or Saipan.

"Sometimes, they come to buy charms or magic items like the stones or fronds," he said. "But at other times, they actually ask us to go back with them, paying for our expenses, so we can cast spells where they live."

In his case, the source said he usually casts his magic with incantations and prayers to Anilap although, like other puwhu, he resorts, at times, to concoctions using local plants and herbs.

Unlike traditional western concepts of magic or witchcraft, which are usually classified as "black" or "white," there are no such distinctions for the puwhu. Magic is magic. It is what you use it for that spells the difference.

For example, he said, "I know magic that can kill a person." But, he hastens to add, he has neither used it nor been asked to.

Asked to explain how he could do this, the puwhu declined but acknowledged that, like many of his spells, he needs only an incantation to Anilap. Others, he said, use more mundane means, like poisons in sakau (kava) or food.

Like most other puwhu, the Variety source said his services have been sought to ensure favorable court decisions although he is not among those who show up at the courthouse round midnight.

He recounts the case of a man from U, a government worker, who ran over and killed a child.

The man, he said, "came to me and offered me $100 to help him." Accepting the offer, the puwhu said he took a coconut frond and cut off a small piece of the midrib while intoning a prayer to Anilap. "I told him to keep it in his wallet and he would win the case. If he lost it, he would lose and go to jail."

Indeed, the puwhu said, his client was acquitted.

But, he added, it did not mean the man got off entirely for killing the child. "He did settle with the family and now everything is all right with them again. After all, it was an accident. My help was only to make sure he stayed out of jail."

"Between 20 to 30 cases already, my help has been sought," he said. "I have never missed."

The puwhu said, however, that while he accepts payment, he has no fixed rates. "It all depends on how much they can afford."

Court cases aside, however, the source said he and other puwhu’s services are more commonly sought to help resolve disputes, especially among families and married couples, especially whenever a mate seeks to win back a partner who goes astray.

Or, he adds with a mischievous grin, "sometimes, if a husband or wife gets tired of the other and wants another, they come to us as well."

The source said he also cures a variety of illnesses, including, he claims, cancer. This he does with leaves from a tree whose name, however, he admits not knowing. But he says simply boils the leaves in water and then asks the patient to sit over the container and catch the steam.

"Guaranteed, you will be cured," he said.

November 17, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

 

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