Jesus Urupiy

(1912) - 2003

        Jesus Urupiy passed away peacefully September 24, 2003 on Lamotrek surrounded by family, relatives, and friends.  He was believed to be over 91 years of age.

         The exact year of Urupiy's birth on Satawal is unknown since birth dates were not recorded in the early 1900s, but a Japanese ethnologist, Hijikata Hisakatsu, working on Satawal in the 1930s wrote in his journal that Urupiy was initiated in a Pwo ceremony for navigators (paliuw) on June 3, 1932.  Since young men of his generation generally became initiated navigators before 20 years of age, it is fairly certain that Urupiy was born in or before the year 1912.

         Born into a distinguished family of master navigators from Polowat and Satawal, one of his earliest memories was of voyaging as a young boy in the 1920s to Satawan, an outer island south of Chuuk in the Mortlock Islands.  In family oral history, his grandfather Sawfa and granduncle Raubo are said to have sailed on trading voyages to Saipan, Kapingamarangi, and Pohnpei in addition to engaging in the Sawei tribute to Yap.

         In the late 1930s, Urupiy ran afoul of Japanese law and was unjustly imprisoned in Yap for three years.  After he was released he was sent to work in the phosphate mines of Anguar in Palau where he stayed for one year.  He was then sent back to Yap to work on the airstrip during World War II where he witnessed several bombings of Japanese planes by American forces.  After the end of the war he returned to Satawal and resumed his occupation as navigator by engaging in a number of voyaging expeditions.  Foremost of these was a voyage carrying several hundred coconut seedlings to Woleai to replenish the stocks of coconut trees that the Japanese had cut down during the war.  During the late 1940s he married Maria Legasugrig of Lamotrek.   He also survived a canoe wreck on the reef of Pikelot, where he and his crew were marooned for seven months.  For the next 30 years Urupiy divided his time between Lamotrek and Satawal, fishing and voyaging, and raising twelve children.  By 1980, after a lifetime of sailing in the glare of an unrelenting sun, he developed cataracts which caused him to go blind.  In the mid-1980s his vision was partially restored by surgery on Guam, but he would always need the assistance of glasses to see thereafter.

        With a new lease on life, Urupiy resurrected the traditional navigator Pwo ceremony on Lamotrek in 1990 for five initiates, including one of his sons, Ali Haleyalur.  Until this time, this ancient rite of passage was generally thought to be lost because it had not been performed for nearly 40 years since it was last conducted on Satawal in 1951.  This event sparked a rebirth of the Pwo Ceremony in the Caroline Islands which continues today.

        In the summer of 2000, Urupiy made his last tour of the Outer Islands of Yap and the Western Outer Islands of Chuuk.  Returning to his roots on Satawal and Polowat, he visited family and relatives, some of whom he had not seen in fifty years.  All of his kinfolk rejoiced in his return.  Ever the teacher, many asked him to recite the ancient navigator chants and lore that he knew so well.  This he did wherever he went.

        Jesus Urupiy will be dearly missed by his wife, Maria Legasugrig, and twelve children: Maria Latigral, Sandy Hagiltaw, Naty Ilemangtiw, Ali Haleyalur, Petra Legagilesiug, Maria Leyalomai, Elizabeth Leyarofrig, Sesario Pekalmai,  Alexia Legaleyeshie, John Maliuwelur, Ralph Siuta, and Tobias Sawfa.  In addition to a brother, Rapwi, and sister, Letigireng, he is survived by over fifty grandchildren and great grandchildren.


waaliwaiy sailing canoe


From an ancient Weriyeng navigator chant

recited by Urupiy at the Pwo Ceremony

he performed on Lamotrek

May 24, 1990


Ye nge iyo we rewe yaliu gatarata weligamal
spaialu yal male ye Lugeilengilo?

Ye nge iyo ho bwe nagangiu

Yenge yal iyo ho?

Yenge ngang mwolemesi

Yenge yeel mwoleme sililet la ho?

Ye nge ngang malmesil igeig we igeigewe, igeigewe


Who is that who stands on the rim of Luugoileng's sacred bowl?

It is I

  Who are you?

I am a pure man

How long have you been a pure man?

I have been a pure man since time began, since time began

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