US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation provides support to the endangered site of Nan Madol
“Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia” is a jewel in the Pacific that has inspired many stories and myths. There are more than 100 islets at the site, constructed with walls of basalt and coral boulders, upon which were built structures with walls up to eight meters high of columnar basalt that glistens in the sun. These ruins represent the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty, a vibrant period in Pacific Island culture from about the twelve through the seventeenth centuries.
The property, located in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2016 and on the List of World Heritage in Danger at the same time due to threats, notably vegetation that is dislodging stones in the many impressive structures in the site through root activity and by tree fall in storms, siltation of the famous canals there, and sea level rise. The World Heritage Committee encouraged international cooperation to support the conservation project of Nan Madol (40 COM 8B.22, Istanbul, 2016).
Since its inscription, the property has received support from international partners (France, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States of America) in offering expert advice to the State Party to work on achieving the desired state of conservation of the property.
In September 2018, the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation provided a grant to help preserve the ancient ruins of Nan Madol in the amount of US$ 375,000. This is through the Cultural Site Research and Management Foundation in collaboration with the FSM Office of National Archives, Culture and Historic Preservation.
The three main goals of this phase are: (1) an invasive vegetation study, (2) a study of the siltation and hydrology of the canals, and (3) feature-by-feature documentation. The studies and research proposed for this project are necessary prerequisites towards accomplishing larger conservation goals.
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre will closely communicate with the Project team and the State Party, in cooperation with the Advisory Body, towards removing the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
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The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/8B and WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1,
- Inscribes Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (i), (iii), (iv) and (vi);
- Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
The megalithic basalt stone structures of the more than 100 islets that form Nan Madol off the shore of Pohnpei Island comprise the remains of stone palaces, temples, mortuaries and residential domains. They represent the ceremonial centre of the Saudeleur dynasty, an era of vibrant Pacific island culture which underwent dramatic changes of settlement and social organisation 1200-1500 CE. Through its archaeological remains, Nan Madol is tangibly associated with Pohnpei’s continuing social and ceremonial traditions and the authority of the Nahnmwarki.
Criterion (i): The outstanding monumental megalithic architecture of Nan Madol is demonstrated by the wall construction using massive columnar basalt stones, transported from quarries elsewhere on the island, and laid using a distinctive ‘header-stretcher technique’.
Criterion (iii): Nan Madol bears exceptional testimony to the development of chiefly societies in the Pacific Islands. The huge scale, technical sophistication and concentration of elaborate megalithic structures of Nan Madol bear testimony to complex social and religious practices of the island societies.
Criterion (iv): The remains of chiefly dwellings, ritual/ceremonial sites, mortuary structures and domestic sites combine as an outstanding example of a monumental ceremonial centre illustrating the period of development of chiefly societies from around 1000 years ago, associated with increasing island populations and intensification of agriculture.
Criterion (vi): Nan Madol is an expression of the original development of traditional chiefly institutions and systems of governance in the Pacific Islands that continue into the present in the form of the Nahnmwarki system under which Nan Madol is traditionally owned and managed.
Nan Madol includes all elements necessary to express it Outstanding Universal Value and is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of features and processes which convey the property’s significance. There are no intrusive elements from development or modification, and no reconstructions of the original elements. Due to cessation of use for residential purposes by the 1820s, while retaining religious and traditional significance, the property suffers from overgrowth of vegetation, the effects of storm surge and some stonework collapse. The state of conservation of stone structures is now of extreme concern, rendering the integrity of the property vulnerable.
The property is authentic in terms of location and setting, intangible culture, spirit and feeling, materials, form and design. The overgrowth of the stone structures and their state of conservation means that many of them are unable to be seen, rendering authenticity vulnerable.
Protection and management requirements
Nan Madol is legally protected by the federal government and administered by the Office of National Archives, Culture and Historic Preservation (NACH) through the Historic Preservation Office of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). It is protected by the state government of Pohnpei under the Pohnpei Historic and Cultural Preservation Act (2002), administered by the Pohnpei Historic Preservation Office. The FSM Constitution acknowledges the customary interests of the traditional chiefs and the property is customarily protected by the Nahnmwarki Madolenihmw.
A management committee has been set up involving all stakeholders including traditional owners and this collaboration will be consolidated by passage of the proposed Bill LB 392 (expected to pass in October 2016) to create a Nan Madol Historic Preservation Trust with ownership and management under traditional oversight by the Nahnmwarki Chief. The Management Plan is expected to be completed with international financial and technical assistance by mid-2017. This will include appointment of a designated property manager trained in cultural resource management and strategies for risk preparedness, conservation and tourism as well as an ongoing maintenance and monitoring program.
- Also inscribes Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia, on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
- Recommends that the State Party invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the property in 2016 to agree on a Desired State of Conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, based on the cultural attributes of Outstanding Universal Value and to be reached through a detailed assessment of the stability of the walls as a base for setting out a conservation strategy and corrective measures that can then be phased and costed. Efforts would then be made with the assistance of ICOMOS and UNESCO to find partners and donors to support this conservation project;
- Also recommends that the State Party give urgent consideration to the following:
- passing and implementing the new legislation LB 392 (expected by October 2016) which will create a Nan Madol Historic Preservation Trust with ownership and management under traditional oversight by the Nahnmwarki Chief with a Board of traditional authority and will permanently consolidate the resolution of issues regarding ownership and management that was established by the MoU,
- extending the management system to include a designated property manager trained in cultural resource management,
- developing the management plan to:
- include a risk preparedness strategy,
- extend the current maintenance program to the full area of the property including removal of silt from the waterways without jeopardizing possible cultural layers on the sea floor,
- include the conservation strategy project and corrective measures required to achieve the desired state of conservation,
- include a comprehensive tourism strategy to deal with the future impact of tourism on the property;
- considering the new UNESCO recommendation on the protection and promotion of museums and collections (17 November 2015) and using the proposed museum to disseminate the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
- Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2017 a report on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017;
- Encourages international cooperation to support the conservation project;
- Also encourages the submission of Lelu as a serial component when ownership, protection, conservation, funding and management requirements are resolved.