Sunday, June 19, 2016

Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Chuuk Lagoon, also known as Truc Lagoon (let's hear it for languages with semi-compatible phonemes!) is a natural harbor in the Caroline Islands.  The Japanese navy used it as a home base during the second World War.  This came to a sudden end on February 17, 1944, when a two-day battle began, resulting in the destruction of the base. More than 50 ships and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed, and thousands of Japanese soldiers lost their lives (400 of which are said to have been trapped in the hold of a ship which sank, drowning the men.
Since the war, the lagoon has become a popular destination for scuba divers who want to explore sunken wrecks (some sources place credit for this popularity with a 1969 documentary by Jacques Cousteau).

Although a significant number of bodies were eventually recovered and returned to Japan for burial, many remain in the depths of the lagoon. Many of those who have dived at the lagoon report supernatural goings-ons.

Several of the ships that sank were cargo ships, including at least one loaded with trucks, and divers have reported hearing the sound of automobile engines starting and idling under the water. Similarly, many divers have reported hearing machine-like grinding noises coming from the engine rooms of some of the sunken ships.

Divers have also reported hearing human voices emanating from the water, and rumor holds that the locals consider the islands to be haunted, with a television crew (from the inaccurately-named "Destination Truth") claiming to have heard stories about floating lights near the caves on the island, disembodied human voices heard throughout the island (though especially in the lagoon area), and one of the crew claiming to have been touched on the shoulder when nobody else was present.

By the way - you should check out the diver's photos available here.

Commentary:  Considering that battlegrounds across the world attract ghost stories, it is only natural that the same be true of a naval battleground (battlewater?), especially considering the volume of dead and the difficulties of recovering bodies from the water as compared to dry-land battlegrounds.  While the Japanese government has made efforts to recover and bury bodies from the lagoon, it is still common for divers to find human remains while exploring, which says more about the nature of massive shipwreck sites than about the efforts of the Japanese government.

I wonder about a few things here, though.  The first is whether or not the locals truly consider this place to be haunted, or if that is a European/U.S. story that we place on the location because in our ghost story traditions it seems like it should be haunted (haunted burial grounds, which is what this place has become, though a standard part of European and therefore U.S. folklore, are not a universal part of human views about burial places).  I don't know, and if any of the readers have had reason to visit Micronesia, perhaps you could inform me. If they do consider it haunted, I then wonder if this is a native view, or if it is something imported with wreck-diving tourism in the 1970s and later.  Again, I genuinely don't know, and would be grateful if any of my readers could fill me in.

Similarly, I know that many non-competitive sports sub-cultures have developed their own superstitions and supernatural beliefs common throughout (try talking to a surfer some time, or a mountain climber, and you will see exactly what I mean).  If so, then I would wonder whether or not those beliefs have fed this growing legend. I have already begun contacting divers that I know in order to ask them - if they get me any information, I will update this entry accordingly. (Edit to note: I have spoken with a couple of divers so far, they both think that this is likely a dead-end. While they have encountered supernatural divers, they have not encountered a supernatural view common to divers).

One final note - I have observed that, as with many other ghost stories of more recent vintage, the haunting of Chuuk lagoon is one that appears across the internet, often with the exact same information repeated over and over again, not quite word-for-word, but without much variation - so it's not the copy-and-paste style of folklore spread that I have noted for other ghost stories, but it is something close to that.  If you type Chuuk lagoon (or Truk Lagoon) into Google, you will pull up many web pages, but I only cite three below, because, frankly, no matter how many I went through, I never found anything new pertaining to the ghost stories, so I just included the first three that I found. Again, I have to wonder whether or not this suggests that the over-use of a few specific sources may be resulting in stagnation of folklore.  I also noticed that none of the sources cited primary print references for the ghost stories, instead relying on hearsay, other websites, and a relatively recent television show - this makes me wonder whether or not this legend may be more recent, originating in the 1990s or later, as the internet made sharing details of dives easier.  If this is the case, then perhaps this is a story that is emerging, rather than stagnating.

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