The Lelu ruins are a historic
site of great importance. Visually, they qualify
as a "Wonder of the Pacific." along
with Nan Madol (Pohnpei) and Easter Island's
statues. Historically, it was the capital or
ruling center of Kosraea feudal society
which was at the pinnacle of complex political
development in prehistoric Micronesia (similar
to Hawaiian and Tongan societies in Polynesia).
Kosrae's society had a great influence not only
on Kosrae, but on Pohnpei and probably Chuuk
complex Kosraean society of which Lelu was the
ruling center developed over 500 years ago
(c. A.D. 1400) with the unification of the island's
several societies by a society based in the Lelu
area. The massive walled compounds in the ruins
date back to this time. The first European expeditions
to Kosrae (the French in 1824 and the Russians
in 1827) documented the Kosraean society as it
existed 400 years after its initial development.
At that time, there were c. 3,000-6,000 people
on the island. They were divided into four social
strata: the king or Tokosra, about twenty high
chiefs (mwetleum), about fifty low chiefs (mwetsuksuk),
and commoners (mwetsrisrik). The king and a few
of the high chiefs owned all the land, which
was divided into sections called facl. Each lord
owned several facl and appointed low chiefs to
watch after their lands. These low chiefs lived
on the main island overseeing the commoners.
Commoners owned no land. They held use rights
to land plots, which could be taken away if the
commoner did not supply enough tribute to his
overlord. Tribute consisted of labor, food and
shell-money valuables. In sum, life in old Kosrae
favored the chiefs and kings. They were treated
with extreme respect and awe, and their wishes
were carried out by the commoners.
The king and high chiefs all
lived in Lelu along with their servants, other
commoners and low chiefs. At European
Contact (A.D. 1824), Lelu had about 1,500 residents.
The "city" contained
over 100 walled compounds covering all of the flat
area of Lelu Island and the three adjacent islets of
Pisin, Yenyen and Yenasr. It was as large in area as
Nan Madol and apparently included more land area.
To understand the old center of Lelu,
you must consider the walled compound. Most of these were
dwelling areas. Those of the king and high chiefs were
surrounded by high walls and contained several houses.
Besides dwelling compounds, there were two royal burial
compounds and there were sixteen sacred compounds. These
sacred compounds held small spirit-houses associated with
The part of the ruins which is still
intact includes many of the high chiefs' dwelling compounds,
both royal burial compounds and a few sacred compounds.
These are the ruins you can see. The walls of the king's
compound, the low chiefs' and commoners' compounds, and
most of the sacred compounds have been torn down in the
100 years since the bulk of the old city of Lelu was abandoned.
Over the years Lelu has seen three
periods of archaeological research. In 1910 the German
Sudsee Expedition did mapping and excavations of three
royal tombs, and in 1929 a Japanese expedition excavated
the remaining two royal tombs. Both of these excavations
were brief and done with techniques now long outdated.
From 1979-1983 more modern work has been undertaken by
the Kosrae Historic Preservation Office and archaeologists
from Hawaii. This work has been much more intensive, and
more results have become available. One of the aims of
this work has been to preserve the remaining parts of
Lelu Ruins as a historic park.