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Hypa: A Heroic Pohnpeian Woman in the Bonin Islands

Published: Saturday, 22 April 2017 Written by Bernard Punzalan

1918 Hypa

For several years I have been tracking the history and families of the Bonin Islands (now known as the Ogasawara Islands); however, the last time I wrote something about it was about three years ago in 2014.

Until very recently this week, I had received a message from a Santos-Savory descendant living in Canada reaching out for information to find the name of her great grandmother, who turned out to be Susanna Webb married Benjamin Nathaniel Savory, the son of Nathaniel Savory, an American from Massachusetts and Maria Castro Santos, a Chamorrita from Guam and matriarch of the Santos-Savory and Santos-Mazarro families rooted in the Bonin Islands.

Although I had Susanna Webb’s name in the project’s database, the inquiry made me realize that I did not have any other information other than her name. I initially found Susanna’s name documented on a genealogy chart put together by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Johnson, before the U.S. returned the Bonin Islands back to Japan in 1968.

The good thing is that in the 1800s there was only one Webb family in the Bonin Islands. From all the literature I have been able to review she is the daughter of Thomas H. Webb, an Englishman, and Caroline Robinson, who is of British (George Robinson) and Pohnpeian descent (Teapa).

Because the Bonin Islands are a fairly small cluster of islands, naturally most people eventually will have some type of interwoven relationship with one another. As I enter these names in the database it becomes more apparent to me to see just how these relationships are connected in the Chamorro Roots Genealogy Project. Thomas Webb and Caroline Robinson had eight children and at least three of them married into the Santos-Savory family; while the other children have indirect marital connections.

Anyways, it is through Caroline’s family where Hypa, a Pohnpeian and caretaker of the Robinson family, comes to heroic life in literature regarding the Robinson family and certain events that occurred in the Bonin Islands in 1860.

I won’t go into all the details of Hypa’s story but will highlight some interesting things. In 1860, there was a violent land dispute between Robinson and a man with the last name Motley in the Bonin Islands. The violent dispute caused the Robinson family (George and his six children) to run and hide. George and three of his children (John, Henry and Eliza) ran in one direction, while Hypa and the other three children (Caroline, Charles and Susan) fled towards another direction of the island.

For 11 months, Hypa and the three children hid away and survived. Because Hypa was an islander, surviving off the land and waters was second nature to her. They built a hut, made fish hooks from old nails, and Hypa even used her hair to make a fish-line! During that unfortunate 11 month sojourn from the rest of the Bonin population, Hypa also aided in a baby delivery of the eldest Robinson child, Caroline (somewhere between 16-19 years old at the time), who gave birth on her birthday, December 10, 1860 to a baby boy. How Caroline may have become pregnant during that 11 month period remains a research work-in-progress and perhaps a talk-story in the future.

Their hiding ended when the Eliza L.B. Jenny, a whaling boat, commanded by Captain William Marsh (who so happened to be married to Carmen Olivares Calvo. And yes, she is related to the Calvo families on Guam and in the CNMI) heard of their flight and sought out to rescue them. Marsh brought them to a place called Little River where Thomas Webb lived and housed them. Soon after, Caroline became his wife and they began their family.

As a side note, Hypa and the Robinson family spent some time on Guam and Saipan around 1856-1859 before returning back to the Bonin Islands. To read more about Hypa, there is an article of her, “Hypa, the Centenarian Nurse,” written by the Reverend A.F. King and published in 1918, the Mission Field 1898.

Below are some of my previous blogs regarding Chamorro roots in the Bonin Islands and tracking their descendants:

*The Return of the Bonin Islands Back to Japan in 1868 (20 March 2014)

https://www.chamorroroots.com/x5/index.php/34-taotao-tano/history/226-the-return-of-the-bonin-islands-back-to-japan-in-1968

* The "Navy Generation" of Chamorro descendants and the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands (19 Dec 2012)

https://www.chamorroroots.com/x5/index.php/34-taotao-tano/history/132-the-qnavy-generationq-of-chamorro-descendants-and-the-bonin-ogasawara-islands

* Pre-Historical Relationships Between the Mariana Islands and the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara) (3 Dec 2012)

https://www.chamorroroots.com/x5/index.php/34-taotao-tano/history/131-pre-historical-relationships-between-the-mariana-islands-and-the-bonin-islands-ogasawara

* More on the Savory Family with the Herrero's (21 Nov 2012)

https://www.chamorroroots.com/x5/index.php/34-taotao-tano/history/127-more-on-the-savory-family-with-the-herreros

* Maria de los Santos y Castro (1828-1890): Matriarch of the Savory and Mazarro Families Bonin Islands/Chichijima (18 Nov 2012)

https://www.chamorroroots.com/x5/index.php/34-taotao-tano/history/126-maria-de-los-santos-y-castro-1828-1890-matriarch-of-the-savory-and-mazarro-families-bonin-islandschichijima

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