Yap, also known as Wa’ab (in local language), stands on the one hand for Yap State, which represents a surface area of over 1,000 km2 (387 sq miles), and includes 14 atolls and 134 islands. On the other hand, it also means Yap Proper, the state’s main island, with a surface area of about 100 km2, consisting of 4 smaller interconnected islands, with the exception of Rumung, the “Forbidden Island”.
Yap Proper administers both Yap Island and the 14 atolls reaching south and east for some 800 km (500 mi). These are: Eauripik, Elato, Fais, Faraulep, Gaferut, Ifalik, Lamotrek, Ngulu, Olimarao, Piagailoe, Pikelot, Sorol, Ulithi, Wolei and the island of Satawal. Yap State’s total population is about 16,500 people. Many of the islands are inhabited.
Here is how the islands Wa’ab became known as Yap Island to the world.
“When the first ship to anchor at the central islands arrived, a canoe with local warriors from the outlying islands went out to greet the ship. Through sign language, they communicated their desire to have the captain come ashore for discussions.
As they boarded the warrior's canoe, the foreign ship's captain pointed towards the shore and asked the name of the nearby landmasses.
Thinking that the Captain was pointing at a canoe paddle held by a navigator in the bow, the warriors responded proudly – “Yap”.
The name was duly recorded by the Captain and it stuck, so to this day the islands of Wa'ab are known to the outside world as Yap - (canoe paddle)!”
Yap Proper consists of 10 municipalities which, from north to south, are Rumung, Maap, Fanif, Gagil, Tomil, Weloy, Dalipebinaw, Rull, Kanifay and Gilman. Until the Germans governed Yap Island, villages fought wars against each other for ranks on the island. The Germans finally pacified the villages and froze the ranks of Yap’s municipalities around 1900. This is why nowadays, the three most important municipalities are Rull, Tomil and Gagil, while Gagil, by special assignment, is traditionally responsible for Yap’s Outer Islands.