West to East Micronesia China Mongolia Russia Baltic Region Visegrad Region Balkan Penninsula East to West Ancient Civilizations Straddling the Straight Southern Africa Eastern Africa Ethiopia United Arab Emirates South Asia Crossing Photo Album Trip Logistics Itinerary Transport Logs Route Maps About Us
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands THE MARSHALL ISLANDS


Mar 18. AILINGLAPLAP (Aerok) “The Jebro Race” It was the official launch day of the Jebro Race.  The previous day had just been a sailing day to get the canoes to Woja.  The whole event was a “learn as you go” experience.  Woja, as the legend goes, was the home of Jebro.  We caught a ride on the back of one of the two small trucks that existed on Woja.  The driver took us down the Woja runway, a wide dirt strip with a tiny shelter at one end.  We passed the land that was said to be the home of Jebro and stopped nearby where the outrigger canoes where lined up along the beach.  It was about a 10 minute walk from where we had camped behind the church.  Just exactly when the open ceremonies and race would begin was uncertain.  We were keeping a close eye on the YFU since we had to be in the right place at the right time to get on and ride to the next destination.

The local community was gathered around the beach near the canoes.  Groups of young boys were playing in the ocean with their small model canoes that they had crafted from wood and bits of plastic.  Placed just right on the water they took off into the lagoon and were caught by the youngest boy who was standing up to his waist on the reef.  The knowledge of currents and wind were learned young by the Marshallese.  Other groups of children where just gathered around waiting for something to happen.  They were enthusiastic about having their photos taken, often making cool finger gestures they’d most likely learned from music videos.  They thanked us for taking their photos understanding that we were paying them a compliment, very unlike the situation in other countries where even the children exact a sum for their photo.

We walked down the beach to look at each canoe.  A great deal of work had gone into each of these.  However, it appeared that only two were made of traditional breadfruit tree and coconut fiber rope.  Others had more modern materials like plywood and nylon rope.  All together there were 11 boats.  A twelfth boat was said to be on its way.

Gradually more and more people began congregating near the canoes.  We went back to our campsite to check on our bags.  We were still uncertain how safe our belonging were but found a man camped out there watching Mike Kabua’s things and decided our things would be fine.  Back near the canoe we saw some drums get set up.  It was a good sign that the festivities were getting closer.  One drum was made of traditional shark skin.  The others looked like they were pig skin.  No one seemed to know exactly when things would get going but people patiently began to assemble under a large tree, leaving an open space for the dancers to make their way through.  Mike Kabua came out dressed in traditional chiefly attire, a woven crown on his head and a colorful layer of pandanas fiber and shells around his chest and shoulders.

Three women came out followed by two men dressed in grass skirts and carrying a shell horn.  As the music started we could hear the chanting and smacking of sticks get closer and closer until two rows of stick dancers came into view, crossing their sticks in different positions as they curved around in front of the audience.  These men had come from one of Mike Kabua’s more remote atolls just to perform this dance.  It has taken them two days in small boats.  It was only able to be performed in the presence and with the approval of the Irioj.  Missionaries considered the traditional dances to be warlike and vulgar and had gradually caused the demise of most traditional dances.  Mike Kabua’s grandfather had kept this dance restricted in order to preserve it for future generations.  This dance did have some war symbolism since use of the sticks provided battle training for the young men.  However, the dance had a much broader meaning as well with the sticks representing a foundation since traditional architecture was all made of wood. 

We didn’t get to see the entire stick dance that afternoon but were told the full dance would be performed on Ailinglaplap Liberation Day on Saturday the 22nd.  Once the dance concluded we high-tailed it to the other end of the beach where our bags were stashed to wait for the YFU to beach and pick us up.  The 12th canoe was ripping across the lagoon to join the race.  Those would be tired sailors.  We were quick to get on the YFU and made straight for the only picnic table on the top deck.  As the YFU began to pull away we saw the canoes set sail.  We were favoring one of the breadfruit boats hoping a traditionally made canoe would win the race.  The canoes quickly zipped out of sight but our breadfruit boat was towards the end of the pack.  The YFU didn’t have the power to keep up with the canoes so we’d have to hear who won the first leg.

The race took us back across the enormous lagoon, about a 2 hour journey on the YFU, to Aerok village on Aerok Island .  The three SDA teachers were coming over to view the festivities as well.  We all unloaded ourselves and belongings into a questionable dingy and with the rim of the boat less than a foot from the water slowly bobbed our way to shore.  It was getting dark already.  Aerok Village appeared to be a well off village.  I couldn’t accurately assess the population of Aerok but it significantly bigger than Woja. 

The store was surprisingly well stocked with everything from laundry detergent to canned foods to cold drinks.  The church was a large building with a tall spire, unlike the more simple church of Woja .  We were directed to camp behind the church in a grassy area.  We thought we chose a good spot near shore, under a coconut tree but out of coconut falling range.    

Dinner in Aerok wasn’t as elaborate as Woja.  They had a much bigger group of dignitaries to cater to that night. There must have been over 20 people seated with their woven baskets around a large building next to the church.  We were invited to help ourselves to the buffet and sit in chairs at the end of the room.  Amata Kabua, Mike Kabua’s older brother and former President of The Marshall Islands, was one of the most honored guest that night, sitting next to Mike at the head of the room.  We were advised to keep our distance when entering the room behind him because he was accompanied by a bodyguard. 

Entertainment that night was not as elaborate as it has been in Woja but some of the dignitaries themselves came out in front of the group to give a short speech or sing.  The food was similar to the evening before with meats and breadfruit.  One new dish was the jelly-like pandana fruit served in a plastic baggie.  By cutting off the corner of the baggie you could squeeze the sweet fruit directly into your mouth.  I am not sure what they used before the introduction of baggies.

Aerok as a bustling little village and it seemed that our tent area was in the main congregating area. We chatted for a while with the three SDA teachers for Woja.   The informed us what effort had gone into the preparations for the race in Woja.  The island was spotless when it came to trash.  It was normally a well maintained island but it had been cleaned particularly well for the Jebro race.  The people had also spent months practicing for their performances for the dinner.  These were remote islands and such major events happened very rarely. 

The chatter in the village center gradually died down but much to our frustration the canoe near to where were camped had to spend the entire night repairing their boat.  They didn’t use traditional methods either.  They had drills and what sounded like electric sanders going until 4am .  I tried to find a new spot to sleep in the church, the designated guest sleeping area in most villages, only to find a bunch of men passed out flat on their backs on the concrete floor. 

MARSHALL ISLANDS Majuro March 11 March 12 March 13 March 14-15 March 16 Alinglaplap March 17 March 18 March 19 March 20 March 21 March 22 March 23 Majuro March 24

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA Kosrae March 25-26 March 27-28 Pohnpei March 29-31 April 1-2 April 3-4 April 5-7 Chuuk April 8-9 April 10-11

GUAM April 12-23