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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands THE MARSHALL ISLANDS


Mar 19. AILINGLAPLAP (Jeh) “The Jebro Race”  Rob let me sleep in the next morning and by the time I wandered into breakfast, hard boiled eggs, donuts, sweet bread, and coffee, most people were dispersed.  Bob Krauss, from the Honolulu Advertiser was still lingering as well.  He was a well known journalist in the islands and was a very interesting person to talk with. 

When we looked out in the lagoon the YFU was no where to be seen which meant that even if it were going to Jeh for the final leg of the races we wouldn’t be on it.  James Matayoshi, the Mayor of Rongelap, was at breakfast and we took the opportunity to ask permission to ride on the Oleanda to Jeh and back.  Richard had already made it aboard and had asked if we could join but we felt more comfortable asking permission ourselves.  James generously allowed to hitch a ride on Rongleap’s new dive boat.  We felt fortunate lucky because those living aboard the boat were paying a handsome sum for the privilege.

The Oleanda was a very nice three level boat with private cabins for each passenger and a spacious top deck equipped with a restaurant and bar.  The bar was a big deal since alcohol was illegal on the outer islands.  The middle deck had a hot tub that was being converted into a fresh water tub for divers to take a cool dip.  It would certainly be one of the nicer rides we would have in our travels and a welcomed break from camping and cargo ships.   

On the bow of the boat we met two women who were not weathering the waves too well.  Rob offered Mona, the owner of a handicraft shop at the airport, and Senator Abika of Rongelap our Sea Bands for the journey.  It was a nice gesture but I later wondered what the protocol was when you loaned things to people in the Marshalls.  There was the custom that when someone admired something you had you were generally obligated to give it to them.  I was hoping that our Sea Bands would find there way back to us without causing us to commit any cultural faux pas.

We could see the canoes racing across the lagoon during our entire journey but the Oleanda veered towards the edge of the lagoon to make the journey less turbulent for passengers.  When we arrived at Jeh the boat anchored and the crew served a wonderful meal of shrimp and steak.  On the shore we could see a crowd of people assembled under a large welcome sign.  A dingy came out to the Oleanda with a welcome committee of women bouncing to a bomb box and singing “Yokwe, Yokwe, Yokwe.”  They received some oranges and went on their way back towards shore.  I am sure oranges are a rare item in the outer islands. 

We boarded the next dingy to go ashore, just as the first two canoes were making a run for the finish line.  The Ailuk boat, the previous day’s leader, was ahead but at the last minute they had one crew member jump off to lighten the load and they lost a paddle.  In the confusion, the Ailinglaplap canoe crossed the finish line.  The welcome women were going crazy.  They had come all of the way out into the lagoon to jump on the winning canoe.  The fact that they were wearing full length dresses didn’t keep them from swimming into the water, one with a pair of coconuts tied together as a floating device.     They yelled, sang, dances and adorned the winning sailors with flowers. 

The YFU pulled into shore just as the excitement was calming down.  The tailgate lowered and we saw Alan and Coral get off.  It turned out that the YFU had set sail before dawn, much to Alan and Coral’s surprise, and landed in Bouj.  From Bouj it proceeded to stop and pick up more people along the way before it finally reached Jeh.  We realized that the YFU was carrying the chairs, canopies, and PA system for the evening entertainment so it had to follow the events of the race. 

The community of Jeh, even smaller than Woja, had done a great deal of work preparing for this day.  On the back of the huge welcome sign was a painting of the Legend of Jebro with a list of the names of all of his brothers.  In front of the painting fresh sand had been shoveled over the dirt and four covered tables and covered working area had been built just for this event.  The tablecloths for the long tables were fresh palm fronds.  The hosts were busy handing people fresh coconuts, donuts, and chicken soup. 

The Ailinglaplap canoe had won the race which meant all of the other canoes would be left on the atoll.  However, as the hosts of the event they weren’t eligible for the cash prize.  The first place prize would go to Ailuk and their captain would be the new “Jebro”.  The women of Jeh led him into the middle of the island to perform the final ceremony.    They had him stand in a small pond to signify the bathing that Jebro’s mother had given him in the legend.  That was followed by him removing his shirt to have the women rub him with coconut oil, the symbolic anointing of him as the new king.  He was finally adorned with an elaborate hat and grass skirt. The sailor was as humble as the Jebro of legend and shyly followed their instructions.  He actually got off easily since the legend had Jebro stripped to the skin for his final ceremony. 

We had been given permission to camp behind the village school for the night.  The non-campers would be lodging in the classrooms.  It was a nice camp site on a green field right next to the ocean.  As we set up camp we had the normal audience of local kids watching our every move.  By the time we return to the center of festivities they had erected the canopy and lined up the white plastic chairs.   Ferdinand had been bequeathed the genuine Jebro hat.  He, MaryLou, and Bob were all seated next to each other with their Marshallese hats.  The local children were surrounding us, peeking over the plastic chairs with big smiles.  The island also had two SDA teachers of its own and another visiting from Majuro.  Martin, from Sweden , and Rion, from the US , were the two teachers that lived on the island.  Another visitor to Jeh was a man by the name of Kevin Hart, a previous Peace Corps volunteer who had been given one of the small islands of the Ailinglaplap atoll to live on for the duration of his life.  Another example of the Marshallese generosity to those who have dedicated their lives to these islands.

As the evening got underway they announced the seating arrangements over the loud speaker.  One table was for Mike Kabua and his guests, two were for other local dignitaries and the fourth table was for the “Americans”.  There were murmurs amongst the non-American visitors so the announcers corrected himself and said, “All you white people sit over there”.  Alan and Ferdinand compared their tans and said, “What do you think?”

At our “white table” there was about 20 people which included Richard, Ferdinand, Alan and Coral, the SDA teachers, some of the Oleanda guests and a few yachties from Kwaj.  The dinner was not just one basket but two baskets overflowing with food.  One basket had all of the meats – chicken, pork, raw fish, a whole crab, and sea turtle.  The other basket had the breadfruit delicacies.  They even served a coconut salad and green salad on separate platters.  The idea of eating sea turtle was a bit uncomfortable for some of the “white” folks.  How endangered the sea turtle is in the Marshall Islands was uncertain but it was clearly a rare delicacy and was only being given to the dignitaries and visitors.  There were only two turtles laid out on Mike Kabua’s table. The tastiest bits were supposed to be the fatty parts but I received what looked like part of a flipper.  It tasted good enough but wasn’t my favorite dish.  I preferred the breadfruit.

It was difficult not to feel self conscious at being served first.  The people on Jeh had gone to so much work to organize the evening and they were all working hard to dish our meals or waiting patiently to be served.  As it approached 11pm some people were still waiting for dinner and the kids were toppling over as they grew too sleepy.  My head began to bob as well.  I couldn’t stay awake for all of the entertainment.  People were beginning to sing and dance as I made my way back to the tent.  Rob told me later that they’d done another rendition of the boy’s dance we’d seen in Woja.     

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