Arriving in Aur on the 24th of December we didn’t expect to be able to organize much for Christmas day. But thanks to the lovely people on Aur island we were quickly made honorary members of their community just in time for the celebrations to begin.
Aur atoll is around 80 miles north of the capital of Majuro, and feels like a different world. With only 300 people living on the atoll everyone knows everyone, and Christmas is not an individual family celebration but a huge gathering. Apparently dance practices began in early November and every night the Marshallese diligently practice their routine.
The 25th Dec festivities started around 11am with a church service. The juxtaposition of the American/Marshall islands influence was shown by the decorations in the church. Woven mats and hand-made miniature outrigger canoes lined the front wall, whilst hanging from the ceiling were American $1 and $10 notes. The minister even wore a necklace made from American notes – we’re unsure if this was just for Christmas but was an interesting touch all the same. After the church service chairs were moved to the side of the room, and the anticipation seemed to grow. It seemed that the dancing was about to start.
It is hard to describe the style of dancing, however basically the theme for all the groups was there was one leader with a whistle acting as a conductor, and two lines of people that started outside the church and moved in and out chanting in Marshallese and moving to the beat. It was unlike anything we had seen before. Each group performed about 5 songs -
sweat pouring off the enthusiastic dancers, and the laughter of onlookers echoing against the church walls. The best had to be the two Sunday school groups with some adorable under 5 year olds not quite managing to keep the beat, but all the same having a grand ole time. A scene from the dancing is shown below with female onlookers in their brightly coloured mumus (traditional dress).
At the end of each dance the group put out a basket for donations, and in return the crowd received a lolly scramble and food handouts from the dance group (we accepted a couple of packets of noodles but didn’t dare fight the kids for their prized lollies – it was vicious! The lady who was distributing the noodles decided to grab Robin for a dance and proceeded to get very friendly, pursing her lips and lining him up for a smooch – photo to come once we have good internet. All of a sudden her husband had pulled me up and we were learning how they roll in the Marshalls.
After this slightly traumatic dancing experience we were ushered into a room outside the church that housed our Christmas day banquet feast. A huge flax woven basket filled with turkey, ham, pork, sausages, breadfruit, rice, taro, bananas, and various other goods was placed in front of us. To drink was a soft drink and a coconut (the outer islands of the marshalls are alcohol free). Some of the ladies who seem to know how to have a good time were picking up sausages, putting them in their mouths, and then approaching their male counterparts dangling the sausage in front of them. It didn’t seem to necessarily be their husbands, and we found this quite entertaining for what we thought was a conservative culture? Below is a photo of the banquet room and the group that performed through lunch.
We thought we might head back to the boat for a few hours of food coma but our host family had other ideas. We were told to wait for the next dance group that would be starting in 10 minutes. In true island time an hour and a half later we were still waiting, by then having been adopted by a group of 20 kids endeavoring to teach us Marshallese. Getting the correct pronunciation was not easy with three young girls screaming the words in your ear. All the same a great bunch of kids.
After we watched another round of dancing it was about 5pm and we wanted to get back to Confederate before dark, so we snuck out of the church while the third lolly scramble of the day was underway and all the kids were viciously preoccupied.
While no one ever wants to be away from home for Christmas we really feel lucky to have been adopted by this community. It was a really unique and vivid experience. ! We were even given hand woven earrings and a dolphin wall hanging – photos to come in another blog. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!! Another update tomorrow on our post Chrissy day kite surf. Yeeeaaahhh.