Most people in the Marshall Islands live very simply. They build boats, go out to sea to catch fish, collect coconuts to make copra and work their fields. People meet in church on Sunday and stand by one another. The family plays an important role and supports one another. So often several generations, but also whole families with uncles, aunts and other relatives live together.
Delivery date once a month
Many lonely islands are supplied by plane – if there is a small airfield. This does not fly daily, but often only once a month, but then brings everything you need along: groceries, diesel to run the generator, and water tanks. If there is no airfield, boats have to take on the task of transport.
The capital is different
In the capital Majuro, people live under American influence. There is a transport connection to the rest of the world by plane. Even if some try to maintain their traditions, modernity and above all the influence of America have found their way here. One of the consequences is the rubbish that is left behind, especially on the beaches, and has become a major problem.
Imagine you were that boy in the Marshall Islands
If you lived in the Marshall Islands, your family might have a little house in Majuro, the islands capital. Here you would look at the Pacific when you get up in the morning. Your neighbors have a trailer. If you went out into the street – Majuro only has one street – you could see the lagoon. Your father would work there and try to feed the family with the fish he catches every day.
Many relatives would live in the house. Your parents, your five siblings, your four cousins, uncle, aunt and grandmother. The grandfather died a long time ago. There are also three small kittens and several dogs, who also live in the house. Simple mats would lie on the floor, there would be no beds. Vermin would make your life difficult and crawl on the floor and wall. But you’d have a little garden where you could play with your siblings and the many children from the houses next door. You would love to play basketball. There is even a basket that would hang on the wall of the neighboring house. There would be your best friend too.
But he won’t be able to be your friend much longer, at least not so close to the house next door. His parents want to leave the Marshall Islands. They say everything is bad here. There are no doctors and no good school. Cleaner water is rare and the soil is often far too dry to grow vegetables. There would be no good schooling for your friend Najo either. And he should have it better for once. That’s why they go to America to work there.
Najo doesn’t even know where this America is, probably quite far away. There is even frozen water called “snow”. You can’t even imagine something like that. His father found work there, in a factory. At least they could live on the wages, says Najo. Or his father means it, because Najo himself has absolutely no desire for America. He loves hanging out with you after school, collecting seashells and playing football with the other kids on the beach. America is supposed to have roads everywhere and so many cars and it would be pretty dangerous too.
It would be dangerous here, too, says Najo’s mother. The sea would take the land and soon everything would be under water.
Your mother and father would like to go too. But what should happen to the grandmother? She’s old and doesn’t want to go anywhere else, what should she do there?
Typical Marshall Islands
The canoes are fast and are made from the bark of the breadfruit tree. The boat has a large sail and a boom that provides safety in rough seas. Two people navigate the canoe, one steers it and one guides the sail. The mast is attached either at the front or at the rear. Therefore, the canoe can quickly adapt to the winds that turn. The boats only have a shallow draft and can easily circumnavigate the coral reefs.
By the time the European missionaries arrived, the residents of the Marshall Islands were tattooed. Scratching a tattoo like this is quite painful, and it could often take months to finish.
With the tattoo it also became clear that childhood had come to an end. Most of all, tattoos show people’s gratitude for nature that nourishes them. The whole body was decorated and it was also an important tribal ritual. There was also jewelry made from turtle shells.
Unusual fishing methods
Many of the locals earn their living as fishermen. They have lived from fishing for centuries and make sure that the fish stocks recover. They succeeded in doing this over a long period of time. You fish during the tide change, i.e. the transition between high and low tide. Here they drive the fish towards the beach with a net made of palm branches.
When the water recedes at low tide, the fishermen put the net in the water and move towards the beach to drive the fish in front of them. With this method, only the large fish are left and the small ones that have yet to grow will slip through. This fishing method protects the fish stocks. This fish can also be eaten raw without any problems.