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Dancing for Baby Jesus

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Christmas celebrations lasted two days when I lived in Lukoj in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Different groups in town practiced choreographed dance moves to perform. Groups included all the women, all the men, certain family units, the teenagers and young adults, etc. We combined with a couple other towns, and their groups performed as well. Our church was packed.

The dance is called piit (pronounced beat). It is peppy and upbeat and involves both lyrics and instruments. They hooked up an electric keyboard to the solar power and one of the 8th grade students, Artor, accompanied the music. We also had ukelele and guitar players. And a whistle. The whistle was how people knew to do certain moves.

Along with coordinated moves, everyone in the dance wore coordinated outfits. For men, this meant slacks and either a t-shirt of a certain color or a “Hawaiian” style shirt. For women, this meant either a long skirt with a t-shirt, or a mumu (formal dress as pictured above). You could easily end up with three outfits if you belonged to multiple dance groups. It also meant that everyone got the exact same new clothes. Also, matching new flip flops. I went through so many pairs of flip flops that year! (You also didn’t always keep your own flip flops, as we’d take them off outside houses and inevitably someone would walk off with your shoes and you’d end up with someone else’s and you just hoped they were a comparable size).

The dancing lasted over two days. Our start got delayed because the boat coming from the capital Majuro with some of the villagers (who were buying new clothes and food) and some of the guests was delayed (I think due to rough waves). Dancing went late into the night once it started. We also ate copious amounts of food, including my favorite food-a local recipe called Lukoj. (Fun fact–while we used regular plates for most meals, for parties, we used plates made out of palm fronds. And who made those plates for the hundreds of people showing up at church? ME! It was one of my few domestic skills, but one my host mama took advantage of). Throughout the dancing, people would wander in and out to watch the performances. The dances that got the most viewers were those that included me–the sole riballe (or white person) in the town. But that’s a post for another day.

And below, a very dark, very grainy video of a Christmas piit performance. You can’t really see the people (we didn’t really have much light in the church come dark), but you can see movement some and hear the music and the whistle! (I’m not in this one best I can recall)

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