Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Marci weaves a plate on Manit Day - celebrating Marshallese culture

Marci, Arobina, Jabdor, and Keyoko (clockwise)

“Manit” translates to “culture,” I suppose, but the meaning is so much richer than that. Manit is tradition, it’s Marshallese pride, it’s intergenerational transmission of knowledge . . . and it’s also the occasion for a holiday celebration. THAT translates into a day I don’t have to teach! School is still in session, but it’s actually a community-wide, day-long celebration of all things Marshallese.

Manit Day preparations begin the day before, as the senior boys gather to go fishing to catch the fish to grill for the community meal. Here in the Marshall Islands, fishing can involve a variety of methods – spear fishing, the fishing poles with which I’m familiar, or fishing nets (either small nets that are thrown onto schools of fish, or large nets – as long as 100 yards long – that are held by a team of fishermen, one of whom chases fish into the net somehow). I don’t know which of the methods the senior boys used, but I do know the results were delicious. Some of the fish were parrotfish, whose skin is an outrageous shade of turquoise-blue, making even the grill itself look nicely decorated for a big party for the 20 staff and 379 students at Kwajalein Atoll High School and their families.

The families take the day off to come to the high school to celebrate Manit Day with their youth, bringing their family’s specialty of Marshallese food to share. While fathers and sons attend to the grilling of the fish and breadfruit, mothers and daughters weave palm fronds into plates. The plates are like small flat baskets, called “banonor,” meaning “what is in this plate is to be shared.” Some of the women and girls are quite skillful weavers, making large, beautiful palm frond baskets, as well as small toys for the children from palm fronds – pinwheels, a woven bird, and a square ball that even I could master (if one of my students got it started for me). Over, under, over, under. . . . My students were quite good at it, and were pleased to be MY teachers for a change, as I produced a few plates and a couple of toys.

While the cooking and the weaving were going on, the students played a variety of games such as a repeat of last week’s tug-of-war and sprint races. There was also a race in which a line of students passed a coconut to the person behind them, first between their legs, then over their heads, seeing which team could pass it the fastest. (I suppose that too is over, under, over, under. . . .)

The resulting buffet of traditional Marshallese foods was an astonishing variety of seafood (lobsters, whole small crabs, and many kinds of fish), as well as many different dishes using breadfruit, coconut, and banana. The 2 other WorldTeach volunteers here (Morgan and Diana) baked extra-fudgy brownies and added them to the buffet, with a sign that read “American Manit.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marci! I just read (and learned) about Manit Day. It's great to be able to connect with your experience this way. Forget poi, it sounds like you're living in a seafood lover's paradise.