Interview of Irooj Hermios
Note: The interviewee is noted by initials, the interviewer by [Q].
Traditional Marshallese Life: customs and food
[RH] Well, the atoll where I lived and was raised in. I was born in Torwa, Maloelap. Until I grew and knew what was going on around me, about five years old. My family moved to Wotje and that is where I grew up. All the years since then, I have lived in Wotje. I only lived in Maloelap for a short while. I lived there until I was five and then we moved to Wotje where I lived until the war. Are there any other questions?
[Q] Well, that is good, but now can you give us some information about what life was like back then, from the time you were a little boy until now?
[RH] Well, in those days, the Marshallese custom was very lively. Now I will give you an example so you can understand what it was like. When day broke, everyone got up and made food. When they were making food, if they saw anyone coming near their house, or walking past, well, they called to them and said, “Come, wait for the food to be cooked.” This was one of the customs that brought people together. It is not like nowadays, because when you see someone, you say, “Well, it doesn’t matter if I don’t feed him because he also has food in his house.” But in those days, as soon as we saw a person, even far from our house, let’s say our house is somewhere in the middle of the island and this person was on the shoreline, we would still call that person and wait for the food to be cooked so that we could eat together.
And these are pieces and parts of what we saw growing up when the custom was really active, not like today. We see a lot of changes these days. And the good thing then was that we could look after each other and feed each other when we saw someone walk by our house. If someone knew that we were cooking food, well, we had to call for him because our ancestors say, “We see each other’s food” [We share our food with one another]. The inhabitants called for those passing so that we could feed him with the food we prepared. That is how this Marshallese saying works, which says “See each other’s food.” And these are the things that I witnessed growing up. I also witnessed how active the custom was, unlike today. There are a lot of changes.
Keep on going if you still have [questions].
[Q] But now, how were the houses and homes and what did people eat?
[RH] Well, when I was growing up, there were still Marshallese traditional houses with thatch because in the time when I was growing up, I saw Japanese people. They had already arrived…let’s say from the German era up until the time I grew up, I saw Japanese people. Now there were some people who were using ([that is to say] those who had money), they were using the western-style houses with tin roofs and [imported] lumber. But there were still people who were using --let’s say half, almost half--had already started using the Japanese materials. But there were still some people who were just using thatch made from pandanus leaf and branches from these islands. Thatch was taken from the pandanus tree. The wood was simply cut from the trees to build houses. And that was what was needed to build a house. This kind of house they call, “Local house, thatch.”
[Q] Is there any difference between a thatch house and a “local house”?
[RH] No, there is no difference. The reason why we say “thatch house” is because it is made out of materials found on the island; likewise, the reason why we say “local house” is because the wood that we are using comes from our own islands. It is not like the times when people were using tin and lumber, let’s say in the Japanese era.
But then came the Japanese control of these islands, and the Japanese government was starting to look after these islands. The reason why we say “local house” is because there were also western style houses, but I say “local house” because the thatch is made out of pandanus leaf and for the poles, we went out to the wooded areas.
[Q] Do you know the names of the types of wood used to build these houses?
[RH] Let’s see, the wood that I saw used to make houses -- you know the flower, the one they call wutilomar [a fragrant flowering tree]? They used that because the branches grow straight. There are other types of wood. If they see that they do not have enough wutilomar wood. They can use konnat [another type of tree]. Whatever type of wood that they see will fit the house that they are building, even if the branches are not quite straight. For the materials we use here in these islands are not like what the Westerners have.
Now, you just go and pick up the materials and you start marking the length. But with the kind of materials we have on this island, you have to go and cut down the branches from the wooded area. But you have to choose well, so when you build your house it looks good. So that when you build the house and raise the timbers it does not have to be really….You go and chop down branches by eyeballing them [for straightness]. If the branch looks straight, then you take it to use for the house. You don’t just go and chop down any old branch, you have to eyeball the branches so that when it is time to use them to start thatching the roof [they are fairly straight].
But in the process of bringing wood, they go to the wooded area and look for the branches that are straight, they go to the middle of the wooded area and cut down the straight branches, and then they begin to form the house. And the wood that I saw them using in those times was the hardwood wutilomar. There are many other kinds of wood that are hard, and they are also used to build houses so that the houses can last longer.
[Q] So now, that you are talking about the long [straight] wood, the way I saw them straighten wood these days, they use fire to straighten the wood -- did you use fire to straighten the wood?
[RH] I have never seen this process used when making a house. I don’t know if they actually used that process in those times. But while I was a young man, building houses (because I used to build houses with my honored father), we had houses -- like the cookhouses that are not really… Well, the sleeping houses, we bought the materials from the Westerners and the Japanese. As for the cook house and the outhouse, well, we used [local materials]… but I have never seen them straightening the wood by using fire. There is a wood they use to make, they use it to [fragmented sentence] It is called armwe [this plant is also used for cordage and fishing poles].
[RH] That stuff [armwe] they heat it and after that, they hang it …. You see while it is warm, they tie [a rope to] one end and then on the other end they tie a stone and they hang it. As it hangs in traction, it straightens your fishing pole. And after that, after they heat it and it is warm, they knew that when it is warm it is soft.
[Q] It softens?
[RH] Well, now they tie one end, and then they tie a rock to the other end so the rock can hang and straighten the pole so you can use it to fish. I only saw them use this method to straighten wood when they were making fishing poles.
[Q] Well, I am just saying, that that is the kind of tree that I heard them talking about.
[RH] You heard about that?
[RH] The name of that wood is armwe.
[RH] Armwe has two uses. They use it for fishing poles and you see, before they made poles, they peeled the bark to create fishing line. And you know, when it is dry, they peel it, and after that they make twine. And they make according to [the size of the fish they wanted to catch] … if they were going to fish for the small fish, well, there was a particular size. The old people, they made fishing line and measured its thickness. And you see armwe, they also used it [to make line] for trolling and catching bigger fish.
The old people in those times made a wide variety of fishing line. They could make fishing line for catching small groupers, fishing line for trolling, and they could also make fishing line for….yes, trolling and they could use it to catch tuna and larger fish. And the fiber that they got from armwe was really strong just like [today]…. When they used it a time came when perhaps it got old and could not [bear the weight]. But when it is new, well , it was the only fiber they used for fishing and catching fish for food. The name of the wood is armwe.
Armwe has two uses: they use it for fishing line and the wood -- they fix it. They fix it, making it straight, and then they tie it to the other trees and tie a rock to the other end so that the fishing pole can be straight. Well, this is the information about [straightening]… I apologize but this is the type of wood that I usually [saw straightened]. I don’t know if there are other woods that they heat [to straighten], but as I was growing up, that is what I used to see them doing --using that wood for fishing--fishing poles and using the bark [for fishing line].
The bark, they peel it then…I forgot to tell how they take the bark off the armwe. To get the bark off the wood, they soak the branches. They soak it in the lagoon so it can be easily removed from the branch. Sometimes they cut the wood and bring it straight to the lagoon and soak it. And you know, in those times they let it soak for up to three days. They bring it to the shore and then, when they peel it is really easy. And then they make it…but they separate the bark for making fishing line. How is it?
[Q] Well, it is good because I can understand. I am sorry [to dwell on one topic] but can we get back to talking about houses. Was there a special name for the chief’s house or a special name for the people’s houses? Because weren’t the chief’s houses huge?
[RH]Yes, there were.
[Q] Did they have special names?
[RH] I don’t know if they have names, but, in short, the chiefs’ houses in the days as I was growing up were the Japanese houses. But as for the cook houses that they still use… in those times when I was growing up, and I was staying with them the houses that they used … I really don’t have much information about [them]…But maybe there were, because in those times, it was not really [like the old days]…
[Q] They lived in the Japanese houses.
[RH] They lived in those houses that were made from materials from the Japanese store. But their cook houses sometimes [were not]
[Q] [interrupting] They are like the cookhouses that belong to…
[RH] Yeah, they were made out of [local materials].
[Q] Well, that is really good, and another question, did they eat a lot of Marshallese food or what kinds of food did they eat?
[RH] Well, yes, a lot, a lot, a lot. You see in those times there were many seasons, as the Westerners say, seasons but nowadays they say anganeang [pandanus season—pandanus is a member of the screwpine family that produces a pineapple-shaped fruit with a hard outer shell and fiberous orange-yellow fruit.
The pandanus fruit is 14 to 24 inches in diameter] and anganrak [breadfruit season—breadfruit is a starchy globular fruit 3 to 12 inches long, which grows on trees and is used like potato]. In the time of the pandanus season, they make starch and they make pandanus, so they can make makwan [a stiff fruit gel made from cooked pandanus which does not spoil]. The pandanus they use for makwan. They dig up the [plant called] Island arrowroot and make the starch. It is unfortunate because we should have had the tools here for us [to demonstrate the process today].
But in those times there were only two seasons, two times. One is anganeang and the other anganrak. Anganeang is the time to make pandanus preserves, and you see when it is anganrak, they said ‘rak,’ then they made breadfruit preserves [sea-soaked, mashed preserved breadfruit]. In those times when it is anganeang, they eat pandanus preserves. You see, they also made dried pandanus preserves. They ate many kinds of food in those times. And during rak, well now, as the season wanes, they no longer had that type of food, but when it comes to rak, then they began to eat breadfruit preserves.
[Q] So that is the season for breadfruit, right?
[RH] Breadfruit season: well, they ate breadfruit preserves. Anganeang, one season of anganeang, and one of rak. They have split it [the year] into halves. Let’s say from January to near summer, these are the months for anganeang [from January to about May]. And, you see, anganrak-- when they begin to make breadfruit preserves: to prepare the breadfruit preserves. There were many kinds of food in those times when I was growing up. It was not just one type. If it wasn’t cooked breadfruit, they made breadfruit preserves.
There is another thing that they made. It is also breadfruit preserves, but the drying process is different. They use wood to squeeze the breadfruit preserves and then dry it. And it stays edible for a longer time. The real breadfruit preserves that they made, well, it is kept in the ground. They dug a hole and they put it there for storage. As for the other type of breadfruit preserves that they squeezed… they squeeze and then when it is dry, then they could store it in the house and let it wait there. Then when they needed it, they just brought it out and [added water] to prepare it. There is no difference in taste between this type of breadfruit preserves and the one they buried.
At that time there were many types of food. There were many because people would make (when it is anganeang [pandanus] time) they would make a lot of food and store it for the time when there is no more ripe pandanus. When the season is over, then they would bring out the preserved pandanus and starch. And you see, when there is no more breadfruit on the tree, well, they will start eating preserved breadfruit. As for the breadfruit preserves that I say that they dried…in those times, it is not like these days because once there is no more rice, we now say we are hungry, but in those times there was no lack of food because when there was no more pandanus preserves and pandanus, well then it was time for breadfruit and we started to eat breadfruit preserves.
[Q] Are you telling us that there were two ways to make breadfruit preserves: one is type that you bury underground and the other you store?
[RH] Yes, you see…there was a machine they used to dry the breadfruit preserves called a joniiak. What you do is you put the breadfruit preserves in a piece of cloth and then put it between two flat surfaces. Then you lean platforms against a coconut tree, make a hole and then use a plank so that when you press it, the water comes out. When you do that for awhile, you will see the impression of the wood left in the breadfruit preserves. And then you will bring it and dry it under the sun for two suns. When it is really dry, then you can take it and store it inside your house, but our ancestors used to have a special place to store it. And also today, there is a place where they store this food. However, the houses that they used were local houses.
[Q] Don’t they store the breadfruit preserves in rice bags or burlap bags?
[RH] in those days they would store them underground. [Here he describes a custom that is still practiced, though in a different manner]. There is a time when they bring food to the chief. And you see at that time when they bring food to the chief they have baskets for breadfruit preserves that they make. The opening of the basket is round and in the time, the breadfruit that they made was not just for themselves, but the very first breadfruit in a steward’s house was set apart. Let’s say for the chief of Wotje or Maloelap, the steward notifies their people that it is time for everyone to bring food to the chief; however, there is a basket that they make, this basket, it is round and they weave it and put the breadfruit preserves inside and store it.
Unlike today. People today, they don’t know how to make these things. They only know how to put the breadfruit preserves in a rice bag. As you have seen, breadfruit preserves when they bring it, they bring it in a rice bag. But in the olden days, they had their own container. They make these, before they act on the steward’s call-- the women would make [the baskets]. If they were told one container for each land parcel, if there are twenty-five parcels in an island, then they together would have to prepare [that much]. The steward of each piece of land had to prepare these containers so that when they visit the chief, they have them. Well, this is how they used to [do things].
You see, the breadfruit preserves from the ground, in the old days, they stored it underground so it could last. Maybe it would last a year if they stored it carefully.
At the time when they said, “OK, let’s visit the chief.” They used to say “bring the fruits of the anganrak season.” The name of the food that they brought to the chief, at that time they called it “rak”.
[RH] Yeah. And usually the time when they brought starch and preserved pandanus they called anganeang. Now the two words have been introduced: when you bring food to the chief during anganeang, you are bringing him “the anganeang” and during the time for starch and pandanus (maybe not pandanus, but preserved pandanus).
[Oh, I forgot to tell you] sometimes they also make dried preserved breadfruit the same way they make dried preserved pandanus, in this case they must use the type of breadfruit called mejwan [because this is the only type of breadfruit which can be eaten raw]. But, anyway, the food that they brought during anganeang, they called the anganeang.
[RH] But when they bring the food at the time of anganrak, they say, “Well, let’s bring the chief the anganrak.” Well, these are the two terms they use when they bring food…
When they visit the chief, and it is arrowroot time they say, “Well let’s bring the anganeang.” In the time of bread fruit they bring the anganrak. Well, go ahead [ask another question].
[Q] Well, it is good now that we understand, but now can you… Well I heard from my family that the way folks treat their extended family these days is not as good as before-- they don’t help each other as much as they used to.
[RH] So, now they are yelling at each other?
[Q] Yelling at each other. Brothers and sisters are arguing with one another about who will stay on which parcel of land and actually removing each other off of the land.
[Q]What do you think started all these arguments?
[RH] First as I …. As I am responsible for our northern atolls [because the speaker is the high chief over these atolls] the thing that I see as the primary reason [for these disputes] is because there are more people. And because there are more people, our land has become smaller and, you see, nowadays because there are more people, they don’t follow what has been set down by the chief and the steward.
Let’s say that a piece of land already had an appointed steward and workers, then … this was in the past… they used to get along well. The reason why they appointed workers, stewards, and the acting chief is for, you see, the time when they bring food to the chief, like we have talked about anganrak.
[Q] Yeah, like the two seasons.
[RH] At that time the commoner, the worker, went and spoke with the steward and said, “Well, it is time for us to visit the chief” and then the steward would notify all the people…because in the old days it was so. The thing that happens today is all [in the care of] the acting chief [lit. “low chief”]. Now, they go ahead and notify the acting chief. And this is how it was -- the people, they took care of each other according to our traditions. There were not disputes, maybe because there were not so many people.
Because there are more people these days, the land has become smaller. The parcels are still the same in size, but because there are more people, like 100 people on a piece of land….[it makes it crowded]. The reason why they yell at each other is because they don’t have the real information [they are uncertain who actually is the steward, so they don’t know to whom to listen]. For example, you stay here, I stay there-- the steward, the worker, the chief stays somewhere else [they don’t know where their family should live].
The reason why the culture today is different, the thing that started all the change--I say it is because there are more people and our lands do not get any bigger. And because we are growing bigger in number, we Marshallese, it makes people hate each other and sometimes kill each other. All the problems that did not happen long ago happen now. The reason, as I see it, nowadays is because there are more people and this is the era of the Americans. We are growing in number, but our lands are not growing. They are still the same size so as we come together to live on one parcel, the steward and all his people. As they come to live on a piece of land--this piece of land is not big enough.
The way I see it, overcrowding causes disputes between people. Even though there are more Marshallese, and more people in these islands, our lands remain the same size, but the number of people is growing, and it makes people hate each other. It isn’t like in the old days because there were fewer people in that era and people living on the same parcel treated each other well. But you know these days we are overcrowded, so if the steward says something and you don’t like it, well you can go against him. This only makes the situation more difficult.
Now I see where it all started. I apologize if I offend, but in that era, when it all started I saw. I was not, in those days, a participant in the constitutional convention. But, I have spoken with the elder chiefs. You see, in the old days it was only the chiefs who had the right to assign a person to a parcel of land. For example, if you sailed with the chief and you were the person responsible for bailing out his canoe from one island to the next, the chief would say, “Go and look after [take care of] your land.” And that land was called, kwodalem [sounds like kworalem--land given for bailing—If the man who bailed did not complete his duty well, the sailors and chief would die].
[RH] Kwodalem. And that is how you got land. [And, for example] if you clean land quickly, the chief will say, “Well, this piece of land belongs to you.” But nowadays, it is the case that if the steward says to do something, and you don’t agree, you can go against it. Here is what I see: the convention that created the first government (I don’t know who these people were) made changes so that now there are three groups with rights to the land: chief, steward, and worker. And you see, when a question comes from the government about leasing the land and the chief and the steward have already signed in agreement, but the worker does not like it, it is invalidated. It does not matter if you are higher than a commoner. For example, even if you are chief or steward [and you two agree as to the land use], still if the commoner does not put his name on the document, the lease is not valid. Well, all this is what I see as the primary reason, our custom has changed.
It was the first Constitutional Convention that began considering these three rights as one. You see, I can tell you this (and it is the truth): land, in the past belonged only to the chief. There was no one else who had rights to the land. The land belonged to the chief only. Only he had a say when it came to the land because it was the chiefs who were [in charge]. The reason why a chief has land is because like us in the northern atolls--the reason why we are there, is because we were truly first from here [Majuro] but we are in the northern atolls because my ancestors, the chiefs, went northward and fought and won the northern atolls [as their own]. So this means that lands belong to the chiefs and maybe the reason…I am not saying that the Americans who worked with us on the constitutional convention were to blame, but I am saying that this convention brought these three rights: chief, steward and worker into consideration as equal.
Like I said before, nowadays, when the government asks for a piece of land—one of the parcels that is owned by the people. The government worker would say, “All right, we are going to use your piece of land and here are the documents for you to sign.” And the chief and the steward sign, but the worker does not sign, then the lease is invalid. In this case, the government will move on to another piece of land and ask again. The reason disputes arise between the people and their chief can be attributed to the changes that the constitutional convention created. If you don’t like what the chief and the steward are doing, then you can go against them at any time because the constitution allows these three rights to be considered as equal. And so you cannot do anything on the land if the three stakeholders do not all agree and sign the lease. But like I have said, that the chief has signed and the steward as well, but the worker says, “No.” Well, the lease will not do.
These are some of the reasons people do not like each other and disputes arise among us. Our customs have changed, not like in the past, because back then when the chief said a thing, then that was it. The changes are disheartening, the changes in our lives and customs. As I have explained, our customs, in the past, were beautiful. When you saw a person near your house, and you were cooking, you would say, “Come and wait for the food to be cooked.” As soon as you heard them calling you to wait for the fire, you knew you would go…So in the old days, it was good because we took good care of each other. Well, this is how it was as I was little and growing up, but maybe it was even better before that. As to the time when I was little in the islands where I was at first, well, I saw these customs. These are things we talk and think about. You know, these islands are built on culture. This is what makes these islands special: their culture. We have Marshallese customs because of tradition.
So if you still have more questions, ask.
[Q] This is really good because we can really understand about..
[RH] [Exclaiming to the group] I feel like I am almost out of breath.
[Q] But now, were there any murders or disputes in the days when you were little?
[RH] There were no murders, but if there were disputes they would bring it to the chief because in those times there were no judges, no court, no policemen, but the policemen in a particular are the steward and the chief who judged if there were any trouble in a place then the steward in that area said, “Ok, go and tell them to come in order to take care of the problem.” And in the old days, there was no court, but the chiefs were the ones who usually did the judging in these islands -- let’s say that the court in these islands were the chiefs. It was not like these days, there was no court. The people usually judge the custom, the disputes that arise between people was the chief. There was not a person who was judge over the land and looked after the disagreements between people on the land, but the chiefs they were responsible. And I say it is different these days.
[Q] Well, now as you see it, how is custom different these days from the time when you were little? Is the custom still as strong, has it changed to include additions, or is it diluted?
[RH] Well, custom in these days is half gone. As you see the girls wander around on this atoll [Majuro] you will think that they are boys, walking along the road, but when you look closer, they are actually girls. Well, these are the kinds of changes that have occurred because American custom came and changed it all: everything. Now the custom, it has almost disappeared -- half of it has gone away.
We [the chiefs] are trying to keep the customs, but I don’t know, because I am not sure how we will make it understood. As for our islands [the northern atolls], clothing for women has not yet… we have already notified the steward and the people there that if ever this style of dress begins, they should tell the people not to do it. And you see that when they come here [Majuro] to visit, they come and see what life is like here and they follow the people and they do what is done here. Then when they are about to go back, well, they put on the old custom. There isn’t any misbehavior, it is still good in those [islands to the north].
However, the places that cause all the changes in all the customs in these islands [RMI] are the big cities [Lit. at the meeting places]. The custom is half gone and we are trying to keep it, but I don’t know, I don’t know about the Nitijela [the House of Commons], the Council of the Chiefs [House of Lords], or those people who are supposed to maintain the culture… but I worry that people are not holding fast to the culture. I think that people are weakened by the [imported or new] customs that appear today. And we are trying to keep it [the old customs], but it, it is kind of… we are trying to keep it in the outer islands but when it comes to here, well, this is where people let go. These big cities like Ebeye and this atoll [Majuro]. These are the places that bring the bad customs.
Our custom from the old days has already [disappeared]. Because in the old days the women, our mothers, I apologize if I am going to offend, the women, our mothers, they dressed only in long dresses. Not only the chief’s wife, but everyone. If you see a picture of the old days, the sleeves the women wore, were long, and the dresses they wore were long. They were careful to observe the custom. They were not careless in front of their sons [in Marshallese culture, women are to treat all men with the respect that they should afford their own sons].
When I was young, I watched my mothers [in Marshallese culture, all siblings of a person’s parents are also considered parents—in other words, “my mother and aunts”] and all the women in the place where I grew up, and this is how they acted [they were not careless]. There was no one careless of her modesty. But, maybe it is different nowadays. Like today when we see the girls who wander in the street, and it is not only the young girls, but now it has begun to reach the older women. In the recent past, I have only seen girls dress immodestly, but today the older women are also dressing immodestly, and I don’t know how we are to keep this from happening because it is not only the children who are doing it, but we all. The elders, instead of teaching them, we have supported their immodesty. We are trying our best to help [preserve the culture] where we can -- where we cannot, we let it go, but where we can we? We tie it to our hearts so that it does not move.
[Q] Well, that is good because we understand, but now, what do you think about the conclusions that the Americans made concerning the land rights, is it correct from your point of view?
[RH]Well, because the court today, let’s say the courthouses, if your lawyer is smart and he knows how to speak well on your behalf, you might win. It is not like in those days: if the chief has given a decree, then that is it, you cannot get past it. When he has come to a conclusion, it is done, but today there are people who look for lawyers because some lawyers, can present well in court. They are well-spoken [lit. smart tongued] but some maybe, but today maybe, these people, the lawyers for our side, can only get just little information from other people [about the culture] --though I cannot say how… But in our culture, in the old days it was the chief who would look into a land dispute, and the chief decreed the verdict, right or wrong because, the chiefs, they know the custom and they know where the people are located on the atoll [In other words, they understand the complexities of the land disputes].
For example, the northern atolls, the chiefs really understand the relationships between people, where people come from, and how they each ended up on each parcel of land. That was the reason why they were able to take good care of their people because they had this knowledge, but the American court houses, we may not give them the right information so sometimes they come to the wrong conclusions. The way I see it today, it isn’t how the custom works to look over the arguments of the people in the old days because the Americans, they are smart people. Maybe what makes it different today, is how the Americans present to the judge. In the old days, you would not have a lawyer, you did not look for a lawyer or witnesses.
[Q] You would go straight to the chief, right?
[RH] Go straight to the chief because he knows everything. He knows who you are in a parcel of land, he knows where you came from. The chiefs were really careful in those days because they would not just carry the title, but they also had to learn all of the background from the previous chief. If you knew that the chief was old and sooner or later would be gone, you had to sit with him and get as much information as you could from him, and if you did not, well, it is clear that you are going to ruin everything. The chiefs in the old days were really careful when they thought that the chief in power at the moment would soon be gone. The incoming chief would sit and talk long hours with the old chief and ask questions to learn the background information and his responsibilities so that when it comes to your [the new chief’s] time you will know what to do. For example, if there is a dispute between people about the land, you would know what to say and what to do.
[Q] Ok, the last question. From your point of view, is there something we can do to keep our culture?
[RH] Well, that is the question. It is really hard to answer [laughing] really, I might flunk this question. But I don’t know, as for me, this is how I look after the people of the northern island chain. Let me remind you of what I mentioned earlier, I told you how I handled the situation of clothing for girls when they wear boys clothing [pants]. In the northern island they don’t do this. I have given my decree, “If you don’t listen, well, there will be consequences.” I did not say I would put them off the land, but I said I would cane them. There was a girl I saw when I went to Wotje. I went to Wotje when they blessed [installed] the Council and because the airplane was cancelled on the day I was supposed to leave, so I stayed in Wotje. One day as I was walking on the road, I saw this girl wearing pants and they were quite tight. And I said to her, “Hey, when did you come to this atoll?” She said, “A few days ago.” Then I said, “Oh, so that is the reason. Do you have clothes other than the type you are wearing?” She said, “Yes, I have.” Then I said, “Quickly get inside your house and take those clothes off and change.”
Days later, I was walking and I saw this same girl with my granddaughters. And she asked my granddaughters, “Who is that old man? Why did he order me not to wear pants?” So you see, in the northern islands, this type of immodest dress does not happen. The stewards on those atolls are really doing a good job and they prevent this type of immodesty. Because when it starts, well you know, it means there is a problem. Just like here [in Majuro]. In the recent past, it was only the young girls who wore this type of clothing. But now, you can see there are many older women who have adopted this style. And it is hard to talk to them because they are not young. They are old enough to know better, but I have seen women from the northern atolls who are dressing immodestly here in Majuro. I can even see them from my house in the evening when they walk, I look at them and say to myself, “How can it be?” It is good that because they go back to the northern islands and see what life is like there and hear what the people say, “Well, the chief said we should not be doing this,” and that is good.
I am doing what I can, but in the centers, this is where we have no control over it. I heard that on Ebeye, the princess [this is the young woman who someday will be the queen—and given a chief his birthright] is doing the same. But in this particular place [Majuro] because there are many kinds of people, if you talk to them, they will ask, “Who does this person think he is to come and tell us how to dress?”
[Q] It is like this immodest behavior happens only here, right?
[RH] Just this place. As for our [my] northern atolls…they are clean, they are clean [lit. they are empty, they are empty] and we [I] have told the stewards to be really careful. But I say, if it starts to deteriorate, then it will be hard to prevent. But in the northern atolls it still is good. And maybe it is partly because they are a little scared. Well, this is how I handle it.
[Q] Well, you have answered all the questions, but now there is one more question.
[RH] Is it going to be hard?
[Q] No, it is not.
[RH] After the last question, I thought I would escape.
[Q] This is the same question I asked you when we visited earlier.
[RH] Well, that is good.
[Q] The question that I asked when we last visited, I wonder if you have any stories, bedtime or otherwise, that you can share with us today?
[RH] Well, the story I heard people tell, “If you fish in the road, you will catch ants” [he laughs] this is the only story I remember because I am aging and maybe I have forgotten all the other stories, but when we meet again another day, I will record one (if I can remember one) of the stories my grandmother and grandfather used to tell me, then I will meet you. But at the moment, because I am aging….for now I am getting old.
[Q] How old are you now?
[RH] I am seventy and six years old, seventy-six [in English] and old man.
[RH] Seventy-six is my age now. This guy right here [the new chief] I am teaching him to live with people and maybe when I die he will….you will come and look for him and get information from him. Well, are there any more?