Evolution of Christmas beat

Danny Peter’s Man Nam Ne jepta put on a pre-Christmas performance December 22 at the Rita United Church of Christ. Island churches will rock to the beat of dozens of jeptas Christmas Day. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

Like its Micronesian neighbors, church is considered sacred in Marshall Islands — it is the one place throughout the islands that can hold hundreds of people under one roof and still have a much quieter demeanor than a school library.

But unlike its Micronesian neighbors, Marshallese literally rock and roll inside the church with speakers on full blast, dancing to synchronized routines similar to that of line dancing. Viewers can differentiate church chapters (jepta) by the multitude of different uniforms worn throughout the day.

All of this takes place on Christmas Day inside many Marshallese churches, mainly the United Church of Christ, the birthplace of the Christmas biit.

But much has changed in the way people perform and it comes with the changing of time. Over 20 years ago most dances were choreographed to mimic the daily life of the islands: fishing, coconut husking, building an outrigger canoe, and so on. In the past decade alone, new story lines have been added, such as “checking in and boarding the airplane” and even a dance about Ping Pong.

Today, the latest dance moves come from songs about sea wall construction and “man nam ne” (kill the mosquito) — both new arrivals from Danny Peter’s jepta in Uliga.

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