A Marshallese man “highly gifted with words” and knowledge of the Marshall Islands died this week in Majuro at the age of 71.
Throughout his life, Cent Langidrik was a teacher, school principal, Education Secretary, Public Service Commission Chairman and, most recently, a member of the RMI Customary Law and Language Commission. Aside from these titled roles that engaged him at many levels of society and government in the RMI, he was perhaps happiest and most comfortable in his role as a storyteller and an expert on Marshallese language.
He was possibly the only Marshallese elder who combined abilities as a writer, poet and orator. And what an orator he was.
“Cent was highly gifted with words — specifically Marshallese archaic words,” said Wilbert Alik, who headed the Marshallese Studies Department at CMI and is currently an anthropology student at Northern Michigan University.
“I first worked with him when he and Alfred Capelle summoned me into their little Customary Law and Language Commission office located in CMI front lawn. All I remember from the meeting was joy, lots of laughter and lots of food. Literally, lots of food.”
Wilbert’s description of this meeting epitomizes Cent’s Marshallese personality.
Cent was always courteous — which sometimes put him in difficult positions as a government administrator — and equally could offer a Marshallese story or phrase that offered insight or a lesson for any situation he encountered.
Cent’s Marshallese language poems have regularly appeared in the Journal for many years. Ask any adult Marshallese reader of the newspaper and virtually without fail they will tell you they delight in reading Cent’s poems.
“I deeply appreciated his poems because each one had a life lesson in it,” said Wilbert. “I remember one in particular written for Justina that had the children’s personalities and names incorporated into it.
Another one that sticks with me that talked about the different kinds of reef fish, and each different fish had a different personality. Some were humble. Some were kind. Some were attitude-y. Some were respectful. But overall, the poem taught me — us — about humility.”
Wilbert continued: “In his poetry, I felt the plants and animals come alive. I could vividly see myself transported to the scene of his poems. His talent will be much missed.”
Cent’s work helped set the stage for what is now the Marshallese Studies program at the College of the Marshall Islands. Wilbert explained that Cent and the late University of Hawaii Professor Byron Bender “were the first pair to create the current Marshallese Studies program.
They created the first Marshallese Grammar, Marshallese Government, and Marshallese Culture course outlines. From these three courses, we now have two Marshallese Studies certificate programs.”
Current CMI Marshallese Studies students and those who follow in the years to come may not have known Cent personally. But his work and love for the language and culture of the Marshall Islands established a foundation for countless Marshallese — and other nationalities — to elevate their knowledge of Marshallese language and culture through academic study and practical use.
Not long before he passed away at his Rairok home earlier this week in Majuro, he told me that he and his wife, Justina, had completed the final draft of one book about the Marshall Islands, and another one was near to completion.
No doubt once published, these books will continue to delight readers for generations to come, just as thousands of people of all backgrounds will remember how Cent delighted and tickled their imaginations when he offered one of his countless and timeless stories about the Marshall Islands.
Wilbert offered his farewell to Cent this way: Commissioner, Jeramon ilo ial̗ in am̗. Ijjāmin mel̗o̗kl̗o̗k katak ko am̗, kwe im Wūjeje ro m̗ōttam̗ rōkar katakin iō. Komootlok im̗aan, ak kōmwōj ej baj ebbat waj wōt. Kakije ilo aenōm̗m̗an im ilo Yo̗kwe eo An!
Cent is survived by his wife Justina, and his children Jason, Janson, Justin, Centilina Bantol, Juslina Lafita im Benson Benjamin. He has 24 grandchildren and two great-grand children. He is also survived by siblings Tommy, Metwan, Jimis, Bandrik, Alexander, George and Calina. Oldest brother Ronald is already deceased.