Giff Johnson, Editor, Marshall Islands Journal / RNZ Pacific correspondent
Thousands of Marshall Islanders converged on Ebeye Island this week for the first coronation ceremony of a paramount chief in half a century.
The gala coronation for Iroojlaplap (paramount chief) Michael Kabua featured dozens of islanders wearing traditional headdress and finely woven mat clothing unique to the Marshall Islands.
There were spear-carrying warriors representing the 12 atolls and single islands in the chiefly domain of the Ralik Chain, a traditional dance presentation rarely seen, and conch shell blowing to greet each stage of the event.
The ceremony underscored the vitality and power of the customary system in the Marshall Islands, which remains a significant force in the modern western system of governance established here by constitution in 1979.
Thousands of people gathered on the small island of Ebeye in Kwajalein Atoll, which hosts the US Army’s Reagan Test Site missile testing facility, to witness the first coronation for the Kabua royal family since Kabua’s cousin, Iroojlaplap Joba Kabua, ascended to the throne in the 1970s.
The Kabua family is the leading royal family in the Marshall Islands and Michael’s cousin, Amata Kabua, was both iroojlaplap and the founding father of the modern Marshall Islands as its first president for 17 years.
The Army command at the base rolled out the red carpet for the event, providing housing to accommodate dozens of people who flew into Kwajalein for the special occasion.