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    Monday, June 17, 2019-10:34:43A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Regional News

Marshalls signature is the Christmas ‘jebta’ dancers

— The Maori of New Zealand are known for their haka and Hawaiians for their hula. What about Marshall Islanders? Their signature is the Christmas “beat” groups, known as “jebta.”

Marshall Islanders celebrate Christmas by dancing and singing in Christian churches throughout the country.  Photos by Giff JohnsonMarshall Islanders celebrate Christmas by dancing and singing in Christian churches throughout the country. Photos by Giff Johnson
Community and church groups form into jebta and usually by mid-November — though sometimes as early as October — begin nightly practices for Christmas. Most groups use a keyboard to produce loud, bass-pounding songs that lend themselves to the beat dances that are heavy on foot stomping and intricate choreography involving the movements of a hundred of more dancers. Most jebta are headed by a whistle-blowing dance leader who sets the pace with blasts of his whistle.

For several generations in this Christian nation, it has been the custom for Marshall Islanders here and abroad to honor Christmas with dance and music performances at local churches on Christmas Day. But with dozens of jebta wanting to showcase their dancing and choir singing, Christmas tends to start a week early and continue to the New Year, with special performances scheduled at various churches in the days following what for some churches is a nearly 24-hour cycle of dances and music on Christmas Day.

Laura Protestant Church wrapped up its final jebta of Christmas Day on Wednesday morning this week after 8 a.m. The first jebt a started around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. In between about 20 dance groups livened up the church for large audiences, many hundreds of whom stayed to the very end Wednesday morning, catching catnaps on church pews between the jebtas.

Other churches took a break after midnight, and continued the jebta “Christmas Day” dancing starting mid-afternoon Dec. 26.

Whichever time formula was used, thousands of people took part in the celebration of Christmas in the Marshall Islands.