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  • Marshall Islands
  • Monica C Labriola (bio)

For the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the period under review saw the passing of several distinguished community members. [End Page 144] Most notable were the deaths of two customary leaders from the Rālik (western) islands. Iroojḷapḷap (Paramount Chief) Anjua Loeak died in early September 2016 and was laid to rest at Aelōñḷapḷap Atoll later that month. Loeak was the senior landowner for the domains of Iroojḷapḷap Litokwa and Iroojḷapḷap Loeak, which include approximately one-third of Kuwajleen (Kwajalein) Atoll and twelve wāto (land parcels) on Kuwajleen Island (pir, 1 June 2000). Kuwajleen Atoll is the site of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, where the US Army develops, tests, and tracks intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile interceptors. In 2001, former President Kessai Note named Loeak to the Compact Advisory Committee to help guide the Compact Negotiation Commission in talks with the United States on the renewed Compact of Free Association, which went into effect in 2003. Loeak was also a member of the Kwajalein Negotiating Committee, which represented Kuwajleen landowner interests in the negotiations (pir, 31 Dec 2001). Following an eight-year standoff with the United States, Loeak joined Iroojḷapḷap Imata Kabua and Iroojḷapḷap and then President Jurelang Zedkaia in signing an agreement that extended US use of the Kuwajleen test site through 2066 (pir, 12 May 2011). In January 2017, the Rālik islands also lost customary leader Lerooj (Chieftess) Seagull Kabua James, younger sister of Iroojḷapḷap Imata Kabua. Lerooj Seagull resided on Ebjā (Ebeye) Island and in Honolulu and was known for upholding Marshallese culture and traditions. She was also a strong proponent of education and a supporter of the national women's group Women United Together Marshall Islands (mij, 27 Jan 2017).

The Marshall Islands lost another leader and teacher in January 2017 with the passing of Captain Korent Joel, one the country's last surviving ri-meto (traditional navigators). Captain Korent had been instrumental in the recent movement to revive traditional Marshallese meto (navigation). He worked with the nonprofit organization Waan Aelōñ in Ṃajeḷ (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) and Dr Joseph Genz of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo to document, preserve, and pass on traditional navigational knowledge. In his youth on Roñḷap Atoll, Captain Korent learned a system of wave piloting in which navigators detect how islands disrupt the flow of ocean swells and currents. In 2006, he used the system to earn the status of ri-meto by sailing between Kuwajleen and Ujae atolls. In 2010, Captain Korent helped guide a canoe led by Waan Aelōñ in Ṃajeḷ Director Alson Kelen on a successful voyage between Mājro and Aur atolls using only the wave patterns to guide them, and in 2015 he prepared Kelen on land for a successful repeat voyage from Mājro to Aur (mij, 12 Jan 2017).

Several prominent political and community leaders also passed away during this period. Among them was former Senator Rellong Lemari, who represented Lae Atoll in the Nitijeḷā (Parliament) for nineteen years until his retirement in 2011 (mij, 3 March 2017). Former Mile Atoll Senator Tadashi Lometo, who was elected the first mayor of Mile in 1982 and served in the Nitijeḷā from 1996 to 2008 (mij, [End Page 145] 26 Aug 2016), also died during this period. Lometo served as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which investigated the sale of RMI passports to citizens of the People's Republic of China and other nations in the 1980s and 1990s (pir, 12 Jan 1998), and as minister of health and minister-in-assistance to former President Kessai Note in the early 2000s. Other deaths include Clyde Heine, a cofounder and longtime general manager of the Majuro (Mājro) Stevedore & Terminal Company and brother of President Hilda Heine; Morean Ellen Kabua, wife of Council of Irooj (Council of Chiefs) member Jimata Kabua; Salome Lanwi, who served as chief nurse at the Mājro hospital for several decades; and Deaconess Krojel Jabnil Wase.

The period under review has been productive for the RMI government. In what...