Majuro in the 1970s
August, 2017: Forty-one years ago, Eldred ‘Al’ Fewkes arrived on Majuro to help Jerry Kramer of Pacific International Inc. build a copra plant, bringing with him his wife Ruth and son Gary. Now we can look back in time at Majuro thanks to Gary scanning in some of the many photographs his family took between 1976 and 1978.
Here’s Gary’s story: “In November of 1976 I jumped on a jet airplane for the first time and headed for Honolulu. My mother and I were on our way to meet my father. Eldred Fewkes, who was coming from Majuro to meet us. He had been there since earlier in the year engineering the project. My Dad went by the name “Al” in business.
“This was during the middle of school and my school teachers and the principal were very encouraging for me to go as they gave me my homework assignments in advance to send in monthly. I did not want to leave nor do this, but I found myself on my way to Majuro. After a nice stay in Honolulu for a few days, we left for Majuro. At the time, Continental Airlines 727 Air Micronesia landed on Majuro on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and returned to Honolulu on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“We had to stop off at Johnston Island to refuel the plane. We were not allowed to get off the plane since the nerve gas from World War II was stored there. I really liked this plane, it was perfect for the island hopping to Guam. Once on Majuro, it was apparent the locals found the thing to do on those days was to go to the airport, to see the plane, who was coming and who was going. Pack up the truck full of kids and head down to the airport. I bet it is still fun for the kids to see the plane.”
I remember as we approached Majuro my mother said “oh my gosh” as she gazed at this small thin long island. For someone who did not like the water, she was greeted with the highest tide of the year that day. When we arrived at our home, we saw it was just a few yards from the lagoon. We have that large clam shell at our house still here in California!
The name of the section of Majuro we lived on was Kabua Island. There were two small islands close together. Heading south, Kabua island was the second one of the right. Only three of us families were on that small piece of island south of the (copra) plant. Jiba Kabua was our neighbor. We lived in a mobile home trailer there on Kabua island. Majuro is somewhat very unrecognizable in many places. There were 9,000 resident there at the time in 1976. Today, when looking at Google Earth, it is very hard to find Kabua Island. I have searched Google Earth trying to figure out what the area looks like now, but I am unable to locate it. It seems much as been built up or filled in on the lagoon side south of the copra plant.
There were two other families on this island. Jiba Kabua his wife and their newborn baby was to the north of us, and another resident was behind us to the south. I don’t remember their names, I may have never met them, but maybe once, but I do remember they had a dog. I think they also had two cats, some chickens and a cow. I called the dog “Dog” as he hung out with me as I went exploring. I used to feed the chickens all the time and I always laughed when they would see me come outside and come running over to me to get food.
So what is a young teenager supposed to do all day? Much of the day was exploring the island both the lagoon and oceanside. I remember one day my mom and I were looking for shells along the shore and this small Marshallese boy (maybe six or seven years old) was watching us pick up shells. He then started helping us and he seemed just as excited as we were to find them. There was a time when he disappeared for a while. He came back with a huge shell and gave it to us. I am guessing he went home to get it. The big smile he had was a look of “look what I have for you” face expression. We could not speak each other’s language but all feelings were understood certainly. That was very memorable.
In seeing some pictures and YouTube videos recently of Majuro, the island is way more commercialized then it was back then. There were many small taxis all over the place as well. Only two medium-sized cars that I remember. There were no stop signs anywhere that I remember. No street lights either, none. Looks like now the main street in Majuro has streets lights. Laura was run by a generator at the time for power. Families would bury the dead in their own yards, I am not sure if that practice still continues.
We had a small boat and went across the lagoon to have lunch. This was a very favorite event for me.
I think it was Jiba who taught me how to open up a coconut, using the stake that is in the ground, To this day I tell people the three different ways to eat a coconut: from the tree as a cool drink, in the husk once it has dropped from a tree and once it has began to sprout again after it has been on the ground for quite some time. Speaking of food, I do remember breadfruit. I can’t find it anywhere here. I remember it tasting like a large french fry. I’d like to have one again sometime, but I have not found one here where I live.
Link with the LDS Church
While in Majuro a missionary from the LDS church stopped by to check things out. This led to my parents and two missionaries to establish the church while there. The church magazine did an article in April 2011 on them and here is a portion…
“Although Church members visited the Marshall Islands during World War II, official missionary work did not begin there until February 1977. That year Elder William Wardel and Elder Steven Cooper from the Hawaii Honolulu Mission were assigned to work in the area. With the assistance of Eldred Fewkes, a member of the Church who had moved to the Marshall Islands for work, they arranged to hold Church services in a building of another church.
“That first year the missionaries baptized 27 converts. Three years later the Marshall Islands became part of the Micronesia Guam Mission. In 1984 the Majuro Marshall Islands District was formed. Church membership continued to grow, leading to the formation of a second district in 1991 on the atoll Kwajalein. In 2006 the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission was created. The next three years saw a large increase in active membership due to activation efforts, convert baptisms, and strengthening local leadership. The result was that on June 14, 2009, the Majuro Marshall Islands Stake was organized.”
My father died in 2004 at the age of 91, while mother Ruth turns 91 in October this year.
To this day I have recommended the Marshall Islands to people who travel. I appreciate the experience now much more than I did then, but the memory is just as strong now as it was then.”
Note from the webmaster: While the photos sent by Gary give a valuable look at Majuro of yesterday, there are many gaps in information in the captions, so if anyone knows the name of any of the people or the location of any of the buildings, please do email us at yachtseal at hotmail.com and we will add the detail to the images.