Feb. 4, 2017 Kwajalein Hourglass
Leroij Seagull Kabua passed away Jan. 24, leaving tens of thousands of Marshallese in mourning. Younger sister to Iroijlaplap Imata Kabua, the paramount chief of the Ralik Chain of the Marshalls, she was one of the highest-ranking traditional leaders in the western Marshalls.
Scores of traditional chiefs, Kabua family members, RMI politicians and U.S. government personnel joined thousands of Ebeye residents Thursday on Ebeye to commemorate her life.
A slow, solemn boat procession carrying Kabua’s remains from Kwajalein allowed her family members to reflect both on the contributions she made to Marshallese society and the leadership vacuum she’s bound to leave behind. Sitting in the afternoon sun at the Ebeye pier, Iroij Mike Kabua, her brother, said one of her true passions was working to conserve the ways of the past. She had been a strong advocate of preserving and performing traditional Marshallese cultural customs and had devoted much of her life to organizing and helping women, her brother said. Ensuring the longevity of traditional weaving, handicraft making, Marshallese language and healthy homemaking and family relationships for her people were important to her, he said: “It was something that she really enjoyed.”
On arrival at the pier, RMI President Hilda Heine, RMI cabinet members, Kwajalein senators, foreign dignitaries and U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll leadership joined Kabua and his family, offering condolences. Having transferred the late leroij’s casket to a lead vehicle festooned with woven palm fronds, event directors led a 40-minute procession around the entire island, allowing the thousands of people gathered on the island to pay their respects.
At the Ebeye United Church of Christ, Jobwa Stick Dancers standing guard at the entrance of the building blew conch shells, signaling the final phase of the procession. Pall bearers adorned in traditional attire hoisted Kabua’s casket onto their shoulders and began a reverent procession into the church while the church choir and visitors sang hymns.
Speaking during the leroij’s funeral, RMI President Heine was joined by Iroijlaplap and former RMI President Christopher Loeak in commending Kabua’s contributions to her people and offering condolences to the loved ones she left behind.
Leroij Seagull Kabua was born in August 1950 on Enmat Island, located next to Nell, on the west reef of Kwajalein Atoll.