Majuro Taxis and Cemetaries

Two Marshallese artifacts that I’d like to highlight are taxis and cemeteries.  First, the taxis.

Taxis are public transportation.  For 75 cents, you go can anywhere on the east end of Majuro between Rita and the airport, a stretch of about ten miles.


I don’t know if it’s a requirement, but every taxi I saw was a Hyundai Elantra.  The first passenger usually takes the passenger seat.  When the driver picks up more, they pile in the back.  Four is the usual load, along with some groceries, typically going to multiple destinations.  If you’re waiting alone, the average wait for a taxi is twelve seconds (since you only take up one space – there’s always room for one more).  If there are two of you, you might have to wait a minute (two spaces are harder to come by).  Three traveling together is sometimes a problem.  You might have to wait four minutes (every fifth car on the road is a taxi).  A full taxi will honk at you as they pass, a polite statement of, “Hey!  You know I’d stop if I could.”


Maritha’s dad, Eddie, is a taxi driver.  Anyone can be a taxi driver (I’m not knocking Eddie; he’s definitely the top driver on the island).  Annually, you take your Elantra to the police station where it gets checked out, and you purchase your taxi driving certificate.  You’re issued the detachable Taxi roof-sign, and then you’re a taxi driver.  No one tells you when to drive, or where (there’s only the one road; it’s just a matter of where you decide to turn around).  When cash is short, you spend a few hours driving.  There’s never a shortage of taxis.

Once when I was riding, my driver stopped at a gas station and bought $1.00’s worth of gas at $4.76/gallon.  That kept him going for a half hour, at least.  It was my dollar, by the way.  I always left a quarter tip, which they weren’t used to; their clientelle weren’t typically tourists.

These finely turned machines cruise at about 15 mph most of the day, occasionally reaching the 25 mph speed limit, but traffic is such that this doesn’t happen often.

While we were there, Maritha and I rode in a surprising amount of taxis.  I’d say 2-3 times a day.  They made for an efficient means of getting around the island.  The radios were usually tuned to some good local music, too (three stations on the island).

And now for the cemetaries.

cemetary 2

Considering that the east end of Majuro has only been an urban center since the 1950s when the U.S. built an airstrip here, there were a surprising amount of cemetaries.  Space being a premium, Eddie told me that several people were typically buried – stacked, actually – on each plot.  There were cemetaries connected with various churches (the Assembly cemetary, the Mormon cemetary), but there were also small groups of graves in people’s yards.

Here’s a large one that was very near jima’s home.


One sad thing that has happened within the last year is that both of Maritha’s grandmothers have died.   Jendrik’s wife, Mwesap, basically raised Maritha, and Maritha was terribly upset when she died and she hadn’t been able to see her.  Naturally, one of the things we wanted to do was to pay our respects to these women at their graves while we were there.

I mentioned this to Eddie and jima while we were there, and their responses were to nod and assure me in vague terms that we’d get to that.  Later I asked about it again, and got a similar vague response, but I quickly got the feeling that it wasn’t something they wanted to do.

How we honor our dead is something that can be very different between cultures, and I’m guessing that this is one of those times.  They were probably horrified that I’d bring it up at all, though they were very gracious.  We never saw the graves, and maybe it’s just as well.

Why not focus on the living, like these boys and the retreating taxi…



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2 Responses to Majuro Taxis and Cemetaries

  1. Pat Anderson says:

    Hi, wow maybe my Greek isn’t so bad. This is so interesting , hope there’s more. We are high and dry, but it’s still raining. Patty

  2. Jocelyn says:

    Admit it: you want a Hyundai now. You can be the best taxi driver on our little island here, you know.

    The island seems a metaphor for life–it’s all just a matter of deciding when to turn around.

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