The Tibnols of Ailuk

Traditional Marshallese sailing canoes are still working hard  in Ailuk.

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All but four families of the 300 people who live in the atoll live on Ailuk island. The remote settlement is 15 miles north and there is a daily of fleet of commuting tibnols that ply the lagoon, moving people, coconuts, pandanus and fish into the village.

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Some of them are really fast.

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Others are heavily loaded with families of gathers and all the fruits of their labor.

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Of course we are fascinated with these little boats and their speed. We were trading heavily with the villagers, unloading lots of useful stuff from Khamseen that we wouldn’t need on our crossing and back in the Pacific Northwest. It didn’t take long to reach a special level of gratitude from the acting mayor.  Amai could see our interest and offered to take us out for a couple of hours. Marshallese sailing requires the efforts of numerous small boys.


Patrick was our serious minded helmsman.


We accelerated over the shallow reef on the beam reach inside the flat water of the protected lagoon.


The ama outrigger started to pop out of the water and soon we were scooting past the atoll islands at 13 kts.


There’s a universal and ancient expression of the face of a sailor when the wind pulls the mainsheet tight and the boat surges out of a drift and up to the speed it was built for. Even if you been doing it since you were six.  All of us on Amai’s boat wore this same smile.


We were miles away from the village before we knew it and soon it was time to tack. This requires moving the rudder and the forespar from on end of the tibnol to the other!First the mainsheet gets passed aft (forward).


Then the single shroud is untied (we never do this).


There’s a crazy ballet as the heavy spar is shifted to the new bow from the old bow without furling the sail. Then the rudder is unshipped, floated down the hull and locked into the new stern.


Before we knew it we were back on the beach. An army of young men materialized to de-mob the boat.


Little girls came out to add atmosphere and sing Marshallese little-girl songs.


Aimai’s tibnol was parked under the palm tree before you could say ‘coconut’ and then we were out to Khamseen for a crew lunch of breadfruit and chicken.


10°14.00’N 169°58.00’E 25-June-11 00:00 UTC

2 Responses to “The Tibnols of Ailuk”

  1. Tadrik&Aiti says:

    Jumemejmej im komman oktak nan aelon eo ad mekar tah ejak jen bok im nah ak jej kamolol Anij kin an maron debwij emman eo an aelon in ailuk.. nah Tadrik im Aiti komro konaan lewaj naan in kamolol nan ro im elap aer komaat aer maron nan aelon eo ilo juon ak ruo wewein ko… Aliktata im ejjaf diktata konaan ba k jen likit ad kojatdikdik ippen irooj kinke e eo ej letok anmkoj, kadkad im jimwe im maron ko ad.. enin ekoman bwe jen kojerpal right kein ilo wonmaanlok eo an aelon kein ad…

  2. admin says:

    To paraphrase in American English:

    We have to make changes to our land but it doesn’t really matter what is going on, we have to look through God because he has given our life, liberty and identity. I’m Tadrik, and Aiti is my brother, and we can say to you who made these pictures; thank you for showing these pictures to make us so proud of our life .. I’m really proud of you because you just came to our island called Ailuk to do something you wanted to do..

    And we say to Tadrik and Aiti:

    Thanks for the kind words. The Pacific is a very big ocean to cross in
    a small boat but it was worth it to visit your home island.