A child’s first birthday is a very special occasion for all families. Our family will have the added excitement of getting to celebrate a tradition special to the Marshallese culture from which our daughter comes. As I’ve written before, our daughter’s birth family is originally from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, an island nation in the northern Pacific, which is part of the larger group of islands known as Micronesia. From the moment we knew we’d be adopting a child from a different culture, we knew we’d do all we could to learn about, embrace and honor the customs and traditions of that culture. As our daughter’s first birthday rapidly approaches, we are preparing for our first wonderful Marshallese tradition.
For the Marshallese a child’s first birthday is marked with a grand celebration known as a “kemem”- a party which can be even greater in scale than the Sweet 16s, Quinceaneras and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs we’re all familiar with. Historically, the cause for such tremendous celebration of a 1-year-old was that the infant mortality rate was so high. For a child to thrive through their first year of life was reason for the whole community to rejoice and give thanks. The infant mortality rate has greatly improved over time, but the tradition of the kemem has endured. The huge, wonderful party was just too good to give up.
Our daughter’s kemem will not be simply in name or spirit alone. We will be traveling back to her birth place to share this incredibly special celebration with not only her birth family, but the whole community, making the occasion doubly special. This commemoration of her first year will also be our first reunion with her birth family. There is sure to be lots of laughter and tears, music and dancing. And without a doubt there will be much rejoicing and thanks for the amazing first year of our daughter’s life and the amazing culture we now have the privilege of getting to be a part of.