Jepta (pronounced jeptah, also spelled Jebta) is a traditional Marshallese dance that is a big part of the Christmas holiday in the Marshall Islands. Jepta brings Christians from different communities, church groups and villages under one roof to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. The word Jepta means “chapter” and refers to chapter books in the bible, it refers to the group performing the dance and not the dance itself.

Groups start practicing several weeks before Christmas and typically perform the dance on Christmas day and sometimes runs over into the following day. Groups are made up from different churches or atolls and compete against each other. It’s all done in fun, it’s a friendly competition and all ages are welcome. It is important for members of the dance to have matching outfits. Church leaders typically act as the judge.

Most jepta choreographers depict everyday life in the islands in the dance created, like fishing, building homes, navigation, sports or even fixing the drainage system on the road. Jepta can also be performed at other big events such as Gospel Day or Kemens.

Example of Jepta in Arkansas

Example of Jepta at a church in Laura Beach (on Majuro)