- Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands / Mour ilo Republic eo an Majol
Finally. A text about life in the Marshall Islands by Marshall Islanders themselves—their voices, their words, their descriptions, reactions, explanations, genealogies, relationships, humor, sorrow, and sufferings. In Lifein the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Marshallese people are humanized and fully portrayed, better understood, and self-represented in a way that is unavailable in print elsewhere. A companion volume written in Marshallese, Mour ilo Republic eo an Majol, only adds to its value. This is a treasure as the first of its kind, a model for other collections to follow, and an opening of the door for a world of Marshallese authors and audiences. [End Page 453]
Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands contains sixteen essays, some coauthored, by twenty Marshall Islanders (ten men and ten women), and a conclusion by one of its editors, the only non-Marshallese collaborating on the project, Linda Crowl. Crowl is a former Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshalls and long-time Publications Fellow at the Institute of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Unlike other collections, these accounts are not excerpts from interviews, not indented long quotations in another outsider's research or report, but accounts written in the first person in a Marshallese way, according to a Marshallese aesthetic. These are big-picture essays —how dominant institutions were formed, how fate, Americans, and customs dictated lives and impacted the development of a nation and people. These are essays about meaning—changes in cultural practices, transformations of families, technology, media, opportunities, diets, and day-to-day life and work.
The essays include autobiographical accounts; institutional histories (from local perspectives); current controversies (the education system, adoption); environmental knowledge (preserving pandanus [böb], navigating and racing in Aeloñlaplap, making Marshallese medicine for babies and moms); history (the mission schools, Rongelap experiences); and explicitly cultural topics (land, legends, canoes, irooj [chiefly] manners). Family histories are integrated into them all, asauthors name their parents, grandparents, children, and close friends. The continuity of strong family relationships is highlighted amid the constant changes recounted. These arethe important relationships and gatherings in which Marshallese people and ways thrive—where they share stories, jokes, food, worship, and travel.
These broad topics are written to be accessible to foreign as well as Marshallese audiences. Cultural explanations are inserted where necessary, in unobtrusive ways. For example, the significance of the kemmem (achild's first birthday) is noted in more than one account (Joash, Lodge,and Fowler and Kabua) as a reference for family learning about genealogies. Similarly, the wake (ilomij) is described as part of a larger story about memorable family celebrations and sorrows.
The collection has many strengths. First, it is untraditional in the sense that unlike the limited number of Marshall Islands "collections" it is not limited to folklore, US strategic interests and impacts, or cultural description. This collection includes those topics, as well as controversial topics (eg, the disputed foreign adoption of Marshallese children) and contemporary institutional histories (the growth of the major FM radio station). The collection expands awareness of Marshallese lives in the context of US strategic interests and enables the reader to glimpse the very real challenges faced by Marshall Islanders without denying their agency and collective strengths.
We find the collection refreshing because the too-familiar "issues" bemoaned in impersonal international donor reports are glimpsed here in the context of real people's lives and lived experiences. Rather than seeing the [End Page 454] Marshall Islands as a nation faced with critical "issues," the reader comes away with a deeper awareness of the Marshall Islands as...