A Bikinian woman, Connie Joel, has been named the 2012 Teacher of the Year for the Marshall Islands for her work as a teacher on Ejit Island, a home on exile for the people of Bikini Atoll. Ms. Joel, Marshall Islands government Minister of Education Hilda Heine, and RMI educators are in Saipan for the 28th Pacific Education Conference.
by Bikinian Litha Joel Jorju
I am Marshallese and today is the Republic of the Marshall Island’s Independence Day. I am one of the ladies you see with the handmade dresses that looks like a muumuu but not quite. Mine is one of three Pacific Island countries that the United States government signed an international agreement with inviting us to live and work legally in the United States. The other countries are the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau. These are all different countries with different languages, cultures and institutions.
Many newspaper articles over the last year claim that the U.S. invited us to live and work here as a way to make up for the permanent and devastating damage that the United States did to our islands from 1946-1958 when they used my homelands for nuclear bombing tests. That is only part of the story. The United States also keeps this agreement with our countries so that our governments will continue to allow the U.S. military to build and operate massive military bases on our islands.
My family is from Bikini Atoll. This is where the United States concentrated most of its nuclear bomb testing. In fact, the largest nuclear explosions ever conducted by the U.S. military, much larger than the Hiroshima bomb, were tested in and around my family’s villages. These were mostly atmospheric tests, so the contaminated spread far and wide. Some of those nuclear tests were so powerful that entire islands were vaporized.
The U.S. military evacuated my family twice due to the nuclear bomb testing; the first evacuation came before the nuclear bomb tests started, the second evacuation came after the U.S. military realized that they had not moved our families far enough away to keep us safe. In 1968, the United States Atomic Energy Commission announced that it was safe to resettle parts of Marshall Islands, but the International Atomic Energy Commission disputed those findings in 1994 and the families that had moved back home had to be relocated once again. The IAEA provides a good account of this history on its website.
Even today, 55 years after the nuclear tests were stopped, many scientists and nuclear safety organizations report that it is unsafe to eat crops grown on the land there and fish from the local waters. More than a dozen of my aunties and sisters gave birth to deformed babies after the nuclear tests. This is heartbreaking for families. My family and I have given up our dream of ever returning to our ancestral village.
But we are working hard to make a home here in Hawaii. It is hard, because many of us, especially those who faced evacuations and the devastating effects of the nuclear tests, came here with nothing but medical conditions and the will to live. Luckily, I attended a church school when I was young, so I learned English from a young age. This has helped my family through the turmoil of moving to a new country, getting a good job and helping my kids with school work.
Like many of the immigrant groups in Hawaii, even those of us who were teachers and principals and government employees in our home country can only get the lowest, most entry level jobs when we get the United States.
Those of us from Marshall Islands, Micronesian and Palau know that we are not yet accepted in Hawaii. We know that some people don’t like our traditional dresses and skirts, call us all “Micros” and think that we don’t know how to fit in. We are trying. We are trying hard to get an education for our kids, get medical care for our elders, and jobs that will allow us to be self-sufficient.
So today I am celebrating my home country’s Independence Day, and on July 4 I will celebrate the U.S. Independence Day. Parts of the American National Anthem remind me a lot of home, “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” sound a lot like the stories my people tell of the bombings of our islands.
Many of our kids are born and raised here in Hawaii and as a mother and grandmother, I pray every day that our kids will be accepted here and be able to live healthy, productive lives. We are working hard to learn the language and cultures here, please also learn a little about us so that we can all understand and accept each other.
I hear people say sometimes, “why are there so many of them here? Why do they dress like that? Why don’t they just go home?” Many of us have no home left, so we are doing the best we can.
About the author: Litha Joel Jorju is a founding member of the Maui Marshallese Women’s Club, part of Faith Action for Community Equity Maui. Jorju works in nutrition services and has five children and three grandchildren.
By Jack Niedenthal
Every year when Professor Garrod tells me what play he has decided to perform, I say to myself, Just how is he going to do this? Indeed, when he told me months ago that he was going to do West Side Story this year I honestly thought he was nuts: All that singing and dancing and intense racial drama on a stage… Here? And every year when I go to the dress rehearsal, as I did this year, I inevitably wind up thinking: No way, this is going to be such a mess, my friend Andrew may finally have to deal with a bit of failure. And every year I walk away after the last performance with my jaw scraping the ground in awe of how he manages to show us all just how deep the artistic talent runs within our own community. The 4 days of performances last week at the ICC were an overwhelming success and such a tremendous joy for our island.
Perhaps the reason West Side Story connected so well with the community here is that the actors on the stage were playing characters that were so close to their own age. When they sung the refrain from the song “Somewhere,” I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those young people on stage haven’t had that same set of feelings about finding their place in the world.
The main characters of Maria and Tony, played by Lulani Ritok and John Riklon, were outstanding. I must admit a bias here for Lulani because she has sung in each of our 4 films. Her voice has always had a way of just taking me places. I am beyond thrilled that so many people were able to experience her singing live as I have for the past 5 years, and I know I was not alone as I sat in awe of her performance. John Riklon was equally astounding. To be able to sing solo, not once but twice, in front of those huge crowds makes him one of the bravest people in the Marshall Islands. His rendition of Maria was superb and captivating and was one of the show’s best moments. The manikin scene with just John and Lulani was also one of my favorites; indeed, their interaction was intriguingly passionate and dynamic throughout the play.
The supporting roles of Anita, Riff and Bernardo, played by Jennifer Andrike, Nitan Anni and Vahid Pedro, made the play what it was. Any production is only as good as your supporting cast, and these three were so powerful. Jennifer has a stage voice and presence that is as good as I have seen in any of these plays. She has an incredible ability to show her emotion by throwing her voice and contorting her body; she mesmerized the audience with the immense amount of personality she brought to her character. Nitan has always been one of my favorites and is a veteran actor: I expect him to be brilliant, and he did not disappoint. His graceful dancing movements, his bodylines reminiscent of a talented figure skater, were downright eye candy. Nitan has learned to use the stage as an effective tool in communicating what his character is all about. Vahid Pedro gave the role of Bernardo a biting-though-entertaining nasty edge. It was nice to see Vahid get a chance to take center stage in a production like this because I have known him for a quite a while, i.e., he is a CHARACTER.
The gang members were wonderful and well cast. Chino, played by Yoda Mewa, and Action, played by Rickson Katwon, were fun to watch as they interacted with the rest of their gang. I particularly liked the performance—the dialog, singing and dancing–of the song “America,” and the scene where Brittany Johnson sings the song “Somewhere” as the cast surrounds Maria and Tony sitting on the stage. Brittany has a nice deep tone and range to her singing voice. Ann Abija as Anybodys created an instant buzz and then a laugh each time she darted onto the stage, putting her in that role was a stroke of genius as it seemed to be made just for her.
One reason I enjoy these plays is that we always get to see some “outsiders” on the stage mixing it up with the local islanders. This allows everyone in the audience to connect with the play, which is always an important goal of any production. This time, however, it was intriguing to see how the outsiders were solely cast to play the “Adult” roles in the play. The reason I say this is that universally, to a teenager, any adult IS an outsider (I have raised 6 of them, I know). Joe Naeem as Doc was perfect, and when Joe wasn’t masterfully playing his role on stage, he was over at the side working the music… I am not sure how he did this, but he did. Tom Armbruster as Shrank and Jovilisi Fotofili as Krupke livened the production with their gravity (and at times, their comedy) as officers of the law. Andrew Shanahan’s role as the nerdy-looking-Buddy-Holly-lookalike Gladhand was well played as he looked so profoundly out of place on stage—just like any adult would at a teen dance.
The two most important people that we never saw on the stage were Mona Levy-Strauss, who each year has been tasked with assembling what has been at times some enormously complicated wardrobes, and Alson Kelen, who has translated all of the plays from English to Marshallese: Imagine the powerful mind of a person who has the capability to translate 8 Shakespeare dialogues and West Side Story from English to Marshallese. Sigh.
Choreographer Marisa Clementi, Producer Max Mucenic, and Assistant Choreographer and Music Director Kristan Thatcher, and the other people from Dartmouth all have our sincere thanks for helping make this play such a marvelous experience for all of us. Bonny and Ken Taggert, who helped build the props and sets, and Scott Stege, who helped with the audio, were also essential in helping get this production off the ground and up and running.
When you think of what was accomplished with this herculean amount of effort by our small community in just two months, it makes you wonder what we could do if we actually had a permanent facility to encourage and accommodate the seemingly unquenchable desire for the performing arts that we have here in the Marshall Islands: Imagine having various forms of live entertainment in a professional venue every weekend instead of one or two weeks a year. Somehow. Some day.
Microwave Films of the Marshall Islands announced the screening date for its latest film at the 29th annual ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL in Los Angeles.
The Sound of Crickets at Night (Ainikien Jidjid ilo Boñ), the fourth Marshallese feature film directed and produced by the Majuro team of Jack Niedenthal and Suzanne Chutaro that features a story about the people of Bikini Atoll, will be showcased on Wednesday, May 8, 7 p.m., at the CVG theaters in L.A. (Koreatown).
“If you have friends and family in the LA area, tell them to come: We want to fill the theater like we managed to do in Hawaii, Guam and New York: The more people in the theater, the more fun it is to watch!” said Niedenthal.
The Sound of Crickets at Night, which premiered at the Marshall Islands Resort in Majuro on September 7, 2012, will also be featured at the 2013 Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii on Sunday May 26th. Niedenthal, who wrote all the original screenplays, said they are ready to shoot the next feature film, JILEL (The Shell).
- To encourage residents of the Marshall Islands to explore the Marshallese culture and life in the Marshall Islands through the medium of film.
- To help support the educational, cultural and other institutions of the Marshall Islands via feature-length and short films, commercial, news and infomercial production.
- To develop, encourage and promote the culture of the Marshall Islands through the medium of film.
“To date, Microwave Films has donated over $25,000 to the Majuro Cooperative School in the Marshall Islands from our film endeavors, which has helped the school with everything from general expenses to graduations and college entrance test exam fees,“ said Niedenthal.
(Note: Parts of the above story taken from Yokwe Online post of March 21, 2013)
*Information for the Los Angeles showing:
THE SOUND OF CRICKETS AT NIGHT
Screening AT 7 PM ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 8th, 2013 AT THE CVG THEATERS
621 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Ainikien Jidjid ilo Boñ (The Sound of Crickets at Night) is the story of a family displaced as a result of nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll and now living in exile on Ejit Island on Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Kali, a darling-though-curious 10-year-old Bikinian girl, watches in dismay as her mother and father argue bitterly, then finally separate and leave the island.
Left alone to care for her elderly grandfather, Jebuki, who has been hiding a life-threatening illness, Kali deteriorates, refusing to eat, work or play. Fearing for his granddaughter’s wellbeing, Jebuki makes a desperate decision to summon Worejabato, an ancient deity from Bikini Atoll. Appearing in the form of an unshaven American stranger, Worejabato washes up on the beach on Ejit Island, and is discovered by Kali. The deity immediately begins to weave his way into Kali’s life, but wishes from Worejabato do not come for free.
What will Jebuki promise to Worejabato to ensure Kali’s happiness?
The 80 minute feature film in the Marshallese language (with English subtitles) stars numerous Bikinians including:
*Former Mayor of Bikini Atoll Alson Kelen (Lead character)
*Executive Council Member Banjo Joel (Lead character)
*Trust Liaison for the people of Bikini Jack Niedenthal (Lead character, Co-director, Co-Producer, Writer)
*Salome Fakatou (10 years old, Lead character)
*Lulani Ritok (17 years old, Supporting actor and lead singer in much of the music)
*Over 20 other Bikinians star in various minor roles
-Big Island Film Festival (Hawaii), WINNER, GOLDEN HONU AWARD for BEST FAMILY FEATURE FILM, May 2013
-Guam International Film Festival, WINNER, GRAND JURY AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT IN ACTING, September 2012
-Moondance International Film Festival, WINNER, ATLANTIS AWARD FOR FOREIGN FILMS, September 2012
-Hawaii International Film Festival, OFFICIAL SELECTION, October 2012
-Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, OFFICIAL SELECTION, May 2013
-Northern California International Film Festival, OFFICIAL SELECTION, February 2013
-Asia Pacific Screen Awards, IN COMPETITION, November 2012
Here is the website for the film:
Here is the trailer:
Facebook page for Microwave Films of the Marshall Islands
The new film by Jack Niedenthal and Suzanne Chutaro, The Sound of Crickets at Night, marks a new chapter in the history of Marshallese film. This meditation on loss and emotional deprivation represents the first attempt to articulate on the screen the pain the Marshallese have endured for generations and continue to endure in the 21st century. It is also a movie that is both beautifully imagined and sensitively composed: attributes that make it the first cinematic poem to come out of the Marshall Islands, and the single most ambitious film originating in this country to date... What both domestic and foreign audiences will come to recognize by the end of this film is that the history of Marshallese exile is not merely history; it is also the present.
-Peter Sutoris, Filmmaker (The Undiscovered Country), August 2012
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THE SOUND OF CRICKETS AT NIGHT skillfully balances deadly radiation with the supernatural, family dysfunction with innocence, and isolation with inner peace. The results are oddly charming yet shadowed by darkness so that it never becomes cloying. It recalls the restrained wonder of renowned Thai director Apichatpong Weerasthakul, as further tempered by the darkness of David Lynch. The fantastic, arty, and appeal is further carried out by a cast of local, nonprofessional actors playing themselves. A priest plays the priest, while city workers and council people take on similar roles… What really makes the movie work is kids acting like kids— a miracle even in films with big budgets… THE SOUND OF CRICKETS AT NIGHT is rich with culture, heart, and intelligence.
-Martin Wong, Co-founder of Giant Robot Magazine, May 2013
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Marshall Islands-based filmmakers Jack Niedenthal and Suzanne Chutaro have created a provocative and moving drama that weaves three stories of loss and rue into a memorable work of art… They brush across profound emotional issues – family disintegration, isolation, loss of self-identity and homeland, and the embrace of faith when man-made solutions fail – and plumb their territory with a low-keyed sensitivity that echoes the classic works of Satyajit Ray… Although the cast is made up of nonprofessionals, the ensemble is first-rate… This small and remarkable film is one of the year’s most engaging under-the-radar gems.
-Phil Hall, Film Threat, October 2012
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“The Sound of Crickets at Night is part folk tale, part history lesson and part spiritual parable… Charming… Very well done… Pretty amazing… I give it high marks both for the impact it makes as a narrative and its use of a history that’s quickly falling towards the way of myth.”
-Misty Layne, Rogue Cinema, December 2012
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The Sound of Crickets at Night at the Hawaii International Film Festival last week… Beautiful local music, skilled photography and a great supporting cast made this film a total delight while addressing serious issues of life in the Marshall Islands today.”
-Caroline Yacoe, Hawaii, October 2012
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Hapcheon is home to people who were in Hiroshima at the end of World War II when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city, and many were exposed to radiation from the blast. They were sent home soon after the war, and did not receive medical follow up as a result of their exposure. In early 2010, the Hapcheon Peace House was established in Hapcheon, the “Hiroshima of Korea,” to aid and support the offspring of nuclear victims.
Johnson was one of many international speakers at the gathering in Hapcheon.
“For the last 29 years,” Johnson said in a speech in S. Korea, “the US government has played a game with us, switching forums for our claims and postponing again and again the payment of fair compensation that is req uired by the Compact and the US Constitution. We sought relief from the courts, then from the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, then from Congress under the changed circumstances petition, and then again from the courts.”
Johnson said the Bikinians “have done everything that the courts, the Congress and the Executive Branch have asked of us. I regret to say that the Bikinians have not been awarded the justice they seek with the US.”
He said Bikini people have persevered despite numerous relocations. “The hopeful side of me sees this as a true mark of strong people,” he said. “The more cynical side feels as though the injustice brought about by nuclear testing should never have been done.”
The delegation also met with US Interior Department officials regarding a number of potential grants and development projects and they met with their money advisors from UBS and their trustees from M & T Bank regarding the status of their two trust funds. They also held a series of meetings with their attorney, Jonathan Weisgall, regarding numerous outstanding issues the Bikinians have with the US government.
On January 23rd, 2012: The Kili/Bikini/Ejit Local Government Mayor and Council were officially sworn in to begin public service to the people of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The elections were held in November of 2011. The ceremony was well attended, including the newly elected President of the Marshall Islands, Christopher Loeak, many government ministers, senators and ambassadors and other dignitaries. The ceremony was held at the International Convention Center (ICC) in Majuro, Marshall Islands and began at 3 PM and lasted well into the night with a celebration honoring the newly elected leaders. Chief Justice Carl B. Ingram administered the oaths of office to the Mayor and the Council.
The following are the Bikinians who will now hold the positions of Mayor and Council:
Alap (traditional leaders)