Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

An apology to Taro Islanders and Solomon Islanders

13 Comments

I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing this particularly blog post for a while now. It’s hard to admit when you make a huge mistake, and it’s even worse when you do it on a global scale. So here goes nothing.

I wrote a poem, two months ago, called “dear matafele peinam” dedicated to my daughter, speaking on climate change that was performed during the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit. There are three different video versions of this poem on youtube – one has been viewed 108,125 times, another 93,135 times, and still another 220, 563 times. I’m not saying these numbers to show off (in light of how many views a cat playing with a dog will get, they’re actually not all that impressive). I’m saying these numbers to highlight just how many people have witnessed my horrifically shameful mistake.

In my poem I have a stanza in which I say,

no one

is drowning, baby

no one

is moving

no one

is losing their homeland

no one

is gonna become a climate change refugee

or should i say 

no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea

and to the taro islanders of fiji

I apologize to you

We are drawing the line here

Early on when I was writing this poem, my mentor suggested to me that I include that stanza referencing islanders who have already had to move because of climate change (Carteret Islanders and Taro Islanders).  This was an opportunity to highlight the fact the climate change is real and happening now, but also to honor these islanders by saying their names, not just giving some vague, veiled reference. I decided to do some research to make sure I got the details of their move and their islands correct. What I found was an article on thinkprogress.org entitled “Meet the First Pacific Island Town to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change,” which highlighted Carteret Islanders and Taro Islanders:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/18/3472645/pacific-island-town-relocate-climate-change/

What happened next was that I wrote into the poem, “Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea” and “Taro Islanders of Fiji” just so people would know what bigger countries these small island towns and cultures were affiliated with.

Unfortunately, Taro Islanders are not from Fiji. They are from the Solomon Islands.

I have no idea how I made this mistake when I read the article. The words “Fiji” and “Solomon Islands” are not even remotely close – nor is their culture, history, or people. And I’m not even sure Fiji was even mentioned in the article!

What I know is that I was reading the article fast, and writing the poem fast, because I had a deadline to finish and memorize the poem within a week, Matafele Peinam screaming in the corner because she wanted to be picked up, and a bunch of lesson plans to write and papers to grade for my students. I also know that none of these are viable excuses.

As a Pacific Islander, and even as a Pacific Island Studies Master’s student, I should have known better. I have had my fair share of, “All you Micronesians look the same” and “How is Pohnpeian and Chuukese different from Marshallese” and I’ve also had people mix up Micronesians with Polynesians, and tell me that all islanders must be the same etc etc. I know how much it means to be recognized – to be really recognized. To have someone say “I know where the Marshall Islands is.” Especially when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to know who you or your people are. I also know that in Pacific cultures, name and place are valuable – it’s how you know your roots and your connections.

And so, with this all in mind – I sincerely apologize. To the Taro Islanders and to all Solomon Islanders. For taking away what should have been a moment for them to be recognized – their moment to have their islands and their struggles brought to light.

Author: Kathy/Dede

Kathy Jetnil Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and activist. Her writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages. She has performed her poetry in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to most recently over a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, where she performed a poem to her daughter, "Dear Matafele Peinam". Currently she lives and works in the Marshall Islands, where she teaches Pacific studies courses full time at the College of the Marshall Islands. She is also Co-Director of the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum, which empowers youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions for environmentalist issues. Check out their website: www.jojikum.org

13 thoughts on “An apology to Taro Islanders and Solomon Islanders

  1. Would it be possible if you can remake another video with the corrections? Just saying.

    • Hi Alex- well unfortunately the video that is getting more views is the live performance at the UN and that one can’t be redone, and it’s also under the United Nations youtube account so I can’t add anything underneath it correcting the mistake. I’m currently working with one of the people who uploaded it to see if I can change it somehow. For the other video, it was produced by a media production company, and I’m trying to fix it with them as well. Hopefully it works out!

  2. It was a very good poem. I come from the island on which Taro Island is located. Thanks for realizing the mistake. Fortunately they have not moved out yet.

    • I love that poem indeed, it is a very interesting poem, Taro Island is where I live, its just a small Island and also it is the headquarter of Choisuel Province, Solomon Islands….now a days, the government planned to relocate the Taro to the main land, but still in process…….thanks for apologizing !!

      • Hi David. Thank you for writing and for being so understanding. I really appreciate hearing that from a Taro Islander. I’m glad your island hasn’t relocated just yet…I hope the process will be smooth, though I know it will be painful. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help. I wish for nothing but the best for you and your people.

    • Hi Isaac. So great to hear from another Taro Islander – I appreciate you writing and your understanding. I’m glad your people haven’t moved yet. Good luck, I’ll be keeping track of your story through the news, if not keep us all posted however you can.

  3. I have seen your speech live on the screen, and am Solomon Islander. I said to myself right on the spot when you incorrectly stated that line…, oooooppppsss…..!!!

    But its okay…, you have done well..! to reach out to millions watching! I wish for a change, at least to those videos spiraling on YouTube. You will do much better next time..!

    I just visited the Islands and nothing changed much unfortunately. Much blessings for the future of the Pacific!!!

    • Lol Phil you noticed right away! I also wish that those videos spiraling could be fixed – I was going to try and write a comment underneath them about the mistake, but I can’t really they’re not on my youtube account. Thanks for your understanding and your support 🙂

  4. Kathy, aloha and I hope all is well in Majuro. We all make mistakes. (I make heaps of them!) In spite of your mistake, you have represented the Pacific Islands and the climate change issues brilliantly at the UN Climate Change Summit. I was proud of you as a former student and a fellow Pacific Islander. Your poem was outstanding and presentation magnificent. I could not have asked for a much better representation. Thank you.

    On the issue of “Taro”, you might want to check again. “Taro Island” in the Solomon Islands is located in Choiseul Province (close to Bougainville in PNG). Taro Island hosts the administrative headquarters of the Choiseul Province. As Isaac Lekelalu (whom, I know) mentions above, that Taro Island is still populated and not sinking (yet). There are, however, plans to move the provincial headquarter to the adjacent main land because of the need for bigger land area.

    Perhaps the island that you are referring to is “Taku”, which is the Mortlock Islands. That is in the North Solomons Province, which is part of PNG. (I know this is confusing). The people from Taku have been relocated in Bougainville as a result of rising sea level. That is documented in the film, “There Once Was an Island.” Perhaps that is the island that you were referring to.

    I hope this helps and let me know if I could be of any help.

    • Tara! So great to hear from you! Taro Island is in that article I cited (actually in more than 1 article) and it literally says it’s in the Solomon Islands, not PNG – how confusing! I wonder why there was that mixup between the two. Also, I remember that film you’re talking about – it was hard for me to watch, because it hit too close to home, and maybe that’s why I blocked it out. I couldn’t find it online when I was researching my poem. Hopefully I can try and get that from you the next time I fly through Hawaii. But that definitely makes more sense. Thanks so much for your comment Tara – it really helped clear things up for me. I’ll try and look into it some more, and see what I can fix.

  5. Well done Kathy! I appreciate your apology and your due diligence to make things pono. It was a honor to watch you speak on YouTube. It was soooooooo chicken skin to see a fellow Pacific Islander sister share our stories to the world.

    Malama kekahi i kekahi!

  6. Your poem and speech at the UN convention has become a focal point of our unit of study in Australia, Kathy. A very powerful and inspirational speech! Re. the slip up, I was very confused for a time whilst looking for Taro Island of Fiji. I’m glad you were able to amend it now and hopefully can do so to a larger audience in the future. Don’t harp on it though, as it was a minor slip in a major and amazing speech!

  7. Kathy- Don,t you worry- There are Good People Here in The U.S. who hear your every word with a stinging disappointment of Our Government. We are still marching – I,m still writing — I,m fighting to open Blind Eyes. No bubbles exist anymore. They all float around the Earth warning in every backyard -” This is It “. The Insanity is Over and I promise you the U.S – By the People will Fly Right by foolish politicians and transform everything . It is a defining crossroad that will also shape the Huge corporate error as well. —– You must know there have been Kids and young adults with powerful lawyers taking their case to The Supreme Courts of every state and Federal Courtroom . They are demanding -what the US Constitution defines at the Right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ” Yet- This time We must begin with Ground Zero. Your islands will be saved . It is when We become truly Human . Our absolute responsibility. Hope your family is OK. John

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