Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Glass Marbles and Mutual Inspiration

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About a month ago, our non-profit Jo-Jikum organized our first ever Jo-Jikum Climate Change Arts Camp. The camp brought together over 30 high school students to the College of the Marshall Islands. During the one week camp, our art and poet instructors taught students how to harness . We drew inspiration from presentations on climate change effects on our islands and its links to waste and coral reef bleaching. We took field trips to our island’s dump site to blink up at mountains of trash. We dove into the waters outside of delap park to swim through dying, and living coral. And we learned about the history of our weaving culture, the patterns and their symbolism, their materials and the long arduous process, the hundred year old mats lonely in cold museums in foreign countries. Together we wove flowers. The week long camp culminated in a Performance and Art Showcase, where artists unveiled their murals and poets performed their pieces. You can watch the spoken word pieces that was performed here and watch a brief video that captures an overview of the week here.

I can definitely say that organizing and being a part of this camp was an incredibly valuable experience for me. I learned not only the logistical skills needed to create an event like this, but I also was inspired by our youth and the art and conversations that took place. Being among all of these artists, it was natural that we drew on each others’ creative energy, and as a result the art work rippled across the mediums. Case in point – the mural below.


This was one of five murals painted by the students during our camp. Below is an explanation they wrote and presented during our Performance and Art Exhibition night.

Kajoor wot wor

In this painting, there are various meanings in it. Half of this girl’s face represents the beauty of the Marshall Islands – that’s why we drew both the Ralik and Ratak Chain. The other half of her face represents what is currently happening in our islands and that’s climate change. But despite the tear drops, scars, and tattoos, we have to show how strong we are – and  we will always continue glowing day by day.

Artists: Arianna Abraham from CO-OP High School, Teliah Mejena from Northern Islands High School, Solomon Joel from Assumption High School, and Yoshan Tibon from Norther Islands High School

Our artist teachers who taught at the camp, Jocelyn Ng and Aravapo Leo, were inspired by our participants, specifically this mural, and asked if I would be a model to recreate the mural. The photo below is the result.


From my end, I was also inspired by the students and the conversations that took place, specifically unpacking the ways in which Americanization and Westernization has influenced so much of who I am and how I present myself. From these conversations,  I wrote the poem below.

Glass Marbles

I am a mouthful of glass marbles a rolled tongue
stuck raw in my clogged throat white man’s
burden boiled syrup sweet slowing down my speech

When I was 6 I moved to Hawai‘i  learned my name was no longer
Dede it was Kathy I became blacktop negotiations
tetherball tied tongues a new culture to learn

When I was 22 I moved back to Majuro
a small strip of land an ocean
I no longer knew a sea of blank spaces
a place that was no longer home

When I was 24 another Micronesian told me that girls
like me
are westernized/americanized therefore
I stood and watched my cousin
tattoo a stick chart into her back
the buzz of ink a map to find our way
back home

When I was 26 I saw my last name spelled
proper just
how it sounds
for the first


I realized I been shaping it wrong
all these years for colonial ears to hear
do you say your name? How
do you say your country? Where
is your country?
Show it to me
Dance for me
Hang on the wall for me

I am a burden of representation
I am boxed in at the bishop museum
an indigenous voice woven for your display

Here you go step right up listen
to this poet listen to this
native tongue – look
she walks and she/
talks too

But before I was
A label verifying contents before
I was a glass cage before
the water creeped
up to our shores before I learned
to trust that tide
Before I was confronted
with roots braided into a plastic
umbilical connected
to a mountain of trash that’s consumed our home

I was 4
I was crouched slippers
on the dirt path outside my home
shooting marbles
watching this world
through a sea glass glow



Author: Kathy

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

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