The Songs of Our Atolls project, funded by a grant through CACHE, brings our Marshallese youth and elders together to share and preserve Marshallese songs and stories. As more Marshallese children are born in NWA, our youth become further detached from our traditional ways of being and doing (manit). Traditionally, our youth learn from their grandparents by asking questions and listening to them talk story. We have a saying about those who know their manit: as a child they lay their head on the shoulder of their bubu or jimma. In diaspora that close connection often does not exist. The Songs of Our Atolls project was created to facilitate that youth-elder connection.

On Oct. 29th, 2022, Marshallese elder Shine Benkim and MEI's MREC Director Carlnis Jerry will join MEI Cofounder and UCLA Assistant Professor Jessica Schwartz and the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music at the AAPI Performance and Pedagogy symposium to share songs and stories with MEI's Executive Director Benetick Kabua Maddison and Program Manager Marcina Langrine and Media Assistant Matthew John (representing Marshallese youth) back in Arkansas through a performative version of the Songs of Our Atolls project and the Marshallese process of jitdam kapeel.

Listen to elder Aister Reklen along with MARK Harmony's Matthew John and Kairo Langrus perform Joto Jatak.

Joto jotakAister Reklen and MARK Harmony
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Marshallese Oral History Project & Digital Music Archive (MOHP)

Marshallese have been relocating to Arkansas since the 1980s. John Moody, believed to be the first Marshallese to move to Springdale in the early 1980s, relocated from Oklahoma, where he had received a scholarship to attend college, to work at Tyson Foods.

 

After the Compact of Free Association was put into effect in 1986, Marshallese began relocating to the United States, primarily to Hawai'i, and the West Coast. In the mid-1990s, Tyson Foods began actively recruiting Marshallese to work at their plants in Springdale, which prompted an increase in migration to the area. Drawn to the relatively low cost of living in the midwest, Marshallese began arriving in greater numbers in the 2000s and migration continues. Today, more than 7,000 Marshallese reside in Springdale; as many as 15,000 reside in the Midwest, including Enid, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Kansas, and Springfield, MO.  

MOHP's principal transcriber and translator, Benetick Maddison, left, works with assistant translator Sharlynn Lang at the MEI Office during Phase I. (April L. Brown/MEI Photo)

The MOHP & Digital Music Archive collects stories and songs of Marshallese residents of Arkansas and the surrounding states. From personal memories, we create a “living archive”—a collection of audio and visual interviews & complementary documentation—which connect an individual’s stories to global events and issues. Some topics recorded to date include: traditional canoe-building, the role of women in Marshallese society, traditional healing practices, nuclear testing and its impact, the creation of the Constitution of the RMI, clans, and life both in the Islands and in Arkansas from the Marshallese perspective.

 

Interviews are in either Marshallese or English (dependent upon the preference of the narrator).  Audio is painstakingly transcribed and translated.  Through innovative web-based dissemination, a searchable database, and transcriptions in Marshallese and English, the collection will be added to our Humanities database to make these important stories available to the public.

Shine Benkim

Jaluit Atoll

Interviewed by Albious Latior

Springdale, AR

June, 2014

Liton Beasha

Namdrik Atoll

Interviewed by Albious Latior

Springdale, AR

June, 2014

Bokkie Matauto

Ebon Atoll

Interviewed by Albious Latior

Springdale, AR

July, 2014

The MOHP is an ongoing project. Phase I (2014-2015), which focused on collecting interviews from Marshallese in Arkansas, was funded in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. MEI is actively searching for donors to continue Phase II of the project, which includes additional interviews in Arkansas and across the United States, transcribing and translating current and new interviews, and making these interviews accessible online.

 

Please help us archive Marshallese stories with a contribution to our General Fund

or to the MOHP project fund!  

MEI partnered with Artist Laboratory Theatre and director/producer Simone Cottrell on this Arkansas Arts Center-funded project. The Bwebwenato Project worked with Marshallese youth, ages 12-25 to explore, collect, create, and perform Marshallese stories. The play ran Summer 2019.

Bwebwenato Project

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