Lolelaplap Legends and Stories (Marshall Islands)

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  • the Marshall Islands…which the US and Japan wanted/want? to turn into a nuclear waste dump.
  • the Marshall Islands…where the US has done nuclear “testing” since 1952, poisoning not just the islands but the surrounding ocean and wildlife.
  • the Marshall Islands…where “Discussions took place on creating landfill sites to take US household refuse.” (World Reference Atlas, 1994) And proposed ideas to bring money into the country include “Burning rubber tires for electricity” or “Building a causeway from toxic refuse.”

Why? Why does the US keep shitting on one of the most beautiful places in the world? Do you think my country could maybe, I don’t know, consume LESS you big fat jerks? Dispose of your own waste, for God’s sake. Would this be tolerated in Idaho or North Dakota? No!

This weekend’s book is called Marshall Islands Legends & Stories, collected by Daniel Kelin II of Hawai’i.

What’s an atoll? An atoll is a ring of islands, some big, some tiny, created by volcanic eruptions, which then get coral on top and vegetation. Inside the atoll you have a lagoon of protected water in which animals like crabs flourish. Lolelaplap (aka the Marshall Islands) is made up of:

29 atolls
5 islands
1,200 islets
spread over 750,000 square miles of ocean between Hawai’i and Australia

Favorite new phrase: Etto im etto…long and long time past, the traditional beginning of a story.

Best thing about the book: The amount of Marshallese sprinkled throughout the text, with pronunciations and definitions off to the side, which really give you the feeling of being on the Sunrise or Sunset atolls, sitting in a small home by lantern-light, listening to the ocean in the background, and to the storytellers. Sharing meals of snails, fish, breadfruit, bananas, chickens, pigs, and coconuts with the locals.

Also, I liked reading the storytellers’ bios; many survived the Japanese occupation from World War I to WWII (“we were treated like slaves”).

Oral tradition can get short shrift from writers. I thought it was neat that Lolelaplap recognizes the power of stories, to the extent of the iroij (chiefs) owning the tales. A storyteller must get permission to share legends. (Related Tangent–If you go to Australia, please please do not climb on Ayer’s Rock–Uluru to the Pitjantjaya people. The rock is a sacred religious relic to them, and walking on it is like spitting in a church. Not that this detours many of the park’s Western and Asian tour groups.) Uluru traditionally had separate areas for the telling of men’s tales and the telling of women’s tales as rites of passage for boys and girls. These tales, like the stories of Lolelaplap, were secret.)

Teaching tales: The islanders use stories as a way of remembering and passing down the teaching tales:

*Why you should share food
*The consequences of laziness
*How to treat your women and children
*What to do if you are faced with a demon
*The importance of respect

The stories are tied to landmarks: Demons turn into coral reefs; grandmother turtles become rocks; fire or the banana tree is started on an island by a character in the tale. (In college, I was told by a Native American professor that when Native Americans were forcibly separated from their ancestral land, they could no longer point to the old familiar landmarks and use them as teaching tools. The story I remember in particular involved a rock which looked like a face with a broken nose. It was tied to the story of the Native policeman who tried to become white.)

I tried to look beneath Lolelaplap’s folklore for the probably history behind it, which experts think began with Micronesian migration 2,000 years before Christ. For example, why would a teaching tale impress upon wives the need to wait to clean fish until the husband was done fishing for the day? Maybe if you threw fish guts and blood in the water while your husband was swimming about fishing, you’d attract sharks. So I could have done with a little more context and analysis from the author.

Over and over again, the tales had to do with finding food, sharing food. getting food from demons, and avoiding becoming food for demons, etc. Life used to be pretty hard here in terms of getting enough to eat, and probably still is. Many islands handed down the lesson that if you don’t share what you have, even if it is only a little, you will always be hungry. A welcome change from the greedy US mentality of “every man for himself” and “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

While not as entertaining as it would be to hear the dri-bwebwenato (storytellers) in person, this book is as close as I’m likely to get. Five clams.

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