Situated at the center of the Earth’s largest ocean, the 29 coral atolls of the Marshall Islands have been called home for more than three thousand years by canoe-voyaging people who could navigate just by sensing the rhythms of waves with their bodies and observing the positions of the stars. Yet, that precious home of land and water can now rightly be called the most existentially threatened place on the planet. Marshall Islanders have nonetheless survived and thrived for millennia: their important wisdom gleaned from the upheavals of 20th century, and their ongoing tenacity in the 21st, has much to teach the rest of the world about commitment to land and our earth.
From 1946 to 1958, the Marshall Islands served as the site of 67 of the largest United States atmospheric nuclear detonations, and suffered the worst radiological disasters in U. S. history, the worst of which left Bikini Atoll uninhabitable to this day. Literal and metaphorical fallout, cancerous to the body and traumatic to the soul, persists to the present day for the Marshallese.
In the wake of horrific battles that were waged on Marshallese soil during World War II, in 1952, on distant Enewetak atoll, tool-bearing people from afar found a way to literally ignite their own star, brighter and hotter than the Sun itself, and in so doing permanently changed everything, everywhere. At that moment, many humans became enthralled with this architecture of death as their own achievement of the sublime, awed by their ultimate and irrevocable simulation of divinity and intervention in the awesome power of the natural world. We know this fabricated star as the hydrogen bomb, a weapon that has the capability to annihilate existence itself.
Today, Marshall Islanders are also on the front lines of another human-created threat that is almost too big to comprehend: that of global climate change and rising sea levels, the legacy of two hundred years of the industrialized world burning fossil fuels for energy. Living on coral that lies on average barely six feet above sea level, all of the Marshalls’ 70,000 people are now urgently threatened by the very oceans that have nurtured them for millennia. It is estimated that the nation will become uninhabitable by the end of the century, drowned by forces and actions it had no hand in creating.
The Marshallese are fluent in the language of water as much as they are grounded in land; they understand the inscrutable ocean in ways most of us do not. Like the possibility of nuclear annihilation and the fact of human-induced climate change, the scale and nature of the oceans is truly challenging to comprehend. The oceans cover 71% of the globe’s surface, harbor 80% of its species, are by far the largest sink of human carbon emissions, and generate the oxygen needed in every other breath we take—and yet fewer people have been to their depths than have walked on the surface of the moon. 58% of the oceans—half the surface of the planet—remain outside any national jurisdiction and are essentially ungoverned.
Great work is being done by Western scientists, artists and conservationists. Great work is being done by the people of the Marshall Islands and larger Oceania.
Kõmij Mour Ijin/Our Life Is Here brings them together in deep resonance.
The Kõmij Mour Ijin expedition aims to bring worlds together to tell a compelling story that will capture the public’s imagination. We voyage to learn and appreciate: to remember, to reimagine, to reinvent. We voyage to reaffirm our home right here and now on Earth and to ensure that all of us can not only survive but also thrive.