Marshallese culture and history has, and continues to be, shared through oral transmission. The activities of “talking stories” (bwebwenato) and singing together are central to upholding Marshallese communal life and intergenerational communication.
In recent history, there have been major events that altered Marshallese ways of living together and impacted Marshallese abilities to share their stories, such as US nuclear testing (1946-1958). The nuclear testing forced some Marshallese from their lands and separated communities.
Away from their land, stories and songs became even more important in maintaining culture, but the radiation from the tests affected the health and voices of many Marshallese. Sometimes, we can hear the physical effects of radiation exposure in the voices of Marshallese storytellers and singers: the sound of the voice or the inability to produce sound.
Drawing from her own research, the foundational work of scholars such as Holly Barker and Barbara Rose Johnston, and the testimonials of Marshallese who know firsthand the importance of “having a voice” in the political world and also for keeping their culture alive and histories heard, Dr. Jessica Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles, will lead a workshop that shares Marshallese stories and songs about the consequences of nuclear testing. This workshop encourages students to think critically about the concept and term “voice” across different cultures and make surprising connections between the human voice and our environment.