Cultural Projects

Because greater cultural understanding is essential to effective communication and builds trust and respect across cultures, MEI hosts projects that focus on Marshallese culture and history. MEI is working with the Marshallese community to design and implement the following projects and events:

 

Marshallese Oral History Project & Music Archive

MOHP interview with Bokkie in Springdale, Arkansas.

The Marshallese Oral History Project is an ambitious, multi-year project to record and archive individual stories of Marshallese traditional and contemporary society.  Dr. Jessica Schwartz (Humanities Scholar), Dr. April Brown (Project Director), Albious Latior (primary interviewer), and Benetick Kabua Maddison (primary transcriber/translator) lead the MOHP team.

Some topics recorded to date include: traditional navigation, the role of women in Marshallese society, traditional healing practices, nuclear testing and its impact, the creation of the RMI Constitution, clans, and life both in the Islands and in Arkansas from the Marshallese perspective. Ultimately, the interviews will be uploaded to a searchable database for viewing, along with transcriptions, translations (Marshallese and English), and supplemental media.

MOHP is funded in part through a grant by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  To contribute, please visit our Crowdwise fundraising site. To learn more, please visit our MOHP page.   Reels photo

Similarly, the Marshallese Music Archive will record and transcribe Marshallese music to be placed in a digital archive, which will be searchable based on lyrics (English and Marshallese), genre, and musically notated components. The interactive archive will feature the people and places represented in song.

 

Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz, left, interviews Marshallese musicians FOB and Flavah C, from left, Howie, Yasta, and Clanny, in Springdale, Arkansas.

Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz, left, interviews Marshallese musicians FOB and Flavah C, from left, Howie, Yasta, and Clanny, in Springdale, Arkansas.

Marshallese Cultural Workshops: Voice & Music

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, is leading a series of workshops that share Marshallese stories and songs about the consequences of nuclear testing. These workshops encourage students to think critically about the concept and term “voice” across different cultures and make surprising connections between the human voice and our environment.

 

Future Projects:

Navigating the OzarksCommunity Event

“Navigating the Ozarks” draws on the region’s rich history of exploration and its waterways as natural resources. A Marshallese expert will carve a traditional outrigger canoe on the grounds of Shiloh Museum in Springdale, Ark.  School tours will be arranged, and MEI will provide educational programming including: comparison and similarities between traditional Marshallese navigational practices and American explorers and their use of waterways as modes for exploration; building materials and designs; traditional and modern day use. Marshallese tales of navigating the vast Pacific will enthrall adults and children alike.

Marshallese Museum Exhibit

Partnering with local and national museums in the United States and the RMI, MEI will assist in the creation of an exhibit featuring Marshallese history, culture, music, and art. Such an exhibit will bring local and international attention and awareness of the Marshallese population in areas, like northwest Arkansas, where there are concentrated Marshallese communities.


To find out more about these projects, please contact MEI. To contribute to these projects, please visit our contributions page.

 

Photo courtesy of Mr. Larry Muller