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Interview of Lirok & Kelen Joash

interviewed by Jefferson Paulis, May 5, 2008
translated by Newton Lajuan

Note: The interviewee is noted by initials, the interviewer by [Q].

Survivor of the Bravo Nuclear Blast

[LJ] Well, my respected mother’s name is Lirok Kelen Joash. I have a little question before I tell you my story because I don’t really know what to say because I am not ready. I am not ready, but I am going to try to give you what you want and what you think is right at this time. And my question is: What should I tell about my life, my island, and my family?

Well, my family… My respected father is gone. My father Joash died. His name is the same as my last name. He died on his atoll Bikini. His people they are Bikinian. As you know and understand, that is where they tested the bomb—our island, our atoll. And I don’t know when it will be over, but that is our atoll. For by now, we would have died on our atoll—we would have lived out our last days on our atoll, but we can’t. The bomb has fallen and now our island is poisonous.

Now we are squatters—there is no place for us. These places where we are living do not belong to us -- they belong to the government. But the place where we should have been to tell you this story about life, well, we cannot be there at this time because we are not yet permitted to go and live there, and we have not been since the bomb. So what we are sad about is our atoll because we will not die and be buried on our land. We are squatters [here, in our interim home]. I have a little question about this situation because we want to die on our atoll, on our land, but we can’t.

We have moved and now we cannot rest in our place. I don’t know where we will be buried, but what we would have liked is to be buried on our land. But they have restricted it. The bomb has fallen on it and now the Bikinians are restricted from living there. I don’t know if this is the kind of information that you need from us, but I apologize if I have done wrong.

[Q] It is really fine! Like I said before, we are doing these interviews, so that others can know a little about it. And not just us Marshallese, but the other generations to come as well as people around the world, so that they will have a little understanding of what it is like [to be a nuclear survivor].

[LJ’s wife] It is not good that when you guys come -- we are really…. We don’t know about anything because we are forgetful and we forget, forget about everything. But can we tell you a story? Now, what should we tell you? The figurines in Bikini…

[Q] Good Good. Any stories about your atoll.

[LJ’s wife] Ok.

[Q] You can also tell a story about what life was like when….

[LJ’s wife] About what?

[Q] How you lived your life when you were on your island and what was life like in those times?

[LJ] When I was on our atoll…

[LJ’s wife] What about the figures [people] on that island?

[Q] Okay.

[LJ’s wife] When it became [time] to come there, Bikini, it came from Yap and those places: now it came and stayed in a tree. “Climb up that tree” but his brother’s were underneath. So they recognized him. And he said, “Why don’t you say that I am really handsome?” [she laughed] but the other guy was on top of the tree. So they stayed there and when they looked, they saw…so they told him to go to notify their brother, for he was on the lagoon-side, to get ready, for they were going. And then…he and his younger sister came, Likrilik, and they stayed on the lagoon-side because it was not good.

[LJ] Just say it is slimy.

[LJ’s wife] Her belongings.

[LJ] Her mat clothing.

[LJ’s wife] She came to visit her younger brothers. She went to one of her younger brothers and said, “Did you say our younger sister?” then they began to fight and one of them won. [from 9:15 to 9:29 is unclear] What I am saying might not be really right, I forget. I don’t remember hardly anything. I really forget. Now what were the other things? Because I am just talking, but I don’t know because I forget.

[Q] You can also tell a story about what you remember during the migration….

[LJ’s wife] During the what?

[Q] That time when they were transporting the people from your island to another when they were going to test the bomb. Those times.

Moved from Bikini before the Bomb Blast
[LJ’s wife] Well, when the Americans first came, they came and brought us together and said they were going to test a bomb over there [on one island of the Bikini atoll]. Then we said, “Ok, but we are still really sad about our atoll.” Then they said, “Ok.” We asked, “Will you bring us back?”  They said, “Yes. So now get ready to leave.” They told us to get ready to be moved to Rongelap, and so we went to Rongelap and then they exploded the bomb. We could see the column of the explosion rising.

So we stayed there [Rongelap] so long a time that there was no food left. Well, now when we looked, we saw Dr. Mason, and he brought food. He brought a lot of food, and he told us to get ready to go to Kwajelein.  But when we went fishing and ate fish, our bodies became itchy and we became cold and broke out [in hives?]. But an old lady there…. So they brought us to Kwajelein and we lived there. And they said they were going to build some houses in Kili for us.

The places where we stayed belonged to the government. So we were in Kwajelein. We stayed there and they gave us jobs, and we were working but they started to build Kili.  Then they told us to move to Kili. Well, I forgot the rest…[she laughs] we [me and Joash] saw each other and we became partners [married] in Kwajelein. All the pastors came to Kwajelein so they could go to the meeting in Kosrae. [Because at this time the planes from the whole region landed in Kwajelein]. So they came and married us. So from that moment until now we treated each other really well. Well, what else can I say, for I forget the other things. It is not good because we are in our dotage and we can’t remember anything.

[LJ][To his wife] When you were moved from Bikini, why don’t you tell about how they moved you?  Did they ask [talk with] you? They did not talk with you, they came and said, “Well, we’re here, we came to move you like the Americans want because the Americans need to use our land to test bombs.” And we did not give them our land. They came and asked -- the Americans came and asked to use Bikini as a place to test bombs. Isn’t this a holocaust?

[LJ’s wife] It is not good that when you [finally] come so late, we are in the stage where we forget things.

Expressions of Regret, Betrayal, and Disappointment

[LJ] The island that they used for testing, the place where they tested the bomb, the island is gone. Only ocean is left and it is deep. It will not grow back because the reef is damaged [dead]. What is the cost? The reef that is gone? And why are there no reparations? What are the Americans doing for the people of Bikini? Does it belong to the Americans? The reef that is gone, was it theirs? Why are there no reparations? This is one of our questions.

The place where they tested the bomb, there is nothing there, it is only deep ocean, but this place was plentiful: like giant clams, [really big] clams, and fish. Every day we could find these things in the place they bombed. For example, today, we will go and bring some fish and eat, and tomorrow there would still be fish on the reef. We gave them all this and what do we get in return now? Why isn’t there anything [land] in return? And if they plan to give us something in return, who would they give it to? Some of us have already gone. The older generation is gone. They died. They did not receive anything from the disaster that happened in their atoll, their ocean, and their reef.  These are some of my questions for the Americans.

Why aren’t they helping? That land, is it theirs? Well, this is one of the questions from the people of Bikini.  And I am only saying this [one], but they have more questions. As for me, where is the repayment? Why isn’t there an agreement with the people of Bikini and how long will this continue? Many died, those who lived there, to whom the reef belongs, they are gone. And we are left with just us, the younger generation [and this from an aged man].

Bikini, we did not want a piece of it to be harmed. But it vanished in the bomb that they brought to test. These [islands] were our birthright from God and they are gone. If they say, “Ok, you can go back and live there,” we won’t be able to use the piece that is gone.  There is nothing they have given to the people of Bikini. If they plan to pay us, who would they give it to? The newborns? The pure Bikinians are gone -- there are only one or two, if any at all. Who would you give it to? You Americans? Who would you give it to? In repayment for the place they inherited from God?

I know if it were them and theirs, they wouldn’t sit around, they would find ways to get something in return.  The Americans are really single minded [tenacious].   And do you see where we stay? On a grain of sand, but we would use the repayment, of our place, our reef, our ocean. We could have used that land, and we would not now be squatters because it was our inheritance from God, but they have destroyed it. There is nothing there, but it used to be one of the places where we found food.

[Q] Is there a difference between the way you live now [here] and when you lived in your home?

[LJ] Where? Here?

[Q] Yes, yeah.

[LJ] There is a big difference. There are no giant clams in this atoll, there are not that many fish on this atoll, turtles don’t come out at night in this place. There is a lot of difference when you compare this atoll to my home atoll -- they are worlds apart and there is nothing here for us. We are staying here like squatters.

[Q] Can you share a little about the time when you were young? Can you tell us a little story about…Were you there when they exploded the bomb?

[LJ] Yes

[Q] Can you tell a little about that time?

[LJ] Well, about the bomb. We were at Kwajelein at that time. They evacuated us from Bikini when they were going to test the bomb. They evacuated us to Kwajelein and we stayed there.  We did not see the fireball, but we heard it and it made a really loud noise. The place where they located the bomb is all deep ocean—dark blue.

[Q] What was life like in Kwajelein? Was it harder to survive on Kwajelein compared to living on your own land?

[LJ] When they brought us to Kwajelein, they gave us some food and it did not last. For a short time they gave us food and then they stopped because they claimed that, because we were working, we could buy our own food.  As for moving, the financial aid stopped. They took us and gave us work, and they said, “Now you can buy your own food.” To my way of thinking, it should not have stopped. We shouldn’t have to buy food using our paychecks -- they should have been the ones to feed us. There is a difference. They gave us work and our paychecks fed us, but the truth is, we shouldn’t have to buy our food using our paychecks. We should have food as part of the repayment for destroying the land [that fed us].  Do you [you two] think my thoughts are worthy? [Then he laughed.]

[Q] Can we go back and talk about what life was like before they began the testing of the bomb?

[LJ] Oh, those times when they had not used the land yet.

[Q] How old were you at this time?

[LJ] This islet where they did their testing, if I count all the things in the ocean that God had entrusted to us, and blessed us with—they did not cost anything, and we could always bring food from that islet and eat.  For example, giant clams, when they grow large, we would just bring it and eat it. When a turtle came on shore, we would bring it and eat it. Like you know [we thought] these foods were limitless, but we are not going to talk about fish because they are everywhere.

The islet that they used to test the bomb, the waters surrounding it used to be teeming with life. When you came onshore, you would find coconut crab: isn’t that enough to just eat the tail and then wait for turtle to come so you can eat that? These things are all our inheritance from God. They are plentiful and limitless, and today we don’t [can’t] make use of them.

[Q] Now, after they moved you, did they give you any kind of medicine or examination after the test?

[LJ] Aspirin and that type of medicine. Painkillers. As for the medicine to treat the radiation, I forgot.

[Q] Do you two have any words of advice for the youth? Do you have any words you would like to say?

[LJ] [To his wife] Is there anything you want to add?

[LJ’s wife] [To CA] I did not hear what you were saying.

[Q] I said, “Do you have any words of the advice for the younger generation in our nation?”

[LJ’s wife] Eh?

[Q] Words of advice to

[LJ] Any words of wisdom?

[Q] Any words of wisdom or the like? If you have any that you want to share.

[LJ] I am going to ask a small question. From the time I was removed from my home atoll until now, I have not seen even a tiny bit of help to ease my life as a squatter. As for me, I used to have a house, and they should not, from my point of view, have stopped helping those of us who are not living on our own lands. Look at this land we are living on, we cannot use what we want to use like seafood. Well, what will become of us because there is a big difference [between living here and living on our own land] a big difference.