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iN Focus: cop21

whY doN’t


people leave their



Land is more than a pile of rocks, says Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner; it has eyes to see people’s greed and punish them.

by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

A few weeks ago I sat down with a CNN reporter who was in the stone body into the depths of the ocean, in an efort to stamp
Marshall Islands writng an artcle on climate refugees. One of the out “pagan” practces / eliminate the competton. Lidepdepju,
things we discussed was the importance of land to the Marshallese however, can stll be found on her place in Aur.
Pile of rocks
He explained that many Marshallese have told him that the loss I met Lidepdepju years ago, when I frst moved back to the Marshall
of our island to the rising seas from climate change would be Islands afer 16 years of living away. While visitng Aur, one of the
devastatng. But he wanted to know – why? Why would losing our islands my family comes from, my mother told me to go out and
land be so devastatng? see Lidepdepju. I didn’t know much about her except that she was
one of the important legends for people from Aur.
I honestly didn’t know how to respond to this. It seemed prety
obvious to me. It’s our land – it’s our home. But he clarifed further Once I got there all I saw was a pile of rocks, maybe up to my knees,
that his audience – mainly Americans – might not understand the out on the reef. Needless to say – I was unimpressed. There was no
value of land to our identty and culture. Some might say that we massive stone alter, no crashing waves, no thunder and lightning,
could just pick up and move somewhere else if we lost it. Why no fowers or spears – nothing to ft into my Disney-addled cartoon
would that be so hard? Could I explain it? imaginaton. It really was just a pile of rocks. I didn’t understand the
signifcance. I lef, feeling a bit underwhelmed.
I thought about his queston. Afer a while, the story of
Liwātuonmour and Lidepdepju came to mind. When I returned to the Marshalls to do my research a few summers
later, her story came up once again. And then I became obsessed. I
I came across this story while doing research for my thesis two wanted to know why this story was so important – why this pile of
summers ago. Liwātuonmour and Lidepdepju were sisters who rocks?
came to the Marshall Islands from Ep, thousands of years ago. They
were pillars of basalt stone who birthed the clans and the Irooj I interviewed four elders during the summer that I was doing
(chiefy) line. research for my Master’s thesis. I asked them all about Lidepdepju.
Why? Why was she so important to us, to our stories?
Some say they had the power to bring Irooj back to life. Others say
their stone bodies were used to sharpen knives and spears before Permanence
batles. What can be agreed upon is both of the stone sisters were The response that stayed with me the most was from Alfred
highly respected, and that one of the stone sisters, Liwātuonmour, Capelle, head commissioner for Customary Language and Law
went to live on Namo atoll while the other, Lidepdepju, can be Commission (CLLC), and a noted Marshallese historian, linguist, and
found on Aur Atoll. cultural expert.
During the tme when missionaries frst came to the Marshalls, According to Capelle, the value in the story of the stone sisters is
a Protestant missionary named Dr. Rife threw Liwātuonmour’s one of permanence. Our ancestors saw those same stones, and

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