Friday, November 8th, 2019
Marshallese club forms
First class members learn the alphabet
By Leslie Gartrell
Carmichael Capelle helps Marshallese Culture Club participants to count in Marsh. . .
CELINA - Inside the Mercer County District Library community room, a group of about 25 people sat patiently at tables, poring over notes and muttering in a language they've never spoken before.
At the front of the room stood Carmichael Capelle, a towering Marshallese man who gently guided participants as they learned the Marshallese alphabet.
Capelle, 45, leads the Marshallese Culture Club, which met for the first time Wednesday afternoon. While it may be called a club, Capelle leads it more like a class.
The group featured people from the ages of 14 to 82, each scribbling down notes as Capelle taught them letters and the numbers one through 10. A woman asked him to repeat each phrase four times so she could take in the pronunciation.
Capelle said participants will learn the language, customs, traditions and heritage of the Marshallese. He hopes the elders will be able to tell stories and have a show-and-tell session with club members.
After going through some basic phrases (What is your name? What time is it? How much does it cost?), Capelle introduced club members to a vital piece of the island's history.
He played a film entitled "Radio Bikini," a 1988 American documentary that chronicles nuclear tests performed on the islands.
Between 1946 and 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands, a chain of islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean that had a population of 52,000 at the time. The Enewetak and Bikini atolls were used for the nuclear tests, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.
In 1946, Navy Commodore Ben Wyatt met with the 167 people living on Bikini Atoll and asked them to relocate so the Navy could use their atoll "for the good of mankind," explaining that they were a chosen people and perfecting atomic weapons could prevent future wars.
The United States conducted its largest nuclear detonation ever, Castle Bravo, at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. According to the history series "American Experience," scientists had grossly underestimated the size of the explosion. What they thought would yield the equivalent of 5 million tons of TNT actually yielded 15 megatons - making it more than 1,000 times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
A Columbia University study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science said Castle Bravo, coupled with an unexpected easterly wind, resulted in substantial radioactive fallout on Rongelap and Utirik atolls, where no evacuation had been implemented.
The study, published July 16, 2016, found the Bikini Atoll, Naen and two islands in the Enewetak Atoll, Runit and Enjebti, had radioactive plutonium levels higher than those found in Fukushima and Chernobyl.
"Our parents were front row" to nuclear testing, Capelle said. Hours after the detonation, Capelle's home island of Likiep, 280 miles away, felt the tremors. Children played in the ashes of the fallout, sticking out their tongues to try to taste the "snow."
Capelle said cancer is one of the leading causes of death for the generation before his, and birth complications were a fear for many islanders who had been subject to the radiation.
Now, more than 60 years after the tests, Capelle is teaching the nation's history not only to Americans but also to the Marshallese community in Mercer County.
Marshallese children may not know their history or know how to speak the language, Capelle said, or perhaps some of the parents have lived in Mercer County for years but may not have a strong grip on English yet. The culture club aims to meld the groups.
Capelle said his ultimate goal would be to get a Marshallese class incorporated into some of the school systems.
"There are thousands of Marshallese kids and people (in the U.S.)," Capelle said. "Why not have a Marshallese class?"
Capelle said he and the elders want to help the communities join together. By the end of the meeting, about 25 people attended, with some Marshallese students sneaking in during the documentary.
"My hope is to make the community better," Capelle said.
The culture club meets every Wednesday at the Mercer County District Library in Celina from 4-6 p.m. Registration is preferred but not required at register.mercerlibrary.org.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands consists of 29 coral atolls and five islands in the Pacific, mid-way between Hawaii and Australia. During World War II Marshallese served alongside U.S. soldiers as scouts. From 1946 to 1958, Bikini and Enewetak atolls served as the site where the U.S. conducted 67 atomic and thermonuclear bomb tests.
• Language: Marshallese, English
• Population: 60,000
• Capital: Majuro, Majuro Atoll
• Currency: U.S. dollar
• Industries: Copra (dried coconut meat) production and processing, coconut oil, fishing, tourism and craft items from shell, wood and pearls
SOURCE: WASHINGTON D.C. EMBASSY