“Between Death and Life”: Mobility, War, and Marshallese Women’s Songs of Survival


In this article, Schwartz listens to how Marshallese women from the Marshall islands, given their customary attributes and gender roles as musicians during wartime, have composed the musical performances that animate the Marshallese political project of indigeneity. The political project, in large part, seeks redress for imperial damages. The author details how a focus on the ways in which Marshallese women’s traditional musical and vocal authority functioned to enliven battle and achieve conflict resolution elucidates a foundational mobility as a means of, and collective pursuit toward, stability, the definition of which exceeds conceptualizations of stability that are frequently associated with the prototypical Marshallese woman or mother. This mobility, or flexibility, is customarily woven into Marshallese understandings of womanhood. And indigenous vocal-musical practices are central to freedom of movement, signaling dangers and affording the maintenance of cultural heritage in interatoll and, now, international travel. Vocal -musical practices are elemental in the attributes articulated to all Marshallese women, and as relocation from their customary lands has become more viable and necessary, Marshallese women emphasize these attributes they believe inextricable from their indigenous womanhood through communicative acts to preserve and reimagine indigenous culture as well as dialogue with, within, and between systems of hegemonic power.

Research Type(s)
Journal Article
Submitted by Almah Tararia
June 6, 2022
Published in

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