Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Zohl de Ishtar (1999) ''War, Violence, Terror, Genocide' - The Pacific Experience'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 2, <>

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Received: 14/06/99      Accepted: 20/07/99      Published: 29/07/99

War, Violence, Terror, Genocide' - the Pacific Experience.

"We are already dying from nuclear war while you are thinking how to prevent it."
Chailang Palacios, Northern Marianas.
(de Ishtar, 1994:20)
'War, Violence, Terror, Genocide'. I am asked for a "Rapid Response".

For decades I have listened to women speaking from their hearts. Women with brown skins, women with black skins, women the colour of the Earth.

I have sat in "Paradise" under swaying palm trees, near turquoise lagoons, golden sand between my toes, and cried with the women of the Marshall Islands. I have swam in the warm tropical ocean with the women of Te Ao Maohi - that place that the coloniser calls "French Polynesia" - and watched the women play with their children. Under the guidance of Senior Law women, I have dug deep, deep holes in the ancient red soil of the Australian Aboriginal lands, looking for water. And while I have done this I have been filled with a burning rage.

Paradise is on fire. Paradise is the Nuclear Holocaust.

Paradise is War. Violence. Terror. Genocide.

The women of the Marshall Islands give birth to babies that have no human shape. Babies that look like jelly-fish. The babies of Te Ao Maohi are born deformed or die far too young from cancers. There are places in Australia where women's stories carry the same pain.

Darlene Keju-Johnson (Marshall Islands): "Now we have this problem we call 'jelly-fish babies'. These babies are born like jelly-fish. They have no eyes. They have no heads. They have no arms. They have no legs. They do not shape like human beings at all. But they are born on the labour table. The most colourful, ugly things you have ever seen. Some of them have hairs on them. And they breathe. When they die they are buried right away. A lot of times they don't allow the mother to see this kind of baby because she will go crazy. It is too inhumane (de Ishtar 1998:17)."
Roti Tehaevra (Te Ao Maohi): "We have deformed babies here. I know some women who gave birth to children with no hands, no ears, the feet are not fully made. It is a crime against humanity! (de Ishtar, 1997:117)"


The United States, France and England (respectively) have detonated their nuclear weapons upon the lives and lands of Indigenous Pacific and Australian peoples.

This is the ultimate of genocide!

The war that we all fear as a threat to the future, began in the Pacific over 54 years ago when (in 1945) the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then - quickly - Bikini and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini, Enewetak, Moruroa, Fangataufa, Maralinga, Monte Bello, Emu Fields, Kalama, Kirisimasi ... the list goes on. All of these places should be etched in our hearts as the places of the ultimate genocide. We are breathing them in every day. The six islands of Bikini Atoll that the US blasted off the face of the Earth are circling above us in the atmosphere. Radiation lasts for 250,000 years.

And what of tiny Rongelap? In 1954 it was covered in two inches of radioactive fallout from the so-called "Bravo" detonation at Bikini. The children, thinking the white powder falling from the sky was snow, played in it.

Lijon Eknilang: "I was eight years old at the time of the Bravo test on Bikini. It was my birthday, March 1 st. I woke with a bright light in my eyes. I ran outside to see what was happening. I thought someone was burning the house. There was a bright light that consumed the sky. ... Soon after we heard a big noise, just like a big thunder, and the earth started to move - the ground started to sway and sink. ... A little later in the morning we saw a big cloud move to our islands. It covered the sky. Then it began to snow in Rongelap. ... For many hours poison from the bomb kept falling on our islands. We kids were playing in the powder, having fun, but later everyone was sick ... We started to feel itchy in our eyes ... Towards evening our skin began to burn ... The next day the problems got worse. Big burns began to spread over our legs, arms and feet and they hurt very much. Many of us lost our hair. Of course we did not know that the snow was radioactive. ... The serious internal and external exposure we received caused long-term health problems that affected my parents' generation, my generation, and the generation of my children (de Ishtar, 1998:21 -22)."

Those children are adults now and many of the women are too afraid to give birth, or suffer from miscarriages and still-births, or give birth to "jelly-fish" babies.

And the children who do survive have learning difficulties, or age prematurely, or (grown into adults) give birth to deformed babies in their turn.

This is the ultimate of genocide. The Rongelap people are dying out.

Darlene Keju-Johnson: "The Rongelap people know that they are contaminated. They know that they will be dying out soon. They are dying now - slowly (WWNFIP, 1987:10)."

How many people know about small Runit Island - grave site to the nuclear age? Isolated in the Marshall Islands, a huge concrete dome covers an old nuclear bomb crater full - now - of radioactive topsoil.

Darlene Keju-Johnson: "In Enewetak Atoll there is one little island called Runit. It is off-limits forever. After the testing the US tried to clean up the radiation on Enewetak. It collected all the nuclear debris from the southern islands (the northern islands were too contaminated) and dumped it into a bomb crater on Runit. Then they covered it up with concrete. It is a huge dome. Now the scientists are saying that it is already leaking. But they say that it doesn't matter because the lagoon that the dome is leaking into is already radioactive. There are people living only three or four miles from there. Runit Island will not be safe from contamination for 250,000 years (de Ishtar, 1994:21)."

Or what of Kwajalein, the most important first-strike and Strategic Defence Initiative (call it "Star Wars") facility in the world? Again, in the Marshall Islands. Now essential to the United States for its militarisation space. Most nuclear missiles which the United States has developed have been tested by shooting them from California to splash down in Kwajalein lagoon, and many of those weapons carried depleted uranium in their nose-cones so that they could be tracked by radar. The Marshallese have little choice but to fish in that same lagoon. It is their hereditary "supermarket". Imported canned fish and meat are now their major source of food.

These stories and others like them can be heard throughout the Pacific. The "peaceful" ocean is one of the most nuclearised and militarised regions in the world.

It is not by some mistake that the Pacific has already experienced the nuclear holocaust we all fear. The onslaught has been intentional.

Call it "racism". Call it "colonisation". Call it "crimes against humanity". Call it by its name!

Chailang Palacios: "I ask, why are they doing this to us? I think it is because we are all Black people. I believe that racism is at the base of the whole nuclear issue. You wouldn't be testing in the Pacific if it was populated by Whites (de Ishtar, 1994: 191)."

The European and American bombs have been tested as far away from their homes as possible - but in the homes of other peoples. It seems that Pacific peoples are expendable, sacrificed to the nuclear age.

But do not despair. The Pacific story is also a story of survival, a story of resistance!

Do you know about the Bougainvilleans? A matrilineal nation just north of Australia with a population of just 160,000 against which Papua New Guinea and Australia fought an undeclared nine year war (1989-98)? And imposed a nine year blockade which killed women and children through lack of medical supplies and other necessities of life. Twenty to fifty thousand people died, many of them women and children. Many women who lived through the war years were violated and raped by the PNG Defence Forces. But while there is pain and suffering in this story there is also much strength. The people survived because they went back to their forests and turned to the traditional ways of living, of finding food and bush medicines. The women set up collectives and began to plant gardens and grow rice, even while on the run, hiding every day from the military. They gave birth in the jungle, often by themselves.

Jossey Sirivi: "I'm the wife of the 'most wanted man' in Bougainville, being married to the BRA [Bougainville Revolutionary Army] General. ... I became a mother on the run as the PNG Defence Force hunted us down. ... I was seven months pregnant and the difficulties I faced made life and the journey very hard. ... Being pregnant, I was put through real suffering. Traversing through rugged mountains and wild terrain, I finally gave birth to a daughter ... I was in labour for two full days without any medical assistance whatsoever. ... I was very ill because I had retained some afterbirth and my mother, administering bush herbal potions to expel the retained placenta, saved my life. I felt so ill I could not feed my baby properly for a week. I couldn't sleep for the pain from blood clots I retained. A week later I resumed my journey on foot not knowing how my baby would survive (de Ishtar, 1998:52-54)."

While many women died in child-birth, and many babies did not survive, other women managed to bring forth a new generation who would know what their mothers and fathers had fought for - freedom. PNG and Australia fought with all their military might against a gentle people, and lost. Bougainvilleans were fighting for their independence - for an end to over 100 years of subjugation to four different colonial masters. And when the right time came the Bougainvilleans instigated a Peace Process, unique in the world in that the foreign troops that came into to "monitor the people's peace" carried guitars instead of guns - at the insistence of the Bougainvilleans.

This story is repeated throughout the Pacific. Wherever the coloniser has set foot Indigenous peoples have resisted - peacefully when they could, with arms when necessary.

Take the story of Belau - otherwise known as "Palau", although that is the colonisers' tongue. Another matrilineal nation, in 1979 it created the world's first nuclear free constitution. This small nation of 15,000 people stood up against Goliath and fought the United States through the courts. Eleven times the United States forced them to vote to uphold their constitution - a strange form of democracy where you keep voting until you get the "right" answer - and time after time they won.

Isabella Sumang: "We voted against the Compact ten times, then the last time, the eleventh time, it passed. We voted, and voted, and voted, and voted against the Compact. We say 'no' ten times and they don't take 'no' for an answer, they you say 'yes' one time and they take that. In American democracy you vote and vote until you get the right answer. That is not democracy. At least the people should have to vote 'yes' ten times (de Ishtar, 1998:70)."

The United States engineered a reign of terror against this peaceful nation - presidents were assassinated or died in strange circumstances, women elders' homes were firebombed, a male elder was murdered - and yet still it did not win. Then (in the final court case) it bought off the women's lawyer and the nation of Belau was given to the United States by its own "justice" system. Today the United States has full military rights to Belau and a veto over its foreign affairs.

Isabella Sumang: "One 'yes' hooked us into the US military, at least for the next 50 years, and possibly forever. The Compact gives the US the authority to install military bases, to bring in nuclear capable vessels and aircraft. They can take any land with 60 days notice and it must be given to them. It can alter the sites and when it's finished it has no obligation to restore the land to its original state. ... Now the US says, 'This land that you cultivate for your food, whenever I want to I can take that away from you - any time I want, any size I want, for any purpose I want - for military, for nuclear.' ... Why is it that people who live many, many miles away from my island can take my land? (de Ishtar, 1998:70-74)"

And yet we are told that Belau is "independent"?

No. This story does not have a good ending - and we must keep a watchful eye on the United States remaining ever ready to protect Belau should the United States decide to build military bases there. But the strength of the Belauan resistance is in the fifteen years that this small nation stood firm against the world's biggest superpower. It is significant that the world's first nuclear free constitution was created in the taro fields - in the "chattering fields" - where the women work and talk together as they grow the food of their nation, as they have always done.

Cita Morei: "When the foreigners came they saw the men in the abai, meeting house, they decided that the men were in charge. The women were left alone. They were left alone in the taro patches ... The taro patch is a place to tell women what is happening. When you tell them they will tell others. Taro-patch politics is very influential. It is a sort of sacred place in a way. You are thinking about the land. You are thinking, 'This is what I value.' You are not thinking of politics or money. You are thinking about what it is to be Belauan. And that is played out in the taro patch. You get to thinking: what are our priorities, what are our needs, what are our weaknesses? If we want to keep coming to the taro patches we have to look after Belau. We've got to keep on going. Taro-patch politics. Men, they think about politics, they think about money. But women have been strong, because of the taro (de Ishtar, 1994:57)."

These stories are only part of a greater tapestry where genocide and war are met with resistance, cultural pride and survival. For over 400 years Indigenous Pacific and Australian peoples have stood strong against their colonisers.

Women have been at the forefront of these campaigns. They have consistently responded to their obligations to protect their children, their communities and their ancestral lands - and they have done this through any means available to them.

In 1767, when the English first arrived in Te Ao Maohi (aka French Polynesia) it was Queen Purea who, leading 4000 warriors on 500 huge war canoes, repelled the invaders. And when, in 1842, the French marched into Papeete to overthrow the Tahitian monarchy it was Queen Pomare IV who led her people in armed resistance, refusing to accept French domination. Only after her death did they succeed in stealing the nation.

Likewise in Ka Pae'aina (also known as Hawai'i), it was a woman - Queen Lilio'ukalani - who, on January 17, 1893, stood fast against the United States' sugar merchants when, assisted by two US Navy warships and 162 armed troops, they overthrew her monarchy. Not wanting to spill her peoples' blood she stopped her Kanaka Maoli people from rebelling and relied upon the justice of US President Cleveland. Cleveland declared the invasion a "act of war against a peaceful nation" and called for the restoration of the monarchy but lost office before this could be achieved. On November 23, 1993, President Clinton conceded that the US had violated the inherent sovereign rights of the Kanaka Maoli Nation and apologized. Ka Pae'aina is still campaigning for the recognition of its inalienable sovereign rights.

Kalama'okaina Niheu: "We did not want to have our Queen overthrown. We did not want to have the United States land on our shores. We did not want our lands stolen from us. ... we resisted and refused ... We never gave our consent. We have never given up our sovereignty. The Kanaka Maoli people have repeatedly and constantly rejected the colonisation of our peoples and lands. Our people have repeatedly said, 'No. We do not want you here. Go home!' They said it in a million different ways. They said it in song, they said it in actions, they said it in armed rebellions and they said it in plain language - 'Go home!' (de Ishtar, 1998:7)"

In today's Pacific colonisation and militarisation co-exist. East Timor, West Papua (Irian Jaya), Aceh are colonised by Indonesia, and war and mass murder is a daily occurrence. Guam and Ka Pae'aina are essentially large US military bases - O'ahu (Ka Pae'aina) island has 110 military facilities including one that controls the US military for over half of the earth's surface. Belau, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas and the Federated States of Micronesia are economically, and therefore politically, obligated to submit to US military intentions. France continues to colonise Kanaky (New Caledonia), Wallis and Futuna and Te Ao Maohi. And the settler legacies of English colonisation in Australia and Aotearoa (aka New Zealand) also take their mark. And these are just some examples!

The Indigenous response to the horrendous violence perpetrated against them has been to connect across the world's largest ocean to author a movement determined to eradicate colonisation and restore justice.

Hilda Halkyard-Harawira from Aotearoa (/New Zealand): "Our movement encompasses many issues. We are united by the threats to the well-being of the Pacific. For me the NFIP [Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific] movement is a liberation movement, a survival movement. It is a peoples' struggle, a grassroots movement. It encompasses all social, political, cultural, and economic considerations for Pacific peoples. It is each country working on its own issues in their regions and networking with each other. That is the NFIP movement (de Ishtar, 1994:231)."

War, violence, terror and genocide do not have a place in this vision of a new world. Nor should they. The price is too high - and it has already been paid.

Living in the Pacific as I do when someone asks me to reflect on War, Violence, Terror and Genocide - I see the full 400 year old history of colonisation sweep before me. I see the militarisation and the nuclearisation of our region. I see the pain, the agony of the violence. But I also see spirit and passion and compassion and determination and resistance - and I know that one day soon the Pacific will be the peaceful/pacific ocean again.

The scars will remain as Theresa Minitong, from Bougainville says: "What has been done to my people will be remembered for a long time. Our children and their children will remember it. It will be a scar on the memory of the people (de Ishtar, 1994:211)."

But what will also be remembered will be the strength that comes with knowing that despite the greatest violence perpetrated against humanity Indigenous Pacific peoples have survived.

They are offering their wisdom to the world and inviting us all to work with them. As Darlene Keju-Johnson, from the Marshall Islands, said: "We are only a few thousand people out there on tiny islands, but we are doing our part to stop this nuclear madness. And although we are few we have done it! Which means that you can do it too! But we need your support. We must come together to save this world for our children and for the future generations to come (de Ishtar, 1998:20)."

These stories are among hundreds that have been given to me over a period of 18 years while I have worked with Indigenous Australian and Pacific women. Some were told to me as spontaneous conversations when I visited these women in their homelands, some were organised interviews, others were recorded in the process of working together or were speeches during international speaking tours or conference attendances which I organised and/or hosted. These women shared their stories with me because of the environment of strong rapport which my long history of commitment to their struggles encouraged. They gave me their stories in the understanding and expectation that I would retell them for their benefit, rather than for my own. Trust developed in varying stages. Often it was easy, sometimes it was guarded, but it was always encouraged by the process of working together or from reputation carried in the experiences of others.

The lack of trust is not surprising. Colonisation has left deep scars, and the violation and abuse continues today. Colonisation is not yet eradicated. In this environment, it is important that non-indigenous women learn how to work beside and listen to Indigenous women - and then act on what we have learnt. We must take care not to set ourselves up as "other", thereby imposing false divisions, but instead, recognising our own cultural trappings and stepping beyond our fear of rejection, strive to create a companionship based on mutually respected differences and similarities. Indigenous women have time and time again reached beyond the pain inflicted upon them by our societies to welcome our involvement in a shared campaign to eradicate war, violence, terror and genocide. We honour them and ourselves when we take up that challenge.

For too long the Pacific has been relegated to the edges of our mind by a dominant society that divides the world up into continents and forgets that 70% of our planet is water. Scattered like stepping stones across the world's largest ocean lay the homes of millions of Indigenous peoples. While the world's media focuses predominantly on the North Atlantic nations, their military powers have used this isolation to their advantage, imposing military bases, nuclear weapons testing facilities, even weapons disposal sites. Huge Trident submarines prowl the sea floors and pre-positioned ships wait along Asia's rim to be called into battle in the Middle East. Undeclared wars are fought in East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville and, because the world does not see, the perpetrators get away with it.

How does all this stop? By breaking the silence.

Lorenza Pedro of Belau: "First know that we exist: we are not on your maps of the world. Then tell other people (de Ishtar, 1994: 251)."

And by listening, by feeling, by reaching out. By becoming involved. By handing over resources.


DE ISHTAR, Zohl (1994) Daughters of the Pacific. Spinifex Press. Melbourne.

DE ISHTAR , Zohl (1997) "A Broken Rainbow. Pacific Women and Nuclear Testing" in Ronit Lentin, Gender and Catastrophe. Zed Books, London.

DE ISHTAR, Zohl (1998) Pacific Women Speak Out: for Independence and Denuclearisation. Raven Press. Christchurch.

WWNFIP (1987) (Women Working for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific) Pacific Women Speak: 'Why Haven't You Known?'. Green Line. Oxford.

Further Reading:

Danielsson, Bengt and Marie-Therese Danielsson (1977, 1986) Poisoned Reign. French Nuclear Colonialism in the Pacific. Penguin Books, Melbourne.

de Vries, Pieter and Han Seur (1997) Moruroa and Us. Polynesians' experiences during Thirty Years of Nuclear Testing in the French Pacific. Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Paix et les Conflits, Lyons.

Dibblin, Jane (1988) Day of Two Suns. US Nuclear Testing and the Pacific Islanders. Virago London.

Maclellan, Nic and Jean Chesneaux (1998) After Moruroa. France in the South Pacific. Ocean Press, Melbourne.

Robie, David (1989) Blood on Their Banner. Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific. Pluto Press, Sydney.

Robie, David (1992) Tu Galala. Bridget Williams Books, Wellington.

Tubanavau-Salabula, Losena, Josua M. Namoce and Nic Maclellan (1999) KIRISIMASI: Fijian troops at Britain's Christmas Island nuclear tests. KIRISIMASI: Na Sotia kei na Lewe ni Mataivalu e Wai ni Viti e na vakatovotovo iyaragi nei Peritania mai Kirisimasi.

Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, Fiji. Obtainable through: Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, 83 Amy Street, Toorak, Private Mail Bag, Suva, Fiji. Email: ISBN 982-9018-01-6. In English and Fijian.


You can keep in touch with Pacific issues by subscribing to: Pacific News Bulletin, Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, Email:

Pacific Connections's website "Pacific Actions" at <>

Pacific Connections assists organisations to link with Indigenous Pacific and Australian peoples. Invitations to conferences welcomed. PO Box 172, Annandale, NSW 2038, Australia. Website: Pacific Actions - <>

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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999