Lijon Eknilang, 63, was born on Rongelap Atoll and lived there during the nuclear tests. Today, she resides on the island of Ebeye.
Do you still remember when the bomb was detonated near your island, Rongelap?
I was eight years old then and it was my birthday, the 1st of March. A huge ray of light covered the whole sky. Shortly afterwards we heard a deafening noise and the ground began to waver. From the loud noise our ears hurt. We were very scared because we did not know what it all meant. The elders said that a new world war had begun. I remember that we were crying. The radioactive fallout descended on Rongelap. Two days later, the entire island was evacuated and you were allowed to return after three years.
What was this like for you?
On our return in 1957 a lot had changed. Some of our food crops were completely gone. Others had no more fruit. What we ate, was causing blisters on our lips and mouth and we were suffering from severe stomach pains and nausea. We reported to the doctors about these problems. They just told us we were not cooking our food properly. We knew that could not be true, because our food had been prepared for centuries in this way.
“We had heard from the missionaries of “snow”, but this was the first time that we saw white particles falling from the sky …”
How are the people doing today?
Many people suffer from thyroid tumors, stillbirths, eye diseases, liver and stomach cancer and leukemia. Even people who were not living on Rongelap in 1954, but arrived after 1957, began to suffer from the same diseases as we were. Foreign doctors called these people the “control group” and they told us that the cases of illness among them would prove that our illnesses were not caused by the nuclear fall-out. We did not believe them and later learned that the islands from which this so-called “control group” came from, had also been contaminated during the nuclear tests.
And how are you personally?
For me, one of the worst outcomes was, that I could not have anymore children. I had seven miscarriages. During one miscarriage, after four months, I gave birth to a fetus with severe abnormalities, he had only one eye. Sometimes I had the feeling that I was carrying a child in me. Then I was very happy, because I was looking forward to the child, but then I got scared, which kind of a baby would it be? Does this happen to many women in your nation? Many women have cancers of the female organs and malformed foetuses . In our culture, reproduction difficulties are a sign that women were unfaithful to their husbands. So many of my friends keep silent about the strange births that they have experienced.
Then you all left Rongelap again, because life on the island was too dangerous. How was it for your people to leave their home behind?
It was very difficult for us, especially for old people. Three of them disappeared with grief into their huts and never came out again, until they died. It is our homeland. Where we belong to. It is our memory of our dead, the souls of our ancestors live there. Our land is everything to us, and it has been destroyed by the U.S. government. But we had to think about the future for our children. We would not want them to get all the diseases we are suffering from now.