The Pikinni Ghost: Nuclear Hauntings and Spectral Decolonization in the Pacific
In his 1962 account of US nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands Neil O. Hines described irradiation as a practice of haunting, figuring radiation as “the faint footprints of the Bikini ghost” (72). This essay takes up the different conceptions of the ‘Bikini ghost’ constructed by the US nuclear complex and by Indigenous ri-M̧ajeļ to theorize nuclear decolonization in the Pacific as a mode of living with ghosts. The first part of the essay analyzes the 1957 return of the surviving members of the Ron̄ļap community to Ron̄ļap. In this repatriation the US was uncharacteristically concerned that the Native population would return to their ancestral lifeways; I read this concern as an attempt to exorcize the ‘ghost’ of radiation culturally in ways that could not be achieved physically, keeping alive the idea that radiation was non-apocalyptic at a key moment in Cold War nuclear debates. The second part of the essay analyzes Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s 2018 video poem Anointed as a decolonial approach to nuclear ghosts. Built around the image of the cracking Runit Dome, Anointed stages the return of the nuclear past: the nuclear materials that are literally seeping into the present through the cracks in the containment dome, and the histories of mundanely apocalyptic colonial violence that these materials both figure and perpetuate. While Western models of (nuclear) haunting insist that the ghost must be exorcized or contained, however, Jetñil-Kijiner reclaims the haunted oceanscape as a site of relation within Marshallese epistemologies to produce a resurgent decolonial reality that includes nuclear ghosts in its practices of care.