Introduction from guest editor Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Katherine Higgins from the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Baninnur: A Basket of Food
Baninnur: A Basket Of Food

When I first sat down to brainstorm ideas for the theme of this special issue of blackmail press, I was nibbling on a small breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried roast beef hash, and two slices of gluten-free bread slathered with fresh homemade lilikoi jam.

I chose scrambled eggs since I was, at the time, a very pregnant mama in my third trimester who needed as much protein as possible. The fried roast beef hash that originated from the can is still a very guilty pleasure that brings back mouthwatering memories from Majuro, Marshall Islands (site of my birth, my culture, and my home). The gluten-free bread reflects a newer sense of foodie awareness—slightly bourgeois when compared to my Marshallese upbringing of “you eat what I cook for you.”

While the perfectly sweet, slightly tart lilikoi jam, besides being deliciously amazing, is also a reflection of my current home: Hawai‘i. Maybe it’s just the pregnancy talking, but I would seriously swim in this lilikoi jam if I had the chance. That’s how good it is.

Just from a quick analysis of what I’ve had for breakfast, you, the reader, have learned about my past, my culture, my home, my current state of being, and my slightly obsessive nature (Mmm . . . lilikoi jam).

Food has that power. Food tells us so much not just about ourselves but also about the culture we’re living in. Food is love, family, friends. It’s politics, identity, culture, and colonization. At the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, food is one of the many topics we explore when considering our cultures and history. What did our ancestors eat on those first navigational voyages, as they sailed under stars and through the sea? What do we eat as a colonized, displaced people today? What of radiation in our islands—how does that affect the food we eat? “An apple a day / keeps the doctor away / but a coconut a day / will kill you,” sings academic and poet Teresia Teaiwa, referencing the radiated coconuts from Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, former site of nuclear testing by the United States. And today, some of the more current legal battles have been with GMO-related foods, as well as with the epidemic of diabetes that swept through many Pacific communities. Food can nourish us, but it can ultimately be lethal as well.

We encouraged our writers to submit anything and everything related to food, eating, digestion, feasting. In the Marshall Islands, food is generally given in a baninnur—a basket woven of coconut fronds. For this issue, we asked our writers to present their own baninnur of poetry and writing—a basket of nourishment and sustenance.
We are grateful for the submissions, which have come from all over the world—from Tonga and Aotearoa/New Zealand to New York and Los Angeles. These are voices that vary in taste, substance, and experience. Yet each voice is as wonderful and fulfilling as the next.

I am grateful to Katherine Higgins for her tireless dedication and guidance, Candice Steiner for lending us her valuable copyediting skills and time, and especially Doug Poole for giving us this wonderful opportunity to be guest editors and to contribute to his beautiful collection of writing and art.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
Guest Editor
Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

More than a year ago in a studio in West Auckland, Doug Poole and I began scheming for ways to collaborate. Doug generously gave me free reign for a special issue of blackmail press, which gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a poet that I admire—Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. Despite preparing for the birth of her first child and finishing up a master’s degree in Pacific Studies, Kathy accepted the invitation.

Amid hectic schedules, Kathy, Doug, and I learned from one another and taught each other new skills and methods. Reading submissions was something I looked forward to throughout the spring semester. I hope that you will enjoy as much as I did these stories and scenes of food that evoked a swell of my own memories of learning to cook and sharing meals with family and friends.

The topic of food limited us in some ways, and so we made a single exception to the theme: spoken word by J Rae Tedtaotao. The works she shared are not about food but about the challenges of life, about humanity. We include them in this issue to share this courageous voice that we look forward to hearing more from in the future. 

We are honored to share new voices—undergraduate students Joanna Gordon, Daniella Reyes and Serena Simmons—and works by authors like Teresia Teaiwa, kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui, Daren Kamali, Doug Poole, and others who have long inspired us with their creativity and vision. Most importantly, we are grateful to gather creative voices together from Hawaiʻi, Los Angeles, Atiu, Guåhan, Majuro, and Aotearoa.

Grab yourself a cup of koko Sāmoa or otai, enjoy this basket of experiences—of love, loss, life’s journeys, and connections to home—through food, share them, and get into the kitchen and cook up a beautiful meal or poem of your own.
Mahalo nui loa to Kathy for your commitment to this project, to our amazing copy editor Candice Steiner, to the poets, and to Doug Poole for your unrelenting enthusiasm and dedication to sharing creative writing across Oceania.

Katherine Higgins
Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa