The First Bikinians as described by Kilon Bauno to Jack Niedenthal, 1984, May 1990 [picture: Kilon Bauno]
KILON BAUNO: "I will have a right to claim the title of king, or iroij, of the Bikinian people because I am a direct descendent of a man named Larkelon, who was the first iroij of Bikini.
"First there was Larkelon. After him, the king was Lorak, and then came Wirak, Lemijrelon, Lemijreiruk, Iruuj, Lauk, Laninbwil, Kejebuki, Tannij, Jebuki, Lebartawe, Laninmaljit, Lokwair and Juda. Now, only Jibas and Banke are older than myself. When they pass away, I'll be the iroij.
"Our history tells us that the people of Bikini originally came from the east, what we Marshallese call the Ratak Chain, from the island of Wormej that is in Wotje Atoll. There lived a king named Larkelon [Lar-KEY-long]. One day he decided to take a sailing canoe and embark with some of his men on a voyage to the islands and atolls north of Wotje. I believe that they went to Ailuk Atoll and some of the other inhabited islands of that area."
"Kilon, why would those men want to sail out onto the open ocean like that in those tiny wooden canoes? Wasn't it terribly perilous?"
"Well, we Marshallese used to make those trips in order to look for the kind of food that was scarce on our home islands like turtles, pandanus, birds and lobsters. It wasn't dangerous because back then many men knew how to navigate an outrigger on even the roughest of seas. Not like today--our young people are helpless without their gasoline and outboard engines.
"Anyway, when Larkelon returned to Wotje Atoll he learned that his wife, LiLaujik, had taken-up with another man, who happened to be the son of his own traditional leader. The fact that she left him was bad enough, but because this man was Larkelon's relative from his mother's side (in Marshallese custom we follow our mothers lineage) it made the matter very embarrassing and totally disgraceful for the king. Larkelon became extremely disgruntled and spent a few days trying to figure out what to do. He kept changing his mind over and over again. First, he would gather his belongings and prepare to leave. Then his idea would change and he would put his rolled jaki [sleeping mat] back into his house and announce to his friends his newfound intention to stay on the island. He swayed back and forth between intense anger and deep sorrow until finally these frustrations made him so irritable and irrational that he did something very drastic: in the span of one day, he prepared his large war canoe, gathered all his people together and proclaimed that he was about to depart and would refuse to return to Wotje until his toe grew out of his heel. Then, with those willing to follow him, Larkelon sailed away never to return to Wotje again.
"Larkelon took many people with him when he left, perhaps a hundred commoners from the Ijidrik and the Mokaulij clans who favored him as a leader. They proceeded to visit many atolls in the northwestern Marshalls searching for an island to conquer for his people. Initially, he made several brief stops at Kwajalein, Wotho, Lae and Ujae Atolls, and then sailed on until at last he reached Rongelap Atoll in the far north, where he stayed for a few years. He intermarried his subjects with some of the people from those islands. After some time had elapsed, and for no particular reason, Larkelon decided to depart from Rongelap taking his people, and many others from the Ri-Namo clan of that atoll. In several large canoes, they sailed out onto the open ocean in a quest to find a kingdom of his own. They set sail directly for Bikini, and after some days at sea, entered the atoll beside the south central island of Enerik and continued into the lagoon toward Nam Island in the northwest, where the iroij of Bikini, named Laninbit [LUNG-in-bit], and his people were residing.
"Larkelon was a strong man and stood majestically on his outrigger on that day when he declared to Laninbit and his people, who were crowded on the beach to view the spectacle of all the war canoes in their lagoon, that he and his men wanted to fight him for the ownership of Bikini Atoll. The declaration of war caused the two sides to simultaneously chant at each other for quite some time until Larkelon finally decided to become the aggressor. He sailed his canoes closer to the beach. Laninbit's people formed a line along the shore and began to scream and whoop very loudly, 'Whoooooooooooooo!' --mostly with the fear and anxiety brought on by the thought of having to fight these awesome looking men who were advancing towards them, and also with the idea that they were about to lose their islands.
"Larkelon shouted to his men: 'Prepare yourselves for battle!' Then, with his men poised for action, he queried in a loud voice to the old man standing on the beach: 'Laninbit! Recognize me and avoid bloodshed! Bring me gifts and food for my canoes!'
"Laninbit knew that he could not beat Larkelon, and so he turned toward his people and called them together. He told them that on one hand he didn't want them to risk their lives defending his name, but on the other hand he would not allow them to submit to the intruder. And so he ordered them to pack their belongings and make ready for a long voyage. In a matter of hours Laninbit's people, the original Bikinians, sailed off to the south, resting only for a short moment on one of the southern islands in the atoll, then continuing into the sunset never to be heard from again. It was if the great seas of the earth had swallowed all of their boats whole, and drowned the entire clan of people.
"Once on Bikini Island Larkelon triumphantly began his reign as the iroij of Bikini, and this is the man who all of our kings, myself included, have descended from since the time of his successful conquest."
"Why, Kilon, do some people in the Marshall Islands claim that Bikini has a king outside of your own community? It's something a lot of people here on Kili talk about."
"We Bikinians fail to understand why the other iroij of the Marshall Islands today say that Bikini Atoll belongs in their dominions. Where were they when we were starving? Our history makes it very clear to us that Larkelon, independently, took Bikini for himself and our people. We stand firmly on the stories of our elders. And, that is why I continue to explain to my children and my grandchildren the legends of our proud beginnings."
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The historical information within this site, while constantly updated, is drawn largely from the book, FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND: A History of the People of Bikini and their Islands, Second Edition, published in September of 2001 by Jack Niedenthal. This book tells the story of the people of Bikini from their point of view via interviews, and the author's more than two decades of firsthand experiences with elder Bikinians.
Copies can be purchased from this direct ordering link at Amazon.com, or you can also buy and download the Kindle edition.