‘Dear Matafele Peinam’

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner became widely known as a ‘climate change poet’ after being selected to speak at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014. She spoke passionately about the dangers of global warming for Pacific Islanders, and performed a poem addressed to her baby daughter, titled ‘Dear Matafele Peinem’. The poem describes the catastrophic consequences of global warming for the Marshall Islands and other low-lying Pacific islands, which will disappear below sea level if global temperatures rise by two degrees.

'Dear Matafele Peinam' poem


Dear Matafele Peinam

dear matafele peinam

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles

you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha

your thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning

so excited for bananas, hugs and

our morning walks past the lagoon

dear matafele peinam,

i want to tell you about that lagoon

that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

men say that one day

that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline

chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees

gulp down rows of your seawalls

and crunch your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter

and your granddaughter, too

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home

dear matafele peinam,

don’t cry

mommy promises you

no one

will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas

no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals

no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push

this mother ocean over

the edge

no one’s drowning, baby

no one’s moving

no one’s losing

their homeland

no one’s gonna become

a climate change refugee

or should i say

no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guines

and to the taro islanders of the solomon islands

i take this moment

to apologize to you

we are drawing the line here

because baby we are going to fight

your mommy daddy

bubu jimma your country and president too

we will all fight

and even though there are those

hidden behind platinum titles

who like to pretend that we don’t exist

that the marshall islands




and typhoon haiyan in the philippines

and floods of pakistan, algeria, colombia

and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves

didn’t exist


there are those

who see us

hands reaching out

fists raising up

banners unfurling

megaphones booming

and we are

canoes blocking coal ships

we are

the radiance of solar villages

we are

the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past

we are

petitions blooming from teenage fingertips

we are

families biking, recycling, reusing

engineers dreaming, designing, building

artists painting, dancing, writing

and we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street

marching with signs

hand in hand

chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby

they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just


we deserve

to thrive

dear matafele peinam,

your eyes are heavy

with drowsy weight

so just close those eyes, baby

and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see


The text of ‘Dear Matefele Peinem’ was taken from Kathy Jetñil Kijiner’s blog post, ‘United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony — A Poem to My Daughter’, published 24 September 2014: https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com/united-nations-climate-summit-opening-ceremony-my-poem-to-my-daughter/.

'Dear Matafele Peinam' video

UN Climate Summit performance

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner has raised international awareness of US military imperialism in Micronesia through her performance poetry and her blog, jkijner.wordpress.com. Her work is closely attuned to the environmental damage wreaked on the Pacific as a result of nuclear testing and other Western geopolitical manoeuvres.

Kathy has said that performance poetry is her favoured genre because poetry ‘brings humanity’, ‘touches people’ and tells ‘stories we remember’ in ways that bald facts and statistics cannot. She began experimenting with performance poetry while living in California, to address Americans’ lack of awareness about the history of nuclear testing and American imperialism in the Marshall Islands.

At the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Summit in 2014, Kathy spoke passionately about the dangers of global warming for Pacific Islanders, and performed ‘Dear Matafele Peinam’.

Two degrees is the limit widely advocated by governments committed to mitigating global warming — a limit with potentially devastating consequences for Pacific islanders, since if global temperatures rose by two degrees, the Marshall Islands and other low-lying Pacific islands would disappear below sea level. When Kathy attended COP21, the global conference on climate change held in Paris on December 2015, she advocated a lower target of 1.5 degrees to protect her homeland.

Through social media, Kathy and fellow Marshallese activists created a public campaign for which Marshallese people of all generations produced art, music, and web publicity advocating the 1.5-degree threshold. They succeeded, and Paris Agreement formalised the new target of 1.5 degrees in November 2016.

Millions of people have watched Kathy’s 2014 UN address and performance of ‘Dear Matefele Peinem’ on the UN Web TV Site (webtv.un.org), or through shared links on Youtube, Facebook, and other websites.

Hundreds of thousands more have seen recordings of her other poems, interviews, and lectures online. Kathy has written that ‘Before I became a published poet, I was more of a youtube poet’. Watch more of Kathy’s performances on video via her website:  https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com/videos-featuring-kathy/.


Portions of this text were adapted by Olivia Ferguson from Michelle Keown’s article, ‘”Children of Israel”: US military imperialism and Marshallese migration in the poetry of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’, Interventions 19.7 (November 2017), 930-47: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369801X.2017.1403944.