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Book Cover of Julian Aguon's No country for eight-spot-butterflies, penguin

No country for eight-spot butterflies: A lyric essay

Do you know where Guam is? Guam is an island in Micronesia, east of the Philippines. I looked it up when I started reading Julian Aguon’s book No country for eight-spot butterflies: A lyric essay, recently published in a German translation by Hanna Hesse and Marian Singer. Aguon works as a human rights lawyer and is particularly committed to Indigenous rights and climate justice. The slim volume No country for eight-spot butterflies consists of luminous speeches, essays and poems that he has written on various occasions in recent years. This book can also, often enough, be understood as an ode to Arundathi Roy, who in turn wrote a short foreword praising Aguon for his “music of resistance.”

I live in Germany, and I confess that I have not previously given consideration to Guam, which seems far away from where I stand. Turns out that this island in the western Pacific is in a relationship of colonial dependency with the USA. People from Guam get US citizenship at birth, but they do not have the right to vote. In many places, Aguon is understandably outraged at how US corporations and the military take advantage of the land regardless of the cost. In 2020, for example, 400 hectares of forest on the Guam coast fell victim to a US military base. Aguon uses not only law and order to fight against such things, but – it seems – every opportunity where he is allowed to speak or has a piece of paper to write on.

The book is a compilation of various fascinating excerpts. While reading it, I kept consulting the internet to fill in my own gaps in knowledge – the book is not designed to explain all the connections in a structured way to a reader like me. Rather, No country for eight-spot butterflies speaks to the emotional aspects of the fight against global injustice, and it is definitely captivating in this regard.

As so often in books dealing with Indigenous peoples, it is difficult to find the appropriate terminology in German translation. As such, I would like to understand not only the topics of this book as voicing a call to deal more with the global effects of still existing colonial dependency relationships and the ruthless treatment of our planet. I think it is equally important that we (especially in the German context) talk more about the language used for such contexts and tackle the colonial traces that exist here as well.

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