CLIMATE AS ERASURE: THE FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA AND VANUATU
Luelen Bernart, The Book of Luelen, trans. John L. Fischer, Saul H. Riesenberg, and Marjorie G. Whiting, 1977, The University Press of Hawaii,
Sethy John Regenvanu, Laef Blong Mi: From Village to Nation, 2004, University of the South Pacific
In 1947, there were at least 20 islands queued along the north Isabel Provinces of the Solomon Islands. Five of these islands—Kale, Rapita, Rehana, Kakatina, and Zollies—combined for a surface area of 160,310 m2.1 According to recent aerial and satellite imagery, though, the edge of vegetation as of 2014 had shrunk to 0 m2. While there is a plenitude of islands ringing the country, this termination of nearly forty acres across five islands signals the gross effects of sea-level rise and stronger trade winds.
For over a century-and-a-half, mass consumption in Western nations has acted as a collaborative erasure of the coasts of the South Pacific. King tides and superstorms do not just threaten to erase vegetative edges and arable lands, but also the cultural capital of those living in Oceania. The book reviews below are erasures of an indigenous history and a political memoir (from the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, respectively), transmuting the record of the land's past into auguries of a landless future.
The Federated States of Micronesia
I am Luelen Bernart. I began this book in the year 1934, Feb. 24. I have made this book to serve olden times poorly expressed. This book is for reminding us that certain lands, some of the trees, also some of the words has always been in the middle of the sea.
They built up the land and spread it out so that it might make a level place. The land could not be really good, for the waves of the sea kept splashing it apart. Come and protect the land from the waves. Come and surround the land. The meaning of the mangrove was their surprise.
A small place (the canoe) bears their long stay at sea.
Remain and guard the land. Now they had no houses to reside in. They used to live under rocks. Not yet much vegetation from the land. Arrowroot, wild yams, dry land taro, giant swamp taro, true taro: from the earth.
Eaves of Heaven: where the underside of heaven came down to earth like the eaves of a house. Only a foot or so above the ground. Ocean-going women were sorry for they had not yet spoke. Those who immigrated were numerous. Birth kept getting bigger all the time. A very long time indeed had passed.
Resided in the middle of the mutation of the island.
Their thoughts this time was in the rain. There was rain. They decided to hunt shell-fish in the sea, make adzes. Such work. It made a great brightness as when the light of the sun hits a mirror, like the light of another sun flashing.
To protect, recite the spell over all the lands. The sun would shine. Industri kept on flying about. Lazy expensive cost. Cut down the breadfruit tree.
Western Cannibals would eat the land, the earth, territories, an island, coastal sections. Not reluctant to cut it down. Destroy the abundant source for weapons, for oil.
The path in ink, immediately followed by the penciled word.
In the forest and in the cultivated lands, tangle native names. Simply bound, tying up mountains, creeks and valleys, the seas and the islands, and the rivers and streams and the currents of the sea that make the tides, and so forth. This was the beginning of killing human beings.
Extirpate them, eliminate them from the island.
Scoop some earth. The kind of earth they threw for ceremony. Uncertain whether they would soon arrive at a land, it was al so bad. Bad for them. Wavy and windy. The construction of artificial islands. The long cycle of myths, their tyrannies. Remnants and ruins. The coast abandoned.
I started telling the story. I should write all that down.
My parents could not remember the exact date of my birth. Keeping a calendar was not part of the culture. My father, working as a land surveyor, received his deathbed. He passed away. He had sent for me: to show me the portion of land which he wanted me to have.
We refer to each other as ‘brother.' Place me between cultures. I register my family and village. I become part of the inevitabilities of modern circumstance. Western Fools' day! I take food and shelter in a camp away from the general public. So participate and witness.
I am born up in an offshore island. I have treasured village life experiences. Stories rely on each other for support in times of worn shoes.
Americans treated this little island with grave stones. The environment is destined to lose customs, beliefs, and practices, and maybe even disintegrate. We rely on resources for our living. Blood is drained through the island. Jump over the net. Explosions of dynamite were often used to kill the country.
Along the sea-coast, regardless of boundaries, shouted as we went: "Mi ia" (it is me). You've caught me. This is the last day of my life by the village. There are many different ways of journey.
The future status of Vanuatu: all alienated land. To prevent further uneasiness, I was holding demonstration. The noise generated set this archipelago to disassociate from the Nation. Most Anglophone had hoisted their flag, and the indigenous and their descendants explode into a thunderstorm.
Set out from where we were. The river was swamped. Introduce my masks. Take a picture of the village. Get my film developed. The cyclone damage and the village badly flooded by the rising waters from the heavy rains and the river. No longer safe to settle in. Vacate the village. Establish a new village. Some sheets of iron roofing for a house to live in. Kept the photos. The spirit of struggle. Introduce me to the new village.
I can and must stand up to make meaningful the world. [LL]
1 This is approximately equivalent to 40 acres, a familiar acreage promised to freedmen following the Civil War (with a mule to boot!). Union General Rufus Saxton once wrote of these 40-acre tracts, once they were distributed to freedmen, "we have no right now to dispossess them of their lands."
2 Teweiariki, Teaero. "Natural Meal." Waa in Storms, University of the South Pacific, 2004, pp. 62-63.