Unique Culture Of Takuu Atoll At Risk

We often hear about how climate change and rising sea levels are threatening islands in the Pacific. Indeed, it is a real issue that needs to be given more attention. I recently came across the article below from Radio Australia about a very unique, yet isolated, Pacific atoll (One that I have never even heard of before) that may be gone in the near future…


The Takuu group of atolls, also known as the Mortlock Islands, is a place so remote that it could easily be forgotten — and for centuries it was. The tranquil necklace of coral islands lie some 240 kilometres northeast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea, a far-flung section of the Pacific Ocean that even today is rarely visited by anyone. It is home to a rich and historic culture spanning 1,000 years, but the resilient people and their idyllic island home face an increasingly dire threat from climate change.


Made up of 13 coral islands, most of the population lives on the tiny island of Nukutoa, in homes built on the water’s edge. No part of the island group protrudes higher than two metres above sea level, with most being less than one metre. Swelling tides are now regularly inundating the islands, salting the earth needed to grow food. They are a people who have been self-sufficient for centuries, but now they are increasingly reliant on food aid that arrives only sporadically.  Geologist Dr Thomas Mann, who wrote his PhD on the geology of coral islands including Takuu Atoll, said, “The atoll itself appears to be tectonically stable or very slightly rising. What that means is that the local sea levels around the atoll would be sinking — but of course there is the climate related sea level rise which is pretty strong in this part of the Pacific.”

Slowly submerged by swelling tides, years of uncertainty surrounding the atoll’s future has led to a gradual decline in population — only about 300 people remain at Takuu Atoll. Dr Richard Moyle of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre has spent years documenting and compiling their language and music.”There’s only about half as many people there as there were when I was there last, about six years ago” Dr Moyle said.

Unique culture:

This pattern of emigration could be the prelude to an even greater tragedy: Takuu’s unique culture could be washed away with the islands. The people of Takuu are Polynesian — unique among their Melanesian neighbours — and their culture has remained intact for centuries despite the precarious nature of life on a secluded atoll.

One of the few Pacific peoples to have resisted Christianity, many Takuu people are still fervent adherents to their own traditional religion with a host of deities and deceased relatives regularly worshipped by tribal elders. They are also prolific musicians.”In the period I was there, in their active repertoire they had more than 1000 songs,” Dr Moyle said.”It connects them with the past in the form of ancestors.”


The Takuu Atoll

The island’s future is in doubt:

Despite the mounting challenges the atolls face, Mr Arehu, who is a Takuu Atoll expatriate now living in Port Moresby, remains optimistic his people can retain their culture.”We are maintaining that link with our culture, teaching dances and talking to our kids. We will keep it at heart and we are proud of that part of our culture,” he said. But the intruding waters and lack of resources may mean some change is inevitable. Arehu adds, “I think there will come a time when we will have to move the island. For any reason, for global warming, we will have to move the island, the people will need to make a decision in time.”

If climate change is to blame for the rising seas at Takuu Atoll, the people there are among the first climate refugees in the world — a tragedy exacerbated by the sad fact that they have made no contribution to global emissions. That goes for all the other people out on the other atoll’s too. Finally, Dr. Moyle adds, “they may survive, but without help their culture may not. But I can’t see a viable long-term future for the island.”



Although I have extracted and paraphrased from the Radio Australia article, I encourage you to look at the written piece in its entirety by clicking here. There are also some very vivid photographs connected to the article.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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