Voices from Vanuatu
On the Pacific island of Vanuatu, people are already dealing with the direct impacts of climate change. Hear these frontline stories on how communities experience and confront loss of home and threats to culture from the warming climate.
My name is Naora Namawihi, and I’m a descendant from Futuna Island in the Tafea province of Vanuatu. I want to share with the world what climate change has done to my culture.
In the photo here, I’m holding my traditional warrior costume, woven together from our local wilt hibiscus fibers and banana leaves. We used to wear these grass skirts during traditional dancing ceremonies, to represent our tribe and our customs in meetings and on special occasions. On my head is what we call a ‘fou’uru’ — a head pant made from a local plant called ‘wawao’, found only in coastal areas, that is also tied up in a coconut stick broom with long feathers from roosters.
It was our tradition to collect and prepare these costume materials yearly, or when leftover broken costumes needed to be repaired. I learned this tradition from my grandparents, and as a father continue to teach my five children.
It was six years ago, in 2012, when I noticed a change in these plants.
The wilt hibiscus can usually grow anywhere and everywhere — local farmers even use it as posts for fencing while it grows. During the dry season, it still grows in green, like it does during the rest of the year. Our tribe used to cut young branches from this wilt hibiscus, remove the outer parts, and soak them in the sea-water for two and a half weeks. At the end of this process, we’d remove the sticky excess water and be left with the white, dry fibers we desired.
One day, I went back to the spot where I usually cut them. I saw ten young plants, but they had no leaves and were covered with insects. I thought they’d just disappear in the next month — but they never went away. These were insects I’d never seen before. I’d asked friends and families if they knew what was happening, and where the bugs came from. No one had done anything to try to get rid of them.
I knew about climate change, but never had to confront its impacts like this. Now I recognize the reality: this species of insects is killing the plants that give us the traditional tools and materials founded by my ancestors.
I recently learned that world leaders come together every year to find climate change solutions.
I fear climate change will continue to change the way I live, the way I dress in my costumes and the way my ancestors use these to illustrate our tribe. I fear if this continues, I will lose everything and I do not want that to happen.
So if world leaders are truly finding solutions to climate change in this COP23 meeting, then I hope they truly mean what they talk about — that they ‘walk the talk, and don’t just talk the walk’.
Naora Namawihi, a descendant from Futuna Island living in Efate, Port Vila in Vanuatu.