Expelled from paradiseby Sebastian Lasse Photography
Carteret Islands (Atoll), Bougainville - Papua New Guinea, PNG / XSE
Stanley holds the chicken in one of his arms. Like his own baby.
Very gently the lanky man scoops some rainwater in the beak. The hen's head hangs down. It lost all the strength in its muscles. Stanley waits for a reaction. He tries again to instill some water and remains waiting. It seems like he does not have the heart to feed it again. He slowly lifts up the chicken and points it towards his head. Stanley presses his ear against the chicken's heart. Suddenly all the strength in Stanley's muscles seems to disappear. His arm and his hand, desperately clutching the chicken, dangle. The corners of his mouth dangle too.
After a long three seconds his eyes reflect the sad truth. Stanley looks up to his nephew and shakes his head briefly. The chicken is dead. Three remaining food sources of the extended family have just gone forever. Coconuts and fish are everything that is left.
It has not rained for a long time, and the rainwater tanks are empty.
On the atoll, there is too little water to drink. To drown, there is enough though.
The six Carteret Islands Han, Huene, Piul, Yesila, Yolasa and Iangain will be uninhabitable by 2015 - flooded by the rising level of the Pacific.
Stanley disappears with his nephew and the chicken behind a small hut on the island Han. The two want to bury the body-according to catholic rituals.
In the beginning of the early sixties, the german missionary Adam Muller arrived on the Island of Bougainville. He had converted other tribes of Papua New Guinea before. In Bougainville the padre is surrounded by red blooming bougainvilleas. The color of the blossoms seems to remind of the blood that was shed during the nineties in the civil war. The war started when people were fighting each other over a copper mine, lasted for nine years and ended in 1997.
About 15, 000 people died, almost unnoticed by the international press.
In 1961, when the German priest set out from Bougainville to the Carteret atoll, nothing indicated an upcoming war. Carteret was supposed to be his last stop.
In his luggage he kept his stole and the altar wine as well as an oversized mallet to kill poisonous spiders. At that stage, Adam Muller, the strict Catholic priest, was facing the last and most dangerous part of his journey:
In the provincial capital Buka he boarded a canoe, made from a palm tree. He travelled about 86 km in a "nutshell", surrounded by the open Pacific Ocean.
A whole day on the water. Surrounded by nothing.
When he arrived on the atoll, Adam must have felt like having found paradise on earth.
At that time the Carteret Islands were fantastically beautiful hideaways:
White and vast sandy beaches and tropical gardens fringed the shores of the
Behind the beaches, majestic palm trees were facing towards heaven, reflecting
on the calm sea, in the turquoise waters of the Pacific.
Adam Muller took his job very seriously. He got a rectory, a church and a school built and was teaching there from then on. In the evenings he wrote parts of his "German to Handia"-dictionary. Handia is the language of the Han, one of today's 800 languages in Papua New Guinea. Padre Adam also translated parts of the Bible into Handia.
The parsonage is now abandoned. The original handwritten notes of Adam Muller's translation of the Bible are are still lying on a shelf, made of rough wooden planks.
Some cockroaches seem to browse the vocabulary.
Muddy saltwater pushes from below against the rotting wooden beams. Today, the palm trees are overturned by a sea of mud. Gardens and beaches have already sunk.
The new priest, who visits the island from time to time, calls the atoll "the forgotten
The Pacific Ocean takes all the land. By 2015, the rising sea level will destroy the first 2,000 people's existences. They will be the first real climate refugees worldwide. The ocean destroys the home of the Carteret inhabitants - each emission a bit more.
A paradise of six enchanted islands, that form an atoll in crystal clear water, will then be extinct.
"We feel like a root which is losing its ground." Ursula Rakova tries to put the emotional world of the islanders. into words. The Pacific Communities such as the Carteret are extremely influenced by places. In the isolated Polynesian cultures, an island is part of the inhabitants' identity.
The burly, cheerful Ursula complains: "For more than ten years, we have been building protective barriers against the water. But the ocean is more powerful than we are. Ursula was born on Huene. She visited the school in Han, but left the atoll afterwards. She studied sociology on the mainland and worked for Charity Organizations. Now she has returned to the Atoll to organize the relocation of the population.
For this purpose, she founded the aid organization "Tulele Peisa" with the help of the islands' eldest.
It runs on a private basis because the authorities help is limited so far. The State of Papua New Guinea and the Government of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville hand over responsibilities for the fate of the Carterets again and again.
Ursula Rakova desperately tries to find money and land.
Each of the islanders pays one kina, equivalent to 37 cent, towards the "Carteret Trust Fund" for the evacuation. For the individual thirty-seven cents are a fair bit of money. For the resettlement of 2,000 people, it is not enough though.
The name of the organization "Tulele Peisa" means "we sail through the ocean alone. "
If, in case of the international climate change, entire islands like Kiribati have to be relocated, about 90.000 inhabitants will be affected.
In Ursula's office on Buka, the neighbouring island of Bougainville, everybody is aware of the fact that the resettlements have to take place very quickly.
Weather-proof foils lie on approximately seven square meters, between a typewriter and two historical computers. Together with a friend Ursula carries them to the shore. Lawrence, the big skipper, waits there in his little 60-horsepower motor boat to transport the posters to the another island.
On numerous tribal meetings "Tulele Peisa" explains the inhabitants the consequences of world-wide climate change and points out the reasons for the rise of the ocean. They realize, who is to blame for the air-pollution -the western industrial nations,-and get an idea of how their evacuation might take place.
After five hours the boat reaches the reef that protects the atoll from the open Ocean.
A few days later on Han: the big posters are now hanging on a washing line. They show pictures of environmental destruction, fish mortality and, graphs of global warming. Leonard explains everything in detail. He is now heading the school that Father Muller founded. Children can attend the school up to the eighth grade.
Leonhard's knowledge about global warming is limited, but greater than that of
most others on the islands.
Seventy islanders sit on the sand in front of the posters and listen intently.
A teenager is wearing a discarded T-shirt with the slogan "I don't fool with fuel.
Aside, Bernhard leans on a bended tree next to a toothless old man, who carries one of these lottery-ticket seller glasses. They seem to consist of bulletproof glass. The toothless grins. He is one of the eldest of the island and is no longer interested in the future. He is one who wants to sink with the island. Bernhard, however, seems to be wide awake.
He is politically involved in the Council of the Elders. He holds a rake in his hand, with which he raked the beach before the "Awareness Meeting". Suddenly he flies off the handle: "We need the open ears of your government. We need your Assistance, modern technology from the powerful industrial states, such as Germany, America, England and Russia. People have great towers, they send astronauts to the moon and a lot of money is wasted. We heard that millions are spent to kill people in Iraq. And now the developed countries can also spend a few million to help the victims of climate change. You burn the oil! We have no factories and no cars. The Dutch and the Japanese also get their land back from the sea. Is there nothing that can be done - simply nothing to recreate our paradise?"
Bernhard grabs his rake and takes it to his small hut, hammered together with raw wood, covered by palm leafs.
The extemporaneous huts are gathered in one corner of the jungle. Only helpless individual accumulations of large shells separate them from the waves of the Pacific, that looks so peaceful but has become such a threat.
Organized measures by Bernhard, such as building the protection wall out of shells, seem helpless against the powerful effects of nature. The stubble-bearded man with the big, bright eyes puts the rake into a rusty BP kerosene barrel, which probably comes from one of the ship wrecks that have run aground on one of the sunken islands.
He runs barefoot into the jungle. The mud slurps with each step. In the background, the water nibbles some Rocky cliffs.
"This is the lowest area of the island. Bananas and other fruits used to grow
here. It all started, when the water came in, as if nothing could stop it. When people wanted to save their bananas they came with canoes. We were frightened, because sharks and stingrays used to swim among the trees."
Huene is the first island of the atoll, which has been completely split, only two families are still here: On Huene One, as it is called now. The central part of the island is flooded with water. The beaches on the other islands have disappeared to a large extent. Only the jungles and populated areas poke out of the water, just one meter above sea level. The vegetable gardens, which were located next to wide beaches, are now serving the Pacific as a convenient ground
The soil of the remaining area is too salty and because of their poison the palm's roots stop agricultural crops from growing. The Government irregularly sends some sacks of rice. Only coconuts, some fish and flour of the remaining taro plants are available for the Carteret-Islanders. Too often this is far too little.
With the rising sea level, the groundwater is pressed out from the jungle.
At Christmas time the tidal waves flood the whole islands. The salty water and the mold espouse and bear gooey brown mud. The sludge is a paradise for mosquitoes, which could hardly be seen before. Thus, malaria is rife, and Simon, the only nurse on the island has only ineffective antibiotic medicine available in the small infirmary. The expiration date is almost identical to the date of the onset of civil war in Bougainville.
Bernard has arrived on the cliffs on the other side of the island. "Many want to die with the islands. Many fear the violence on Bougainville. Weapons are a problem. The laws there get ignored. We have big problems finding land. There will be conflicts over gardens, even over firewood. The so-called land owners will forbid us to fish on their shores. "A horn signal echoes through the jungle. It comes from the chieftain who is calling by a Giant Clam. The slurping of the footsteps in the mud becomes more and more intense, as Bernhard is in a hurry. He has to go to the Elders Council.
He reaches the radio station quickly because the left land is little. A communication device is located in a rusty shed, powered by a car battery. The cable to the only microphone has a loose connection.
Chief Kaholo stands helpless in front of it: "Perhaps the climate change is also God's punishment, because some people on the island do not follow his Ten Commandments."
The old-fashioned microphone is the only connection to the outside world.
Maybe it is because we cannot hear the islanders.
The chief's ancestors settled the island centuries ago. The chief's wife will bear their child soon, but it will be the last one that is born here. There will never be a chief on the Carteret's again.
It is evening now. Kaholo sits next to a smoking fire with his cousin Leonard, the
primary school teacher. They use the fire to get rid of mosquito swarms. They look back wistfully to the time of their carefree childhood. At that stage they used to live in their grandfather's cottage.
Enchanting tropical gardens were located behind the house. Just before the millennium Leonard was still helping to harvest the fruits.
He has exactly memorized the location. In his thoughts he often followed the way to the gardens. He really wants to be there right now. Slowly he walks into the ocean.
When he arrives at the gate of the sunken gardens, the water reaches just above his hips.
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