Carteret Islands: Sacred Stones and the Rough Sea

This morning one of the elders, John Sailik, stood at the northern tip of Han Island, whispered sacred words into a handful of stones, and cast them out to sea.

Nicholas, the youth tour leader, told us later that John inherited an ancestral power to control the sea, though John wouldn't admit. He definitely seemed concerned; repeating to us throughout the morning that he hoped we would have a safe trip. His fears are justified. The community called on its strongest youth to represent them on the climate change awareness tour. If anything happens to the boat, the community would lose its family and its future leaders.

The banana boats, small single-engine motorboats, left the atoll mid-morning carrying seventeen young Carteret Islanders. We traveled in a boat with 10 islanders and over 12 bags. The open ocean no longer resembled a smooth expanse of glass. Instead wind swept across the ocean creating ripples along the surface and swells that surged toward the front of the boat. The boat crashed through the sea.

I wondered how sick islanders managed the trip to the mainland. The boats transport injured people from the atoll to the hospital on Bougainville. Imagine having to ride for 3 hours through rough sea in a single-engine motorboat with broken ribs or while having complications during pregnancy.

Transportation is one of the many issues the islanders will address while on tour. The Carteret Islanders will travel from village to village with a young group from the mainland to talk about climate change, health issues, and peace and security. A successful tour is crucial for their community. The youth must explain their plight, forge relationships, and guarantee their clans will be welcomed into the Tinputz community.