top of page

The climate crisis threatens to rob us not just of our living, but also of our dead

The first cyclone I lived through ripped open the graves on our island, pulled coffins from graves and unearthed the bones of my ancestors.My sisters and I found a skull – a woman, we assumed based on the length of white wispy hair still attached. We thought at first it was a coral rock, but we realised quickly that she was once one of us.
We found her on the sand of Tufutafoe, the idyllic low-lying beach peninsula of Falealupo, a village on the island of Savai’i, Samoa. This is where her spirit likely departed. There was no skeleton attached, just the skull on a beach in paradise, ravaged by Cyclone Ofa the night before.
It was hardly paradise that day. People had to swim to safety to escape the wrath of Ofa, they cracked open concrete water tanks and climbed in to find refuge.
The only other structures remaining that could possibly protect them from the waves and the winds, were the tombs holding the remains of ancestors. In a bid to survive, the living sought refuge with the dead.
That was 1990, I was eight years old, and it was my earliest memory of how a changing climate can shift life in an instant.
The skull we found was returned to her tomb. We children were instructed to walk the perimeter of the village and gather any human bones so they could be returned.
This beach, Tufutafoe, is a sacred place in the Samoan culture, it is the pathway to the Fafa o Sauali’i – the gathering place of the Samoan spirits, the entry point to Pulotu, the spirit world. We know this place, it is taught to us by our grandparents, and our spirits will go there when we die. But like all low-lying coastal areas in Samoa, the sand and beach have shifted over the years as the coast succumbs to the rising seas.
This is the story of the Pacific, a people tied to place by the skeletons of our ancestors
A generation of Pacific island children may tread water; water that will steal their ancestral lands and rob them of their right to stay with the bones of their ancestors.
As entire communities are relocated across the Pacific to higher ground, and as nations face the prospect of losing entire islands, the prospect of leaving behind the bones of our beloved families and our ancestors, is unbearable.
There is no description for the feeling that is tied to the bones of one’s ancestors. When the spirit world bleeds into this life in all our oratory and cultural practice – one cannot elucidate the intrinsic value of keeping our dead with us. This is the story of the Pacific, a people tied to place by the skeletons of our ancestors.
Rising seas, strong winds and storm surges – the climate crisis that threatens Pacific island nations – they rob us not just of the living, but also of our dead.
- Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Story Information:

Country: Samoa

Topic: Climate Change (General)

Photo or video credit: Kate Nolan/The Guardian, Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Text Credit: Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson

Date : 3 November 2022

bottom of page