Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book 118, Tuvalu: "Time & Tide" by Tony Wheeler

So I couldn't convince the National Library to purchase Philip Ells's Where the Hell Is Tuvalu?. Kein problem - they have their reference section books available for lending at selected branches. Of course, this makes no sense in terms of categories, but I'm not complaining, because I was able to borrow this:

Yes, yes, it is essentially a photo book (credits to Peter Bennett for the images!), but it does also have a substantial amount of written content, rather well crafted, from the king of the Lonely Planet empire himself. Seems that in 2000, the travel writer and the photographer flew over to Funafuti as part of an environmentalist quest, inspired by the anti-global warming rhetoric of then-PM Ionatana Ionatana, determined to document the culture of these low-lying islands that the world stands to lose when the oceans rise.

While Nauru was a dystopia, Tuvalu's described as a utopia - nine atolls of peaceful, not-very-hierarchical people who're still holding on to traditions of family and feasting and feitu (a colonial system of dividing each island into two competitive teams, which seems fairly benign today). A simple diet of fish and coconut and pandan, supplemented by crabs and turtles and papayas and sadly canned food, which is sold in collective convenience stores, not megamarts (community ownership seems to be the only way to do capitalism in this culture). Sun, sand, happiness. Some money coming in, because the sons are prized as merchant sailors across the world. Deep love for children. Deep love for God. Deep love for land.

One-dimensional? Maybe. There are some cool interviews with people who recount trauma: the Peruvian slavers who came in the 19th century, Cyclone Bebe in 1972, a dormitory fire which killed 18 schoolgirls and which inspired national mourning (the country has less than 10,000 people). And of course there's some obesity and litter dumping because of the processed food, and some university grads can't get used to the slow pace of life after experiencing the cosmopolitan delights of Australia and New Zealand and Fiji (?!). But no deep sense of malaise. No, foreboding is reserved for the danger of inundation, of permanent ecological exile.

Not going to be terribly critical. Had a great experience teaching travel writing using this guy's anthology, and am headed to Manila tomorrow using this guy's guidebook. Safe to say I'm pretty much a convert.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

 Representative quote: In the Tuvaluan language, a person without land is known as fakaalofa, literally, a person deserving of pity. But in a hundred years, all Tuvaluans may well be fakaalofa.

Next book: Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip, from New Caledonia.

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