We are on a sailboat–well, really a canoe with a big plastic tarp for a sail and a complicated 3 stick mast, manned by 5 Manusians who’ve sailed this rig 1000s of miles across the open ocean (more on that later). As we approach Manus Island, we see a flotilla in the distance. We approach and furl the sail. We pole our way into the shallows, escorted in by a hundred men in costume rowing dugout outriggers, a drummer keeping them in time. On the shore we are greeted by dancers and feasts and drums made of different-sized dug out logs.
After things have settled down we are shown to our room in a stilted house and head back out to wander around–our heads abuzz with the extraordinary welcome. We walk down tidy, fresh swept paths that run along three rows of houses–one in the water itself. out on the fringing reef we see children playing. 200 meters out, they are surfing on canoes and logs and boards they have cut themselves.
At dinner that night, the real business begins. We witness the signing of the Pere’s new resource management plan by the 6 clan leaders and the ward leader. This plan is a self-policed agreement that zones the ocean around Pere and sets rules like catch limits, off limits areas, and seasonal closures. (it also includes a 1 billion kina fine for mining pollution!). This sort of enlightened self government, based on scientific realities and traditional knowledge, in the face of a threat of climate change that may wipe out the Titan culture of the Admiralty islands, is grounds for a very high level of optimism.
Margaret Mead came to live in Pere in the 1920’s (see the great short video on her at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej-C_SG1dOE ) and to study, and missionaries came after to convert, and now the words “integrated resource management planning” and “climate change adaptation” have crept their way into the pidgin. This is truly the place where the butterfly wing flaps causing the hurricane half the world away has hit hardest–except here it is the coal plants in Pittsburgh and Chongqing that are submerging and destroying these rich cultures, smart people and beautiful environment. I have a strong hunch that the Titan people are going to thrive, even as they adapt.