The salt of the rising ocean has already slowed or killed their sego palm and taro root crops that are critical staple foods. Their freshwater lagoon has turned salty too, but Ndillo villages’ 600 residents are working to restore the mangroves and natural barriers to turn it fresh again. In the meantime they are farming milkfish, mud crabs, clams and sea cucumbers. The 2km by 1km barrier island off the coast of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea was used by the US military as a base in WWII as they fought to evict the Japanese army from the island of Papua (old corrugated metal from that time is still used to build the characteristic stilt houses on shore or over the water).
Their shorelines have eroded many meters in the last 20 years, but they are building rock sea walls to capture the sands and slow the erosion. They are planting the mangroves to buffer the storms. They send their 9th graders to school on Manus, and the parents go to Bougainville or Port Moresby to work mining jobs and send money back, but many of them eventually return and retire themselves. It is a beautiful, orderly place–what they lack in modern conveniences, they make up for in strong culture and community, beauty and integration with the natural world.
I am now a clan member in Ndillo, inducted through a formal ceremony, celebrated through dancing and eating and drumming and laughing. “Urro” is the Titan (pronounced tee-tan) people’s word for welcome and hospitality. I have never felt as welcome as in this simple place: with no electricity, no currency, no televisions, no plastic, bare houses on stilts with only basic furniture, these smart, self-sufficient people are on the front lines of a change in the climate that they had nothing to do with, the causes of which didn’t benefit them at all. They are fighting for their lives and culture. I am always welcome back, but with Urro comes obligation. I have to figure out how I can help their efforts to adapt to climate change. So do we all.