Takuu lies about 250 km to the northeast of Kieta, capital of Bougainville, at the intersection of two shifting
tectonic plates, which are causing the atoll to sink. The atoll consists of about 13 islands to the east and one island to the northwest. Its position is coord|4|45|S|157|2|E|. Takuu Island is the southernmost and largest of the islands on the eastern side of the atoll. Most of the population however, lives on a small neighbouring island named Nukutoa. The islands in the atoll are very low-lying, at most only a meter or two above the high tide mark. Their very existence is under threat in the near future for two reasons: firstly because the tectonic plate on which the atoll sits is sinking, and secondly because of the rise in sea level caused by global warming, forces combining to cause sea levels to rise at a rate estimated at 20 centimeters per year. Professor Richard Moyle of Auckland University has predicted that the sea's relentless advance will extinguish the atoll's ability to sustain life within the next two or three years. "A couple of years ago, I would have said five. Takuu families living elsewhere in Papua New Guinea will take in as many as they can, but with no single resettlement location, I can't see Takuu continuing to function as a community" (Wane 2005:10).
Population and Culture
The islands are inhabited by approximately 600 people of
Polynesianorigin. Takuu is one of the Polynesian outliercultures which are situated outside of the Polynesian Triangle.
The people of Takuu place great value on the retention of their indigenous practices and religious sites. In order to protect themselves from outside influences, for the last 25 year the islands have banned Christian missionaries and foreigners are forbidden entry. Only four researchers have been permitted to spend time on the islands in that time. This ban was only lifted in the last five years, as young islanders who had lived and studied on the Papua New Guinea mainland returned to their homeland.
Traditional life continues to this day on Takuu. Traditional thatched houses stand in crowded rows, so close to each other that the eaves touch. There are no trees on the island apart from coconut palms, and the main street serves as a marae, a space for ritual ceremonies. Music is still a fundamental part of life on Takuu. Because of the long period of isolation, many of the indigenous songs, stories and dances have survived. Many of the songs date from the period before European contact, which occurred in the mid 19th century. The songs tell stories of voyages between the islands, while "dance performances fill 20 or 30 hours a week" (Wane 2005). Many of the songs are celebrations of successful relationships, whether relationships that link extended families together in productive activity or relationships binding people with their ancestors in times of need.
The people of Takuu speak a Polynesian language. Recently proposed reclassifications of the Polynesian languages place Takuu in the Ellicean outlier branch of Polynesian along with
Tuvaluan, Nukuoro, Kapingamarangi, Nukuria, Nukumanu, Luangiua, Sikaiana and Pileni. These languages, spoken in various Polynesian outlier cultures, constitute a subgroup of the Ellicean languages; the Samoic languages (Samoan and Tokelauan) are the other subgroup of Ellicean. Earler classifications place all these languages under the subgroup Samoic Outlier. See Polynesian languages.
The local economy depends on agriculture and fishing. In recent years, the cultivation of food plants has grown steadily more difficult as the fresh water table becomes contaminated by sea water. Sea levels rising at a rate of 20cm a year have savagely eroded the coastline, threatening its fragile ecosystem and contaminating traditional taro gardens with salt water. The highest point is now a mere metre above the high-tide mark and soon there will be no safe place to store canoes used for fishing, the cornerstone of the islanders' simple diet. As a result the returns from cultivation are diminishing and the people have been forced to appeal to the outside world for assistance. Facing starvation from rising sea-levels and low food supplies, residents of the tiny Pacific island of Takuu are calling on Papua New Guinea for assistance. In 2001, the inhabitants faced a time of great deprivation and hunger when the "Atoll Queen", the only supply ship that regularly visits the islands, was laid up for six months for repairs.
In early 2006 a cyclone devastated the islands and added to their already compromised situation. The odds seem to be stacked against the survival of Takuu. The islands have no viable industry and therefore no source of income, and given its economic invisibility, the plight of Takuu has been all but ignored by the international community. A plan to construct a sea wall to guard against the relentless tide were abandoned due to lack of money (Wane 2005:12).
It seems increasingly likely that a uniquely unspoilt Polynesian culture will be consigned to the annals of history.
* [http://www.ingenio.auckland.ac.nz/shadomx/apps/fms/fmsdownload.cfm?file_uuid=D1303EF8-DDB3-CE70-6D3F-012633FD8DCB&siteName=uoa Before the flood] "Ingenio" magazine, University of Auckland (pdf file)
* [http://web.singnet.com.sg/~tonym/islands.html Mortlock Islands] The two distinct island groups named "Mortlock Islands"
* [http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/auspac/03/08/PNG.takuu.transportation/index.html Locals face starvation as their Island home sinks ] CNN.com/World
* [http://www.rsnz.org/funding/marsden_fund/news23/index.php#takau Musical Memory of Takuu] Royal Society of New Zealand, Marsden Fund Newsletter
* [http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/stories/s288994.htm PNG island sinking] "World today" archives, ABC Online (Australia)
* [http://members.tripod.com/~Lakoa_Fitina/takass.html Takuu Islands Association] An associated dedicated to saving the islands
* [http://www.islandsbusiness.com/islands_business/index_dynamic/containerNameToReplace=MiddleMiddle/focusModuleID=15847/overideSkinName=issueArticle-full.tpl Takuu's tragedy unfolding] Islands Business
* [http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/austronesian/language.php?id=244 Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database] for Takuu and other languages.
*Joanna Wane, 2005. 'Before the Flood'. "Ingenio et Labore: Magazine of the University of Auckland", Spring 2005:10, 12. URL: [http://www.ingenio.auckland.ac.nz/shadomx/apps/fms/fmsdownload.cfm?file_uuid=D1303EF8-DDB3-CE70-6D3F-012633FD8DCB&siteName=uoa www.ingenio.auckland.ac.nz] , accessed 30 July 2005.
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