The recent Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans in Suva was a golden opportunity to meet with members of the broad Pacific community. One of the stalls I admired most was created by the Tuvalu community. The stall was decorated with a wonderful range of crafts, including leis for dancing, elegant fans, tiputa garlands for weddings and ti-ti skirts. One wall had a complex display of shell necklaces, usually given when returning to the island.
One of my favourites was the fo, or garland used for dancing. It is usually made from fresh flowers, but these were made to last. They had intricately folded pandanas leaf with flowers made of shells and seeds.
I was greatly impressed in meeting a representative from Tuvalu, Mrs Tagifoe Taomia. Mrs Taumia told me that after celebrations, these craft objects are usually hung on the walls to decorate homes, particularly of those from Tuvalu who have come to Suva for education.
Given all the resources in Fiji that are lacking in Tuvalu, I asked Mrs Taumia if it matters to her that the island still exists. She told me emphatically, ‘There’s no place like home. You always want to go back to Tuvalu. And when you grow old you want to go back and stay there.’
Even though a small population of 12,000, Tuvalu represents a unique story of a vibrant culture. Though the expatriate community carry the culture in their hearts, it seems they do not continue to make traditional objects. The crafts are still only made on the islands. This seems an important factor to keep in mind with rising ocean levels – we can re-locate people, but much of the culture remains attached to the land.
As the Swedish proverb goes, ‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.’ It is heartening that Tuvalu has a strong voice in the current Copenhagen negotiations. Let’s hope the world listens.