National Geographic : 2015 Nov
kiribati 127 fertilizer from a can punched with nail holes. The tide drained from the vast sand flats of Tarawa lagoon, exposing myriad miniature sand volcanoes built by ghost crabs. Adults and children, toting plastic bags and buckets, probed the sand with their fingers and scratched in the crevices of rocks with teaspoons for cockles—called koikoi— and sea snails. The harvesters walked far out to the water’s receding edge, bending over double, sifting and scraping for a few ounces of seafood. If they found enough cockles, they might prepare them in coconut cream, cooking them inside a coconut shell over a smoky coconuthusk fire. Coconut palm—nii—is there anything this tree doesn’t provide? Baskets, brooms, timber, thatch, oil, fermented toddy, soap, a dark sweet syrup called kamwaimwai. Tree of heaven, some people call it. IKiribati have more than a dozen words for the stages of the fruit alone—from a young nut before the water forms to an old one with rancid flesh. Holding fast to tradition matters for many IKiribati. Mwairin Timon was making coconut sennit when I met her, sitting on an old panda nus mat outside her shanty at the edge of the lagoon, rolling tufts of coconut fiber on a piece of driftwood with the palm of her hand. More than a year ago she had buried coconut husks in the lagoon, marking the place with a rock. A thousand tides had done their work, curing and softening the fibers. Now she twisted them into string the same way her grandmother would have, and her grandmother before her, all the way back to the first settlers of these atolls, who splashed ashore some 3,000 years ago. Rain clouds darkened and moved across the lagoon, blotting out the islets of North Tarawa, the other side of wishboneshaped Tarawa atoll. Soon they would bring relief to this side, South Tarawa, where half the nation’s people live on barely six square miles of land. It is a mercy that rainfall is predicted to Bride Teiti Kiroon and groom Iannang Komi are making their home on Tarawa, despite concerns about how climate change is affecting Kiribati. Many islanders think about moving to safer countries, but they also feel wedded to their homeland and its lifestyle.