Monday, January 02, 2012
Reader's Diary #790- Louis Becke: The Fisher Folk of Nukufetau
A little over a year ago my wife and I first discovered, through a Sporcle trivia game, the existence of a tiny Pacific nation known as Tuvalu. Since then it's become a bit of an obsession of ours. It easily tops our bucket list of travel destinations and whenever anyone starts one of those crazy "if you won the lottery..." talks we find ourselves explaining where Tuvalu is. To go there right now we'd quite simply need a lot more time and money. You first need to get yourself to Fiji and wait for either a Tuesday or a Friday to fly in. The entire country, made up of several islands, has roughly 10,000 people. I once read that less than 100 tourists take the journey each year, though I can't find the source again so I have no idea how accurate that is.
In any case, I decided to see if I could find a short story about Tuvalu or by a Tuvaluan author. "The Fisher Folk of Nukufetuan" is by Louis Becke (also known as George Lewis Becke), an Australian who spent some time in Tuvalu (then the Ellice islands) in the late 1800s.
"The Fisher Folk of Nukufetuan" isn't a particularly exciting story. It's simply a recount of a fishing with the locals. But it at least has some interesting historical and anthropological stuff. I found a part about atuli, a type of small fish, that spawn annually upon the shores pretty fascinating, mostly because it reminded me of the capelin, a similar sized fish that spawns in great numbers on the shores of Newfoundland. When I went to Hawaii I was surprised to see that a dolphin trainer was feeding them capelin, which he told be came from Newfoundland (he also went on to describe where that was.) Since Tuvalu is so much closer, I wonder why they don't use atuli?
I was also interested, though a little less positively, in the somewhat colonialist attitude of the author. He basically peer pressures a local minister into consuming alcohol. It's such a part of the author's culture that he simply can't grasp that someone would not see the virtues of alcohol and doesn't rest until the minister finally gives in. Perhaps it's easy from a modern standpoint to see how the introduction of alcohol into a culture isn't always the blessing Becke seemed to think it was. Not that I think we've progressed that much since. A few years ago, after my wife and I had taken a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, we were excited to hear that a contestant on Jeopardy was about to share an anecdote about his time there as well. That excitement quickly waned. Apparently, this particular gentleman wanted to share with Alex how he improved the culinary palette of the locals. Could you believe, he asked, that they simply boil their mussels in ocean water? Fortunately he was able to give these poor saps a new lease on life with his introduction of a white wine cream sauce. Well la dee da. It seems the attitude of tourists who expect to teach the locals a thing or two hasn't gone away completely.
Which brings me back to our wish to go to Tuvalu. It looks like a trip to the remote island is becoming even more of an impossibility. Composed of such low lying islands, global warming and rising water levels is increasingly making the future of Tuvalu look dire. There are no natural lakes on the island and so they rely on rainwater but back in October a state of emergency was declared due to an unprecedented drought. We've given some thought to "volunteer tourism" for when our kids are older, but I get the impression that a thirsty family of tourists wouldn't exactly help matters. Who wants to get in the way? Plus, there's a fine line between genuine help and being that guy on Jeopardy.
For now, I've to make my peace with armchair traveling to Tuvalu. But even that has proven to be difficult.
Links: Tuvalu Tourism
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