THIS IS A HEART WARMING STORY of an adventurous open canoe voyage designed to draw people’s attention to climate change and sea levels – two related issues of significant environmental and humanitarian impact worldwide and, even more immediately, in the Pacific.
To raise awareness of these issues, the 48' open canoe Climate Challenger will leave Manus today on a challenging voyage which is emulating some of the great traditional seafaring exploits of the past.
The people of Manus and guests gathered at Lorengau last weekend to wish the vessel well before its long and risky journey around the Pacific.
During the speeches, although the rain poured down, support for the crew did not waver and the people gave their blessings before Governor Charlie Benjamin officially cut the ribbon signifying the beginning of the voyage.
The great Pacific canoe voyage is an initiative of Manuai Matawai [pictured] of Pere village who works with The Nature Conservancy and Selarn Kaluwin of Mbuke who work with the World Wildlife Fund in Manus, Papua New Guinea.
They are passionate about raising awareness of climate change, clean oceans, a clean atmosphere and, as a curious extra, connecting the people of Mbuke on Manus Island with the lost Titan tribe on Yap Island in Micronesia.
The canoe voyage is partly funded by AusAID under its ‘building the resilience of communities and their ecosystems to the impact of climate change’ program.
The voyagers write:
Climate change is here to stay. Science has blamed human induced activities for causing these changes [to which] we must respond individually, provincially, nationally and globally to adapt and mitigate [them].
In Manus Province, the people of Mbuke, at their own initiative, had responded by planting yams and water security. They are also planting mangroves to protect the shoreline. The people of Pere also planted mangroves for coastal protection and planted sago on higher ground.
Both Pere and Mbuke set aside marine protected areas to protect and manage reef fish, coral and other commercial invertebrates as part of their effort in building the resilience of their community and ecosystem to the impact of climate change helped by The Nature Conservancy and WWF respectively.
Deep in history, the Mbuke and Pere people hailed from a Titan tribe known as Mwanus. They are sea people and dependent on the sea for their livelihood. Part of the great voyage will be an attempt to connect with this lost tribe.
On board Climate Challenger are 10 local navigators, dancers and musicians to share the Manus culture throughout the island destinations to be visited: Kavieng, Lihir, Buka, Shortland Island, Taro (Choiseul), Honiara, Nauru, Kiribati (Tarawa), Marshall Islands (Majuro and atolls), Kosraie, Ponape, Truk, Puluwat, Soral, Yap, Palau, Wuvulu, Aua (Manus), Ninigo Group, Hermit and finally back to Lorengau.
The trip is expected to take 70 days and cover more than 3,200 km of the Pacific.
The group also hopes to sail to Sydney later this year after completing the tour of the Pacific to present a copy of the voyage documentary to the Australian government and seek financial support to assist Pacific Island communities affected by the impact of climate change.
This will be followed by a state by state tour of Australia focusing on climate change, clean oceans and clean atmosphere through drama, contemporary music and cultural dance.
As Captain Matawai’s older brother, Chalapi Pomat, who lives in Newcastle, NSW, says:
My brother and his crew will be off sailing – and I wish I could be with them. They are certainly not sitting back watching their place get eroded away. They are actually leading from the front on this issue – it’s easy for us with our comfortable lives in Australia to lose track of what is happening in other parts of the world in relation to climate change.
Captain Matawai himself told us:
A historic trip is about to begin. It will be taking us nights, days, weeks and months, crossing the stormy Pacific waters, reaching the sea and land of the unexpected. A journey that will repeat history perhaps.
It’s all about our culture, demonstrating how we are connected to ocean and the spirits. A trip that will connect the lost Titan tribe in Micronesia cast away some 100 to 1,000 years ago. It is about the pride of our cultural heritage. The world will be watching!
Well, let’s hope so. Certainly, here at PNG Attitude, we look forward to receiving regular reports from Manuai Matawai, and perhaps seeing him, his fellow navigators and those dancers and singers in Sydney later this year.
Keep in touch with the voyage here - http://climatechallengervoyage.net/. With many thanks to Chalapi Pomat and Warwick Brandes