Tuvalu : a polynesian requiem

Photography : Laurent WEYL     Texts : Donatien GARNIER    

Funafuti Atoll, Funafala Island At this extension of Funafula, this small atoll is at the mercy of the effects of global warming: more violent cyclones, erosion, rising sea levels.
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island Twice a day, Elie Akimo harvests the sap of the coconut tree. She drinks it cold or fermented, but also boiled, which resembles maple syrup. With its nuts, water, sap and sprouts, the coconut tree is one of the major sources of food for the people of Tuvalu.
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island According to the time, the size of the tides, the colour of the sky and the form of the waves, the phase of the moon, the position of the stars and his appetite, Falao, decides on the fishing technique he will use.
ATOLL DE FUNAFUTI, ÎLE DE FUNAFALA Funafuta atoll, Funafala island Falao, 66, gets up at 5 in the morning. From the first light of sunrise, he is in the water fishing for small bait fish which he uses several hours later to go after the big ones
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island At Funafula, there are more pigs than humans. They are fed on coconut milk and are normally eaten only on special occasions.
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island Entirely opened to the outside, the traditional hut is; dining room, bedroom and living room, for not only family members but also any visitors.
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island At Funafula, they enjoy the siesta in the traditional hut, with a coconut for a pillow. At night they use a small battery to operate a small electric light bulb and a radio crackling with static.
Funafuti atoll, Funafala island Monday, more than for most children of his age, is a difficult day for Sene, 5, and Telefoni, 7: not only do they have to return to school but also leave their enchanted island for at least a week. The first taste of a future exile? That’s what their father thinks.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island While 13 km long, the island is only 650 metres wide and in places, like here, doesn’t extend beyond the width of the road. As fragile as a boat, the island is being eaten away, subsiding under the ocean waves and into the lagoon. More than half of the population of Tuvalu live here.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The lagoon is a like a living room without walls where people gather to chat in the evenings.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Rare are the fishermen who go to sea during a storm. Mothers, whose evening meal depends on the success of whose have braved the elements, anxiously await their return.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The return of twin-brothers Lupati Lacopo and Teaki Tpu after a long day of fishing.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island After the return of the fishermen, it is the women who then weigh and wrap the purchases of the clients who have come to buy their evening meal.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Commonwealth Day is a special occasion, for the large primary school classes of Funafuti it’s a time to learn about climate change. After a small show, the children write letters, songs and poems which will be distributed to member states as a “message in bottle”.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The Tuvaluans love singing and making up songs. Any events will do even rising sea levels. This morning the teacher writes a song to accompany his lesson on the greenhouse effect.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Regularly informed about global warming, the school children of Tuvalu cannot ignore the stateless future that awaits them. One student draws the future flooding of Tuvalu.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The coastline is being eaten away day after day, storm after storm.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The tsunami which struck Asia is on everybody’s mind. Whatever their temperament, most Tuvaluans associate this catastrophe with what awaits them as sea levels keep rising.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Unconcerned about the flooding, children make sure they don’t slip on the water logged soil.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Resigned to the coming changes to their environment, some Tuvaluans say they are ready to leave their island as soon as possible. Others want to stay as long as they can while some don’t exclude the possibility of drowning with their islands.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The community life is an essential component of the Tuvaluan culture. It is based around the family and where they live. At Funafuti, are the inhabitants part of the island community or that of their atoll? The Tuvaluans are also very involved in the life of their church – the majority are Protestant.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island To organise a meeting about relations between the sexes is not something which is easy to do in Tuvalu. To achieve this the leaders of a women’s association call on all the different religious and island communities of Funafuti. The debate, rather tense, finishes with a large afternoon tea, singing and dancing.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Each of the eight islands forming Tuvalu is represented by a community. The cultural identity and the social links of the Tuvaluans are rooted in their communities. Here during an inter-island championship of Tuvalu, you can read the name of the island on the players’ jerseys.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Strong westerly winds are fairly rare at Funafuti. But they can, when they blow up the high tide, cause devastating flooding for the local community which lives off their gardens.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The dead are buried next to their homes and remain part of them. What will happen to all the graves when the Tuvaluans départ ?
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island The court of justice is held in the « Talekaupule » or community house. It deals mainly with disputes over property and bad behaviour. A judge, appointed by the Commonwealth comes to the village for serious cases.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island No more 4 metres at its highest, the island is virtually flat. A strong wave would suffice to literally wipe it off the map of the Pacific ocean.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island With each storm and big tide the airport runway is partly submerged. Being a coral island, the water passes through this porous material and reaches the lowest parts.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Dug by the Americans during WWII to build a land strip for their marine aircraft, the “burrow pits””, have weakened the island.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Tornados, droughts, floods linked to the action of the violent westerly winds and large swells….For the past 10 years Tuvalu has experienced a series of unprecedented climatic extremes.
Funafuti atoll, Fongafale island Maatia Toafa, the prime minister. He is one of those who believe that the state of Tuvalu must do everything in its power to allow the people to stay as long as possible on their islands. Even if it means building towers and bringing in earth.