Head above water
In places dominated by the sea and subject to unpredictable and violent forces of nature, destruction and impending collapse is impossible to ignore. In Polynesia this has given rise to an understanding of the world as a place where catastrophe, chaos and collapse are an ever-present part of life, not rare exceptions to the norm.
In Polynesia today people are building bricklayer walls against the sea, as there is a constant threat that the ocean will erode portions of the small and vulnerable islands.
Europeans often thought of Polynesia as the ultimate “South Sea island paradise”. Today Polynesia is increasingly threatened by man-made climate change. Not surprising, as many of the world’s lowest lying islands are found here. The islanders are threatened by rising sea levels, cyclones, floods and earthquakes.
Climate change presents many new challenges, but coping with the overpowering forces of nature is nothing new. Since coming to these islands 3000 year ago, people have tried to understand the unpredictable forces that surround them and have developed many ways of dealing with their world. The strategies they have chosen are reflected in their stories, art, rituals and technology . Living in an unpredictable world demands both caution, including upholding social and ritual rules (tapu) and at the same time, daring and initiative (mana).
In this section of Collapse we take a look at Polynesian cosmology, art and ritual in order to explore cultural creativity in the face of impending collapse.