My memory of him was that of a kind, strong grandpa who bought me sweets and my mother’s admiration for many of his positive traits is evident. But he was an I-Kiribati man and unfortunately most men are taught to show violence to stake their position of “head of the family”.
The stories were horrific but always followed with “But he was a good man. And we loved him. He was just doing what was normal at the time.” This is family life in Kiribati. The women speak about the violence in hushed tones, on the nights the ocean roars loud enough to cover their voices.
I didn’t want to go to bed that night. Not only because I felt like I had been accepted into this secret society of amazing women, but also because I was too scared.
The high tide ocean was ferocious and I couldn’t sleep because of it. I tried going to bed while the other three kept talking but I couldn’t sleep. When I had lain down, the waves were so loud that I thought that the ocean was going to surge in and drown me. Perhaps my imagination was running wild but with the waves smashing up against the sea wall that sat three metres from the house, I felt like I was drifting alone in the middle of the Pacific.
I got back up again and lay on the mat next to my Grandma, waiting for high tide to pass. I still felt like I was drifting out in the middle of the ocean, but this time I was with the strongest women in my life. If I stayed with them, they would keep me safe.
For generations, the Kiribati people have spoken of the ocean as their giver of life. They are proud fishermen, proudly depend on the coconut trees for food, water and shelter and respect the sea as if it were Mother Nature itself. The sea is their home.
But now the conversation has changed. They no longer work with the ocean but they fight against it. The water has risen dramatically in the past 20 years and sea walls have been erected everywhere to stop the water inundating their well water and homes. Anywhere else in the world, it is a luxury to live by the sea. In Kiribati, it means that you are the first to be without a home.