Monday 12 February 2018


By Tioti Timon *

In January 2018, in Kiribati, nearly 100 people, of whom 22 school children, tragically went missing on the high seas between Nonouti and Tarawa when a ferry sank. A comparable tragedy in the United States would have seen ¼-million people lost at sea. After four days, a New Zealand Defence Force Orion aircraft found seven survivors.

The Australian Broadcasting Network (ABC) reported on the tragedy—setting it in context by describing Kiribati as “a remote, impoverished nation of thirty-three atolls that is home to about 108,000 people”. Pi approached Tioti Timon of Kiribati for comment on the word “impoverished”.  He replied with free verse:

the word as presented globally
is a discriminatory term
rooted in colonial language
that has treated our people

Australia is a rich country
but there are poor people
begging in the street.
They are rich
but they are poor
in their culture.

Kiribati is a poor country
but we don’t have people
begging in the street.
We are poor
but we are rich
in reciprocity and family support.

What is the meaning
of impoverished,
when we have
the vast ocean around us
and our lives are not dependent
on money.

What is the meaning
of impoverished,
when we have
a material culture
of delightful sophistication
of thousands of years.

All Kiribati people
have their lands
and live subsistently
on their islands
enjoying life,
feasting, dancing, and singing.

We are living in a paradise
that we cannot experience
in an individualistic Australia.

I don't understand this word
applied to our country
in this sad situation
where the lives of our people are lost.

* Tioti Timon has been at the forefront of raising awareness of the effects of globalisation on his people, and their precarious position in view of climate change.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost. The ABC news report is here.


docmartincohen said...

"We are poor
but we are rich"

Certainly, it's always good to be reminded that there are different ways to calculate the 'wealth' of a society. Social cohesion is one such good, that we have seen thrown away in Britain by the Brexit schemers. But that's another story!

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

There is an uncommon interest in this post. It is, I know, a keenly felt issue in my part of the world, which is Africa. 'Impoverished' is a deeply felt word here, which goes deeper than questions as to how one may calculate wealth.

'Impoverished'. Some think it is a fitting description of certain communities. Others think it looks right past their riches. And if it does, then what is it? Even if one rightly calls a community impoverished, by this or that standard, what does that mean?

Someone recently announced over here that, if we are to overcome racism, we finally need to acknowledge that others are impoverished. Well, yes. But no. Was this statement in itself racist?

Tessa den Uyl said...

Impoverished sounds like a lack of something, almost an illness, not much to those labeled with it, but for those afraid becoming as such.

Keith said...

Parsing notions like ‘being poor’ and ‘being rich’, with their complex subtlety and subjectivity, can happen meaningfully only if judged from within society, not from without, given claims to different values. Perspective, and ‘ownership’, matter. Otherwise, judgment might best be left suspended. Although the economic, political, social, and technological forces propelling today’s globalization may well prove inexorable in the long run, the eventual outcome doesn’t have to be an increasing, enforced uniformity of those values within and across cultures. ‘Being poor’ and ‘being rich’ can still capture the ideals, however potentially even polar apposite, of individual societies, whose unique histories led to unique value systems. The genuineness and legitimacy of alternative notions of being poor and being rich are exemplified here, between those of Kiribati and those purportedly of Australia. There’s something to be said, perhaps, for many-sided value systems (in contrast to claims of unforgiving objectivity), which allow for authentic distinctions between ‘richness’ and ‘poverty’ among people of different heritages.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Testing Recent Comments ...

TA2 said...

Test Comment

Thomas Scarborough said...

I received the following comment via social media, from a film composer:

'His first 2 verses show a distinct version of what he feels is rich, yet the Lockheed Orion, a multi-million dollar AWACS had to find their children because they weren't rich enough in monetary terms to have one of their own. The definitions of rich and poor are subjective.'

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