Monday 10 October 2022

I Stand in the Middle of the Ocean

by Tioti Timon *

In the middle of the ocean I stand
without anyone to help.
Days, months, and years have left me behind.
I search for my home,
I call you by name – Kiribati, Where are you?
Hear the voice of my song.
Rise up, rise up, you the centre of the world.
Arise from the depth of the Ocean
So you may be seen from afar
Be lifted higher, and higher
With no friends to help me
They left me days and years ago

—Tom Toakai

In the middle of the ocean means ‘the deep sea’ or ‘deep void’ where feet cannot stand. Standing in the middle of the deep sea means living without a grounding, or strong foundation to stand on. The tone of this song harks back to the 1960s, when Kiribati was still under the British Empire. With a limitation of natural resources, Kiribati relied on the phosphate island of Banaba as the only resource for its economic development.

However, the phosphate was mined by the British, and when it was exhausted, they granted us independence, and left us with a legacy that ignored economic development.** The impact of climate change reflects the continuous roughshod treatment of poor and small island nations like Kiribati, by the powerful nations of the developed world. We have been ignored, and now we are paying the cost of what rich countries are doing for their own benefit, development, and security.

The second line, ‘I stand without anyone to help, days and years’ expresses the complaint of the people of Kiribati, after being used, and then left to stand on their own without a single viable industry on the islands. Being left by the British with limited resources has given the people of Kiribati a hard time to develop their country. Even though Kiribati is poor, and constantly oppressed and victimised by the impacts of climate change, the song encourages the people to fight for their land, their rights and their freedoms.

The Kiribati phrase, ‘Ko mena ia?’ literally means ‘Kiribati, where are you?’ In this song, the composer reminds his people to call out the name of their country, which seems to be lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after being left helpless by the British, and at the same time destroyed by the ignorance of rich countries. The composer suggests that calling out the name of a country is a source of strength, to enable its inhabitants to stand up for their country.

Even though Kiribati was left with very little, we should own the name of our country, and not accept that the situation is lost and hopeless, because we have our islands, and we also have our ocean—our home and refuge, our well-being and our future. We should not remain silent, but must keep on calling the name of our islands to rise from beneath the ocean. This means that we must not rely on other sources to build our lives, but rather to build with our own lands, culture, and ways of living. As islanders, we must return to our home, the home of our ancestors, our cultural ways of living, built by our own ancestral wisdom and knowledge, and not by foreigners.

‘Rise up from the ocean,’ serves to remind the people to rise and stand on their own feet, utilising their own knowledge and skills to bring out what is there in their ocean. It is a wake-up call to the new generation who are caught up with the influences of a new civilisation that replaces traditional ways of living.

‘Arise, arise from the bottom of the ocean, so that you will be seen by those from afar’ is thus a challenge for the islands to rise up, not only to cry out for help, but to do something about it for themselves. It is a call for action by the islanders themselves, to rise up as lights to the world, to tell the world that ‘We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it.’

We have a freedom which must not be allowed to be taken away again. We must not allow others to determine our own future, but rather create a future that matches our own plans and dreams. We need to learn from our experiences, the impact of globalisation and climate change ‘to cherish our identities and rediscover ourselves as guardians of the best for the next generations’.***

* Rev. Dr. Tioti Timon is principal of Tangintebu Theological College in the Central Pacific.
** Tabai, Ieremia. 1987:42 . ‘A Kiribati View.’  *** 9th Assembly of Pacific Conference of Churches Report. 2007:17.


Keith said...

I see in this post, Tioti, much lamentation. But it got me thinking, surprisingly there’s nothing here that lays out what the people of Kiribati have already been sorting out for themselves, concretely, since independence more than four decades ago.

To proactively move beyond Britain’s patriarchal exploitation. To proactively develop economic independence. To proactively tackle the means of adaptation and mitigation in the face of climate change. Did Kiribati not long ago take the reins in remedying what it saw as akilter with its welfare?

You say that Toakai’s ‘song encourages the people to fight for their land, their rights, and their freedoms’. I had assumed that Kiribati, long unshackled from the ‘foreigners’ you mention, already had the opportunity to act. To turn that land, those rights, and those freedoms into tangible benefits. Songs rarely help; tangible development does.

I prefer the following take-charge sentiment from the post: ‘We must not allow others to determine our own future, but rather create a future that matches our own plans and dreams’. Yes, the proactivity of a nation developing its own plans, and acting upon them with hard-nosed, hands-on determination. Why no mention here of such plans underway?

Anonymous said...

"We should not remain silent, but must keep on calling the name of our islands to rise from beneath the ocean. "
~ Thanks for the nice thought!

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