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Karanga for a nuclear free pacific.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari te toa takitini

My strength is not that of the individual but that of us all together In 1962, without consultation, France declared Moruroa Atoll and other Tahitian islands as nuclear test sites. Karanga for a Nuclear Free Pacific depicts real events, dreams and underwater sequences from the perspectives of the whales, dolphins and turtles affected by the testing, interwoven with traditional Maori mythology and proverbs.

She strolls over the dunes in the haunting moonlight, toward a cave at the mouth of the harbour. From within, voices, waiata. Then silence. She enters the cave, drawn by a power from within. At the far end, a pinpoint of light. She walks toward it. Nearing, she sees a rounded piece of bone, light shining from its centre. It appears suspended in mid air. She moves closer. The bone hovers at eye level. She reaches out her hand. The bone is placed in her palm. It is in the shape of a fish hook. Light shines through the ribs of the old kuia. A piece of one rib is missing.

Cowrie looks down. Her own hei matau lies safe on her breast bone, next to the carved turtle. She clutches it in comfort. A warm glow emanates from the bone, heating her hand. She lies awake, the moon slanting down through the nikau trunks, lying across her body like bars. Then she remembers Moruroa. Invasion. Rape. They tunnel shafts deep into Papatuanuku, put nuclear explosives capable of another Hiroshima into them, blast apart the atoll, and say that the tests are totally safe. She moans, turns over, but cannot sleep. She tries to imagine sailing a waka into the test zone, women from all the islands on board. Gradually, her body begins to relax and she falls into a deep sleep.

This time she is fishing. Using the bone hook given to her in the cave. She feels a tug at the other end of the line. Imagining a beautiful fresh ika, she reels in her catch. It gets heavier and heavier as she pulls the fish to the surface. The ika struggles wildly then flops out into the waka, its mouth open, gasping for breath, then releasing a baby from its gullet. Cowrie bends down to examine it more closely. The fish has no tail, no eyes. It looks like an amoeba. She holds it up to the light and gasps. It is a half formed human baby with no arms or legs. Just a belly and traces of a human face. She screams, dropping the baby. It sinks to the ocean depths.

A frenzy of dark fins and flukes, black and white bodies, slash through the sea. High-pitched screams echo and are answered by southern orcas. White blood seeps out of the rocks and the land shrieks for forgiveness. A dark pole of thick concrete rips into the lower layers of rock, the drills sending screams of pain through the highly sensitised mammals. They crash together, causing huge waves to ripple out from their bodies. The drilling increases in pitch until they are stunned into silence, floating, dazed, off course, and dangerously near to a tidal beach where they will be stranded the next dawn, while Skullcaps wonder why they have these suicide pacts. I hear these same stories each day a new nuclear rig is drilled through the heart of an island. I float on the surface of the sea, eying the Skullcaps, wondering why they create such destructiveness. First they hunt our whale brothers with harpoons thrown from large boats, then they shoot and electrify them, now they send down drills to screech through their radar and, as if that were not torture enough, they ram explosives down into the holes they have drilled and tear apart the land, ripping out her entrails.

On these days, I want to invoke the power of Pele to throw out lashings of hot lava to sizzle the slivers of their brains, fire some sense into them. Then a small child sees me floating in the Punalu'u Lagoon, wants to ride me into the waves, looks at me with such longing and I know there is still hope alive in him, the desire to appreciate rather than destroy. I am then melted instead of wanting to melt. I fin my way near to him and touch him gently. He looks at me in wonderment. I swim away, then circle round and touch him with my fin again. This time, I know he knows. This time, I reach him on the inside. Will he grow up to invent yet more weapons or will he plead for peace?

Time will tell, as the wind ripples the waters of the lagoon and the tide turns, warning me to head for the open seas before it is too late. From there, I will sing out to the Longfins, sing waiata of hope, guide them back into our ocean depths if their radar is not too distorted by the blasts. I, Laukiamanuikahiki, will never give up, so long as I have the strength to reach those who can work for change. That is my taonga, my gift, my blessing. My ancestors taught me that there is always a choice, that it is never too late. They who have suffered so much for so long, know what this means. We are of human and turtle clan. We are the rainbow bridge-builders.
   He nui maunga e kore e taea te whakaneke, he nui ngaru moana ma te
   ihu o te waka e wahi.

   A great mountain cannot be moved, a giant wave can be broken by the
   prow of the canoe.

Sahara gasps at the awesome beauty of the towering pinnacles rising violently from the ocean below. She videos the entry into the harbour as the mighty waka leads them and is greeted by Tahitian canoes, outriggers, and a resounding haka from the shore. The harbour is dotted with craft guiding them in. As the waka reaches the shore, Tahitians move down the beach and shower the paddlers with bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani lei. The colours of the flowers shine in the brilliant sun. Manawa Toa ties up to the wharf and its crew are festooned with garlands and waiata.

That night, the speeches of welcome before the feast outline the gravity of the situation. Former workers from Moruroa Moll, who had to sign a secrecy agreement in accepting their jobs with the French Government to work at the nuclear test zone, risk their freedom by explaining how the military base works and the history of thirty years of nuclear explosions in the Pacific. They hand over diagrams of the nuclear plant which show extensive underground drilling has eroded several old test sites, and photographs which clearly indicate massive cracks in the surface of the atoll, visible from the water. Cowrie and the others have heard most of this before, but Sahara is shocked. 'Little of this has filtered into the European media,' she whispers, as the speeches continue.

'Who's going to make an enemy of France in the new economic union?' Cowrie replies. 'Even if they knew this stuff, no government would risk peace with their neighbours for the sake of an island in the Pacific. You wait, I bet England doesn't denounce the tests. They're too close, with too much to lose.'

Sahara is silent, listening to the next speakers who outline the colonial history. Over the years, the Maohi people have been exploited by France, England, Spain, the Netherlands, Chile, Peru and Russia. The one hundred and thirty islands of Tahiti, covering an area the size of Europe, have been subjected to colonial force and slavery, despite vigorous opposition. In 1797 the London Missionary Society sent a contingent of religious men to Tahiti but they were forced to move on to New South Wales. Then the French sent their missionaries. They wanted the islands to service their merchant, fighting and whaling boats. In 1842 they seized control, establishing a government. Then the Brits and French fought over the islands until 1843 when hundreds of French soldiers took Queen Pomare's palace by force, ripping down the Tahitian flag and raising the tricoleur, which has presided ever since. Despite powerful Maohi resistance, they used material bribes and religion to take over the islands. Decades later, they established nuclear testing zones in return for schools and hospitals. In 1957, the islands became 'French Polynesia'.

Oscar Temaru, leader of Tavini Huraatira, continues the history. By 1962, De Gaulle proclaimed, without consultation, that the islands would be used as a nuclear testing site. Formerly, Fa'a'a had been a community of two thousand living off the rich resources of the land and sea. Suddenly they were invaded by the military. Then French civilians flooded in, lured by large wage packages and the prospect of living in paradise. 'The French tell us they are here to protect us. But we have no enemy! We are living in the Pacific! And that's what we want: to live peacefully in the Pacific. The French are doing their nuclear tests here to protect themselves, not us!'

From the far trees, a muffled drumming. The airport fires, lit to guide the planes in, rage into the night sky forming a mist over the land. As they draw closer, voices are heard above the usual drone of an airport. Suddenly, massive flames light up the sky and the crowd roars as the bonfire rages. Somewhere from behind, a police siren.

They duck for cover under vegetation. 'Shit! I think there's a riot going on,' whispers Irihapeti.

'Good on them!' grunts Kuini. 'Let's get closer.'

Sahara creeps through the undergrowth until they reach the edge of the tarmac. By now fires are raging over the airport base and the terminal is blazing. Police cars have driven out to protect the planes, and fire engines are desperately trying to quell the blaze. Riot police are violent when they grab the Tahitians. Many are beaten to the ground and others are rounded up for the prison trucks. The protestors flee in all directions, but in the background a powerful drum beat urges them on.

Crowds rush into the bush to disperse. Nearby, a group of three gendarmes bashes a young Tahitian boy until he is bruised all over. They leave him in a pool of blood.

The boy looks about fourteen. His story emerges between gasps as they clean the blood with sea water and dress the wounds by tearing his lavalava into strips. Kuini asks where he lives as he'll never make it home alone. He is scared to move lest the police attack him again and put him in prison. His older brother was in a protest two years ago and he's still in police custody. He points in the direction of the hills behind Pape'ete.

Te whare o te matata

The home of the fernbird.

Raoul's mother invites them into the corrugated iron and palm leaf hut hidden in a community of similar makeshift homes not far behind the affluent main street of Pape'ete. They lay him on a woven mat and she cleans the wounds and applies papaya leaves to the bruises. Kuini suggests taking him to the hospital but she indicates it's not a good idea, that he'll be fine after resting. She wants to know what happened and gestures them to stay while she dresses the wound on Sahara's temple. They accept gratefully. They tell her what they know from Raoul and ask her about her family.

Her name is Toi and she explains Raoul is special because the three children before him all died, one from violent muscular contractions and one from leukemia. The third was malformed and died stillborn. Her husband, Jacques, died from cancer after working at Moruroa through the years of atmospheric nuclear tests. The hospital never confirmed the causes of death officially, although the nurses and doctors told her in each case. That was common practice. She'd been given a widow's pension for two years then the terms of contract with the workers changed, many thought because of the high incidence of cancer related deaths. Others were flown to hospitals in France. But many never came back. She manages to convey this information in a mix of French, Tahitian and English. Between them, they translate enough to understand.

Sahara asks Toi more questions in French, only some of which the others understand. Sadly, this is now her adopted language. Turns out her sister lived on Tureia Island, less than a hundred kilometres from Moruroa. The entire population except for one man who refused, was removed to conduct tests there in '68. When they were returned, they were told not to eat fish or drink the water or grow crops on the land. It was contaminated. But how could they survive otherwise? Then there was her cousin who lived on Moruroa before testing began. The lagoon was a favourite fishing place. But only a couple of years after the blasts began in '66, the seafood was poisonous. People vomited and began to suffer all sorts of ailments. Now they live on canned food brought to the atoll.

It is now very late and they thank Toi and say they will check in on Raoul before they leave. 'Better you not come. They will ask questions. Too many questions.' There is a look of pleading in her eyes. They agree to part here, and wish her well, saying they will do all they can to help stop the testing.

Moments later, there is a nuclear underwater explosion. As Pita blows into the conch to sound their defiance an orca whale responds, launching her huge body over the prow of the waka, sounding a haunting cry. The paddlers salute her with paddles raised to the heavens like spears. She responds with another mighty call, flinging herself back over the prow, then dives into the black depths. Pita smiles. It is a sign. Their haka has been heard. Rina Longfin said first there was an eerie silence, then shuddering, as if the ocean was about to sneeze and spout her water everywhere. A moment of stillness, not more than a wavelength, and suddenly the waters trembled, then erupted from the ocean floor upwards, sending all in their wake showering up into the dark heavens, hovering inside a grey cloud which reeked of human chemicals, then crashing violently back through the waves. She and the longfins were some distance from the explosion but could feel its force. All creatures caught in its violence were thrashed and ripped apart like a tornado on land, then flung back into the sea like discarded pulp. They were surrounded by fish flesh and octopus tentacles, broken seahorses, smashed coral, ripped dorsal fins and tail shards and guts. No living creatures within an atoll's length of the explosion survived.

An unearthly call was heard from the canoe floating nearby, then the paddlers did a haka of angry protest, calling on Tangaroa, God of the Oceans, to enact revenge against such wilful destruction. Rangi Longfin, as if powered by an energy which had long left his ancient and huge body, dived deep beneath her then surged his mighty strength forward to the prow of the canoe. He launched himself at the heavens, crying a haka of defiance, screaming from deep within, and dived again to do another launch into the skies back over the bow. This time his call was like none ever heard before. Rina said, 'He showed we had all had enough of this cruel and pointless holocaust. He bellowed as if a harpoon had entered into one side of his body and out the other, and beneath the waters, we all screeched in unison with him.'

I needed to calm her down as she was still shaking as she told her talkstory.

I am furious beyond speech. I cry to Pele for revenge, to cover their houses in lava and put fire in their souls, make them angry enough to join the protest. Then Hina comes to me, tells me to send out love, that hate can never cause needed change fast enough, while love has an energy that multiplies like lusty mahimahi. I cannot bring myself to love the exploiters yet, for they still have the smell of turtle soup on their breath. But I can send love to those paddlers who did the haka, for they are the pioneers of the new world, they are the heart warriors of change.

Sometimes the light shines through the sea like jade held up to the sun. It's as if you can see into the heart of creation. On these days, I love to fin the waves, feel their ripples finning me in return. Sharks nuzzle the reefs, squid dance in their wake, mahimahi leap with joy, flashing and splashing their tail flukes as if swimming on air, then diving swiftly, chasing the bows of boats, playing with saucy seaspray. Every part of me feels alive, from my shell to my fin tips. There is a buzzing beneath my skin, surfing all over my flesh, and the vibrations of the sea sing through me. I hear whale and dolphin songs, feel the tips of octopus tentacles tickling my insides, smell the sweet sea urchins breaking open to reveal their lucious interiors. Then I want to dance with the keening kelp, swing with succulent seaweed as they do an ocean hula to amuse the startled seahorses which cling to their branches, the males bearing the babies while the females search for food. On these days, I rejoice to be alive, to have the power to exist above and below the water, to see the best of both worlds.


Karanga for a Nuclear Free Pacific is a new text based on revised excerpts from Manawa Toa: Heart Warrior, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2000 and text written for German publisher, Rogner and Bernhard, Hamburg, published as Manawa Toa, translation by Dr. Karin Meissenburg, now available from and in Turkey:
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Author:Dunsford, Cathie Koa
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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