Cecilie Rubow – University of Copenhagen

Cecilie Rubow

July 2011

Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

It is wintertime, the dry and cold season, and at night the temperature is going down below 20C. We have had a fine week, dry, sunny and calm. This morning, the lagoon is peaceful; it’s low tide and perfect for an excursion to the reef. The tourists are still resting in the resorts, when we are leaving the shore in one of the new dugout canoes, build by a group of men in the community. We, two fisherwomen, a group of kids and I, are heading to Koromiri, a motu, a small island in the lagoon. Hereafter, we wade through the water with reef shoes on, careful not to get harmed by one of the large, very thorny sea urchins. When we reach the seaside of the reef the surf is impressive and the kids are having a hard – and fun – time. The current is strong and we seek to the leeward side again. 

The reef looks grey and dead. Decades ago seaweed grew on it, and more corals were alive. According to local people, it has never been a really colourful reef with many different corals and seaweeds. Now, we notice new, small coral heads, and we can see many starfish, trochus, urchins, sea cucumbers and small schools of baby parrotfish.
We collect trochus, a coneshaped sea snail, and float them in a smaller plastic canoe to the motu in order to open and clean them. The lazy way is to use a hammer, and the better way is to break a hole in one trochus by hammering the sharp end of another into the side of it. Then you press the snail’s entrails out through the hole, wash the shell in the seawater and blow the snail out. It takes a while, but it’s a good time for talking and resting at the beach. The kids are playing around, and asking for oranges, papaya, sweets and coconuts.

Further down the beach, large ironwood trees turned over with exposed roots bear witness to a swirl of cyclones hovering the island in 2005. According to aerial photos, the motu is slowly moving northward, so the erosion due to the cyclones and the storms is not necessarily resulting in a smaller island. A large sand spit on the other side of the island seems to confirm this movement of sand.  This is the spot where hundreds of tourists go on a picnic every week after a cruise in a boat with a glass bottom. For people coming from over seas, it’s also a popular location for weddings.
When we leave the motu and slowly approach the main island, smoke from the burning of leaves and garbage is rising at the back of Sails, a popular restaurant housing a sailing club. About 2000 people live in the Muri area, 15 properties provide accommodation for tourists, and 300 pigs and 80 dogs add to the living population creating both a thriving community and a considerable amount of waste. Local residents and sailors often lament the deterioration of the lagoon: The water is not sparkling blue anymore, the beach is eroding and the sand is getting murky, and during the hot summer algae bloom is a returning problem. Today, however, the lagoon seems to be in a fairly good condition. Not many days ago, strong winds and high swells flushed the whole area with fresh water from the ocean.


Landscape at Fiji by Cecilie Rubow

Cecilie Rubow

June 2010

Letter from the field: On the road from Nadi to Suva, Fiji

Five o'clock in the morning in Nadi airport, Fiji, it has only taken 38 virtual hours to get here from Copenhagen. I am on a preparatory journey, looking for places, people and institutions with an interest in Christian theology in relation to (expected) climate change. Throughout the Pacific, Christianity has a large, but mixed influence on everyday life, and in some places the churches, or members of churches, are now attentive to climate change in both theology and environmental practice.

Nadi is located on the dry, western side of Viti Levu. Tourists are in transit to resorts with white sand beaches, palm trees, bright blue lagoons, coral reefs and retro-style cabins. They depart from the airport in air conditioned buses with good suspension. I am catching the local bus, a rattling example of the world's collection of jumping, quirky, dented buses.

Outside the windows, the landscape is dawning with sugar cane fields, scattered houses, smoke from fireplaces and hills ending in grasslands. The most widespread theory is that the grasslands are a result of forests burned and felled. A local professor of geoscience, Patrick Nunn, argues that this theory mirrors a limited, anthropocentric thinking. His theory is that the extensive dieback is linked with climate changes in the 14. Century. The present global warming and the rising sea is in his view also a mixed phenomena of long term climatic processes intertwined with accelerated by human interventions. Nunn has a watchful eye for practical and political consequences in Fiji within the next decades such as uninhabitable towns and villages along the coast from Nadi to Suva. There are many local efforts to protect the coastal areas against water intrusion, but they are, according to Nunn, in vain.

Fiji TimesI am chatting with two ladies about a front page story in Fiji Times stating that a 'false prophet' had spread rumours that a tsunami would hit Fiji. Villagers fled into the mountains. School children, it is said, were kept at home. The prophet has been taken into custody for causing 'unnecessary panic and anxiety'. The ladies are smiling. "The meteorological officers, they will tell us if a tsunami is coming." However, they do find many signs, fx. natural disasters, and climate change, indicating that we are approaching the end times. For them and many other Christians, the biblical cosmology is an important player in the imagination of the past, the present and the future. However, the strands of interpretations varies considerably in the lively mix of different christianities drawing on both traditional spirituality, classical main line Christianity within the Pacific churches, eco-theology, post-modern theology, political theology and evangelical theologies developed in various parts of the world.

It is late morning, the bus is full and we have arrived in the rainy part of the island. It is dark in the streets of Suva, and after a few detours the cab driver locates my destination, one of the theological colleges. At night I confuse the sea with the sound of aircraft engines, and I cannot figure out whether I am tired, sleepy, awake or actually sleeping, but luckily I know I am in place. Ready to search for possible linkages between the rising sea, the rising awareness of climate change and the seed beds of local christianities engaged in developing dogmatic and practical theology in new directions.