A Tarnished Inheritance

Kate Marina Ngatokorua

My name holds no importance to this story; yours wouldn’t either if you were telling the truth of how death and destruction came to your country. I will however tell you a bit about myself. I have lived my whole life in the once beautiful paradise of the Cook Islands. Originally from the outer island of Mangaia I moved to Rarotonga to further my studies and find a job. I met and married my husband here and we continued living on Rarotonga with our three children. We love living here but sadly with time came change and in this case not for the better but for a true mind boggling awakening to the coming future.

My birth is not important in this story either. I wasn’t born to become the next saviour or prime minister like in some stories, but it is the year that I was born which is important to understand. I was born in the year 2000, the year of the great scare of the millennium. The fear that raced through the world before the year of my birth was unbelievable. The new millennium, 2000. The fear of the Y2K bug causing havoc in our society. You see computers were not programmed to go from the year 1999 to 2000. This was glitch in the system as computers were only expected to last 10 years and the dates set on them only went up to 1999. This small glitch in the computers software became a problem as no one could predict what would happen. It was feared that technology would crash and life would change completely. Computers were relied on greatly in our lives and they still are. They control air planes, banks, stock markets, hospitals, life support and much more. Imagine all that shutting itself down. Lives would be lost, the economy would crash and there would be riots and mayhem all over the world. This fear however was short lived and as the clock struck midnight and the countdown ended the fear vanished. The lights were still on, the music was still blasting and happiness still thrived as everyone witnessed the millennium. The fear now however will never vanish.

Now fifty years later there is no thriving country or paradise on Earth that welcomes all with our famous Polynesian smiles. Our people made a lot of bad decisions. Outside influence gave my little island home a lot of wealth but at a great price. Greed has taken over the island’s heart and core. Money rules our everyday life. The island ways have vanished and they have been replaced with the need and urge for more money, more power and more status. Where do you ask are those true Cook Islands today. It’s simple really, they no longer walk with us but have become extinct like the beautiful creatures before our time. They are little more that a memory now and soon will only appear in fairy tales.

This greed caused the great divide between the locals many years ago. A new hierarchy order was formed: the elite, the working and the poor. My family was lucky as we could feed ourselves and had the shelter of the old family home. The working was more the average household who usually had inherited houses and could put their children though school. The elite were extremely rich and owned huge houses in the mountains; they were feared as they had a lot of influences on higher people. The poor were considered beneath animals, they were treated like criminals and blamed for everything that went wrong in the new society. Families and friends were divided though this process. Crime and prostitution became common in the poorer parts. Over the last fifty years my home had become like the rest of the world: divided, over populated, polluted and worst of all our culture and identity have been lost.

In the year 2015 the oil market collapsed. The war in the Middle East had hit everyone hard as all the oil wells had either been burned or dried up. The price of fuel and power soared through the roof. Alternative fuels had been researched but all this cost money and the Cook Islands wasn’t one of the richest countries. So we did what we did best and made do with what we had. Many of the local families including mine saved what they could of this precious commodity and turned the light on for only minutes each night. Darkness always enveloped the island except for small flickers of candle lights and fires.

People went back to cooking on open fires and drying fish and meat in the sun. Cooked food had to be consumed straight away so there was no unnecessary waste. Refrigeration was a thing of the past. My children have never seen or felt ice. We also became lazy and hardly went anywhere. Walking was too dangerous especially at night with the crime rate rising fast. Transport was difficult to come by and only the rich could afford the expensive solar powered transport that was in high demand. ¬¬A horse-breeding programme was started and each household was given two horses to care for and to use as transport. This programme failed as locals took the animals for granted as one would a car or motorbike. Many starved, forgotten or mistreated as if they were the cause of their master’s distress. There was no love or care for the animals even when they were the only choice or hope in this time of need.

The government finally found funding for the solar and wind power project. Wind farms were set on the mountains and precautions were taken in case of hurricanes. Each household was hooked up to the main power grid and neighbouring houses shared units of solar power. In the poorer areas it was different. The power grid did not reach as far as the little village and solar panels were left on the out skirts to give little electricity to them and more into the power grid. I pitied them as most could not help their state and many had richer families who had forgotten and turned their backs on them. The unity of our country was no longer there. We no longer came together to help those in need.

The government knew the country needed to promote tourism to be able to receive revenue to finance and maintain this project and to bring income into the country. An agreement was reached between the government and the main leading chains of hotels to decrease their prices in exchange for the government to give a small percentage to the hotel chains for maintenance and expansion. But we all knew the hotels didn’t need this money but it went straight to their greedy pockets while those in the poorer areas went uneducated and starved.

In 2030 Rarotonga was over populated. Tourists came and bargains were made between the Cook Islands and other countries. As a result more and more people came in from China, Europe and Central Asia. These bargains acted as a barter system, people for resources. This brought more homeless people into our country as some could only afford to travel here but had no money for shelter or food. The village where the poor lived was overflowing and the streets were lined with beggars and the homeless. The government had found a way to import cheap resources in exchange for migrants. At this point cultures mixed, families grew and so did the amount of poverty. More and more houses were built for the bigger and richer families. Trees were cut down and the island was less green and less tropical. Many of the local birds had nowhere to live or raise their young. Some migrated to the other islands in hope while many species perished.

Newly built houses began to get taller and taller which broke the old island rule that no building was to be higher that the tallest coconut tree. Then a big shock came when it was announced that the selling and buying of land to non Cook Islanders and migrants was legalized. This brought more and more people crowding in from other over-populated and poverty stricken countries. At this point the poor sold what little land they had to survive but also lost all security on the island and became homeless. All the poor villagers sold their land to buy food and those who didn’t, eventually gave in to persistent buyers. The poor had no home now. Immigrants from Russia and Canada were welcomed and the population continued to grow.

It was during this time that my country forgot its culture. People were too eager to learn the different cultures that our own was lost. The older generations were dying out and our children were born in to a jumble of cultures. Schools taught all three main cultures and languages but our culture was not part of these three. English/European, Russian and Chinese dominated the school’s curriculum and our Maori language and culture lost out to these three dominant cultures.

In 2045 my home, my country was declared as polluted. Plants and crops could no longer grow in the soil my father and my grandfather in-law had used for planting. The years of burying the trash and dealing with the waste products was paying its price. With such a huge population comes a huge amount of waste. We had been burying in many places and once covered they were forgotten. As it is said “out of sight, out of mind.” This pollution had a ripple affect, our water was also contaminated from the leakage of pollutants from the soil into the main water supply. Families became sick with stomach pains, fevers and chest pains. A number of chemical tests were carried out, it was deemed true. The country was badly polluted.

Water filters were ordered and placed in every household, business, hotel and community center. Many died including my daughter. I watched her suffer and fight for each breath in the hospital bed and I felt helpless. For one week I watched and cried for my little girl. She was always so lively and funny. Her eyes always held a secret but in that hospital all her eyes showed was pain and fear. I will never forget those torturing minutes towards the end. I was sitting with her, holding her fragile hand. I watched her gasp her last breath. I felt a great pull on my heart as my precious little girl closed her eyes for the last time. I sat there for many hours later and thought of her and how this could have been stopped. When you hear of people dying you never really feel the actual pain until someone you love passes away. Burying your own child leaves such a big hole in your heart. I felt so guilty. Why did I bring her into this cruel and violent world?

The pollution we had caused had become an epidemic. It was a sight I had never seen before. Funerals were held daily for those who could afford it, while the poor lay dead on the streets. The stench from the streets and cardboard boxes made my stomach turn. There was no real number of how many died for the homeless were never counted and many bodies were never found.

Sadly it didn’t stop there. Our precious lagoon was quickly following suit as fish were dying by great numbers. Reef, lagoon and ocean fish were washed up dead on the sand. No more could we feed from our gift that was the lagoon. The beautiful blue had dimmed and was turning brown. The lagoon that I had once swum in and splashed in on a hot day was now polluted. Children were hospitalized with rashes and throat pains after swimming at the same beach I swam at as a child. For the first time in my life I saw the lagoon as an enemy and not a life long friend. This was our people’s doing, this was our fault for not caring for our home, our country. We were suffering and it was all our doing.

It is now the year 2050 and I have been alive and living in the Cook Islands for half a century. My family and I left Rarotonga soon after the pollution scare and the death of my daughter, as it was declared uninhabitable. We moved to the southern island of Mangaia. I was home. It is less affected here but evidence is showing that soon we will have to move again and this time out of the Cook Islands. As I look at my family, my children and my children’s children I feel my eyes prickle with tears. They have no idea who they are. They have no culture, no ancient traditions and no mother tongue as I once did. There is no pride in their voices when they say that they are Cook Islanders.

If only we weren’t so greedy for money, power and status. Our lives were fine the way they were. Now our islands are dying and soon we will be like those who immigrated in to our country, not that long ago. We will have no country, no culture and this is the fear that will live on and never fade. This unfading fear of no knowing anymore who we are is fueled by the guilt of how we let this happen. We had let our country and home die because of greed. Our children will never know the legends and traditions of our people. They will never see the lush green of the mountains or the deep blue of the oceans. Nor will they see the colourful fish swimming just out of reach in the lagoon, graceful turtles flying though the water like birds and beautiful birds perch on tree branches as they sing to one another. These magnificent creatures of the Cook Islands are long gone. They are only a vague memory to me and my children will only see them in the stories I tell of the good old days. We are leaving them a tarnished and damaged inheritance. We should have persevered our country for our children for they are the future. They are the ones who will live here when we are long gone. How could we have been so selfish?

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