A Tongan Exodus by Sisifa Lui and Chesta Fa’otusia

A mass departure to a foreign place. I close my Tohitapu and hold it tight to my chest as if seeking comfort from a loved one. I reflect on the story of Moses and his people. A story of migration that to me seemed to be, perhaps the last of its kind. However, even the Lord is aware that Tonga looks to face an Exodus of our own. Our oral history that was once told of our islands, our promise lands by our elders, will soon be written by waves.

Science proves that Tonga is one of many Pacific Islands that will be gone by the year 2050 if nothing is done about the climate crisis. Waves of destruction will swallow our traditions, and our customs will cease to exist. For it is much harder to preserve our language and our culture when the root of it all is displaced. It is expected that there will be an overwhelming influx of climate-induced migrants from all over Oceania fleeing their homes. Homeless and landless islanders, with passports that will become their refuge.

Science aside, our people are speaking, their stories demonstrate a by-product of the world’s greed.

In the humble home of his childhood, my Uncle lives with his wife and young children. He leaves Tonga abroad to pick fruits to provide for his family. It’s hard work, and the distance makes things more complicated, but it’s what gives them hope. In 2018 Tonga was struck with the most robust cyclone it had encountered since reliable records began. Tropical Cyclone Gita hit the Kingdom, and all my Uncles work maintaining this structure that sheltered family members before him, all their possessions and hope were exposed to the storm when their roof was ripped from above them. Finding shelter under mattresses, the young girls joined their mother in prayer, the only hope they were left with. As dawn drew in, so did the heart-ache as the aftermath of the storm started to show itself, and the loss of their family became apparent — a reality for many families across Tonga that day. Low-lying villages, flooded and littered with debris. Tonga was left with no running water, no electricity and no sign of when they would recover. They are still in the process of improving, over a year later and recovering while still also enduring the increasing effects of climate change.

 Tonga, February 2018: Locals in the aftermath of Cyclone Gita.

Should we lose our islands, thousands will be forced to look at our youth, asking “how will they discover their cultural identities?” we cannot let climate change rob our youth of their future. Our youth are already at stake with the progressive nature of our time, yet we place them on a front-line battle against climate disasters. So, since we have ignored science and built a world where young people are the ones to deal with climate change, we must then suit them in the armour of knowledge to action the fight. Legislation and action must have a swift implementation of Pacific perspectives on the environment: our homes, a holiday destination to you, but heritage to us. We as people are connected to the land, with the ocean around our islands binding us together. Now we must educate our people for us not to evacuate. We must be made aware that the earth beneath does not quake because of God, but because of us.

Our voice should not be another noise in the crowd of concerns.
Climate Change should no longer be another conversation for National Leaders.
We should not build in the shadow of the buildings which grow taller than trees.

Who can escape?
Not you
Not me.

Climate change Migration is not a Refugee Crisis. It’s Pacific Genocide.
But Climate Change is not the crisis, nor is it environmental disasters, global warming or greenhouse gas emissions. The Crisis isn’t climate change. The Crisis is Us.

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