Crime and Punishment

Since we have greeted and sacrificed to the Goddesses, we can walk around anywhere, talk to, film and photograph people. And that is what we do. In a short period of time we will record ten films with topics related to climate change. We will have to work out our expectations build from what we read and heard about Kiribati with the reality. Sea level rise, unstable and unpredictable weather, sweet wells who turn salty due to the rising sea, coral bleaching and therefore less hiding spaces for fish… is it truly that bad?         This island seems a paradise in complete harmony. Fishermen set to work on a daily basis, they angle for fish from slender outrigger canoes and dive with their snorkels to collect bags full of shellfish. Everywhere grow coconut palm trees, and botanical garden-like breeding ponds full of human size, light green tarot leaves ensure a good dinner and a healthy life. The 220 residents of our community elegantly manoeuvre between their open houses on stilts. Among the houses dogs, cats, pigs, and chickens have divided the world. And from the houses rats keep animal population in equilibrium. To our surprise, no snakes or monkeys live on Marakei and hardly any birds fly around.         The romance of this new discovered paradise is soon nuanced. In the early morning after our first night everyone gets waked up violently by the village chime. An old gas cylinder gets a long and thorough beating. All residents have to come to the community house because some drunk boys have been spotted. Which is a crime in this town. Nine years ago there is agreed that liquor is completely banned from the community. There was too much fighting and arguing. Liquor, mostly toddy, or a palm wine, was declared non grata. Who does get drunk is banished or has to pay 500 Australian dollars, an impossible high amount for the people of Marakai. In the community house the mood is nervous and giggly. With an exception of children everybody has to do a breath test which is, blowing in the faces of the liquor committee. Some do it fast and while gazing to the ground, others make a show, they first breath the only female committee member in the face and continue with a quick kiss. But it is not really fun. Eight young men are missing from the gathering. Soon fingers start to point. The lads will have to report before nine or they will be suspects. They do not show up and at noon the village council discussed how they will proceed. People cry, talk and the meeting is adjourned. For a moment we are not the centre of attention anymore. Our appointments and talks get delayed, the unity of the village is at stake. At night we hear that the families of the boys have pleaded for them and that they have confessed. The village council gathers again and after several rounds of meetings in the community house, we are after all in an oral culture, the verdict is: staying. The guys can stay in the village but have to cook a meal for the entire village as punishment. Some pigs and a school of fish will cope with their lives. But what a wise decision. The village retains eight young forces and the community meal ends in a big party. A win win decision! Anne-Marie Boer      

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