On Svalbard, 78 degrees, we were told that the permafrost is steadily melting.
And in the far edges of India, Nagaland (26 degrees), is reeling from surface overheating. One of the world’s richest biodiversity spots is under grave threat as only 11 percent of the forest areas can be considered government property, while the remaining 89 percent are privately owned. Environmentally damaging activities such as slash and burn cultivation and forest burning, illegal logging, coal mining, an uncontrolled stone quarrying has been going on in the privately-owned lands. Large scale cutting of mountains by the government to make way for roads has added to the highly increased temperature in the region. Protection of biodiversity continues to be a great challenge because of the human hindrances.
Zapu is 82 years old. I chose him as a yardstick for measuring overheating in the past seven or eight decades. He says it has grown much warmer than it used to be in his childhood. ‘When I was attending school in 1936, the area where I lived was very cold. Early mornings in the month of November, there would be frost on the ground. I remember shivering in the cold months as the wind would go through the thin walls of my house. Now everything is changed. It is so much warmer, and the biting cold of my boyhood is a thing of the past. But the heat has brought too much change. The unaccustomed heat is stunting our crops. Warmer climate has introduced new crop diseases and insects. Moreover, the heat has been accompanied by furious rains that cause a lot of damage. We have lost lands and fields and houses in an unprecedented manner, to the unabated fury of the rains.’
Zapu views the temperature changes with great trepidation because it has been followed by excessive rainfall, numerous landslides and a number of earthquakes, all in the space of a few years. The extreme weather conditions and huge landslides in hitherto stable areas are leaving people homeless and landless. For an elderly person like Zapu, it is a movement towards prophecy fulfilment. He remembers the prediction made by an old prophetess that many repetitive landslides would come and finally transform his homeland into a lake. He looks to us to stop it from happening.
Prophecy and knowledge of the land is an intrinsic part of indigenous culture. The body indigenous is a whole field of unexplored non-verbal, non-spoken communication.
The indigenous man is so attuned to the rhythms of the natural world that he conducts the movements of his life only after observing the manifestations of the forest life around him.
An example is moon-watching which is a practice of many tribal communities. By watching the positioning of the new moon, they are able to predict the weather. Many indigenous people who are rheumatic sufferers use the varying level of pain in their bodies as a barometer of the weather. They pay heed to insect sounds, bird behaviour, and movements of wildlife. The indigenous man is so attuned to the rhythms of the natural world that he conducts the movements of his life only after observing the manifestations of the forest life around him. They are his life maps.
The indigenous person begins every enterprise with the words, ‘Sky is my Father, Earth is my Mother.’ It is a phrase that encompasses many ideas, one being the responsibility of taking care of the earth and all its plants and animals. For members of indigenous communities, it is very clear that man is on the planet as a caretaker, a passer-on of the earth’s resources to future generations. Indigenous man had no doubt that our place in the scheme of things was unquestionably positioned as guardian-gardener.
However, in a world that has failed to place value in the indigenous wisdom of caretaking and leaving a legacy behind, homelessness and landlessness are no longer threats; they are realities that richer countries are confronted with on a daily basis.
When human greed in the name of progress and development take away the forests from the indigenous man, the maps that always led his life disappear. Ultimately, progress has transformed him into an evacuee, a refugee.
And in all this, an alarming role reversal has taken place.
The caretakers are now confronted with a world out of control, where the rules they have lived by for centuries have been thrown out the window, trampled upon by the relentless march of big industrialist actors.
When the caretakers need to be taken care of, can we rise to the occasion?
One man, asked where his home is, points to a wasteland of water and tearfully replies, ‘It used to be there.’
Another man leads you to the edge of a slope and points downwards, all the way down where the debris of what was once a home lies. That is all that remains of that night when the earth opened up and swallowed his house whole, along with his wife and children.
Empty-eyed but with the smallest flicker of hope, they look at you.
Zimbabwean poet, Chenjerai Hove’s lines come to mind:
‘You may not remember me
But I am the child
Who knocks on the door of your conscience.’
When it’s your turn to take care of them, don’t look at them and see caste.
Don’t look and see skin colour.
Don’t look and see another economic burden.
Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and filmmaker said that modern society ‘purposely separates individuals from reality’ and that if we do not act, if we accept the corruption and goings on, ‘we become part of the crime.’
Place yourself in their shoes and look out through their eyes at yourself.
What can you see?
Do you see human debris?
Or is it possible you see yourself?
Is it possible you see the beginnings of compassion?
Easterine Kire from Nagaland in Northeast India, is a poet, novelist, and writer of short stories and children’s books. She published the first English novel by a Naga in 2003 entitled, A Naga Village Remembered (Ura Academy).
Her second novel, A Terrible Matriarchy (Zubaan 2007) has been translated to Norwegian, German and Marathi. In addition, she has six books in German translation and one more in Norwegian.
In 2011, she was awarded the Governor’s prize for excellence in Naga literature, and the “Free Word” by Catalan PEN, Barcelona in 2013. In 2015, her book, When the River Sleeps (Zubaan) won the Hindu Literature Prize. In 2017, her book, Son of the Thundercloud (Speaking Tiger, 2016) was awarded the Tata Litlive Book of the Year. In 2018, Son of the Thundercloud, won the Bal Sahitya Puraskar. In 2019, When the River Sleeps was chosen for the inaugural Gordon Graham Prize for Naga Literature. In addition, her latest novel, A Respectable Woman, has recently been selected Printed book of the year India.
This article is part of a series with prose and poetry about the refugee during the ongoing climate catastrophes. / Denne artikkelen inngår i en serie med prosa og poesi om flyktningen under klimaforverringene.
Klimaaksjonen takker Bergesenstiftelsen for honorarstøtte.
Tidligere tekster om flyktningen på nettsiden: