Over the last two years when I have thought of Takuu - the isolated atoll I lived on for two months in 2006 – 2007 - I have remembered a pace of life that moves in time with the tides and the rising and setting of the sun. One that is structured around community and people and less around money, property and careers. People are incredibly hospitable and there is a general feeling of openness and acceptance by the whole community. It is this feeling that makes staying on Takuu so special and what resonates with me most as I return.
In particular is the way families operate and the roles each will take in caring and looking after each other. When I was here before, Avo the chief of the island and the father to Sini whose family is looking after us, had two legs and appeared fairly fit and healthy. Last year his foot became infected after he accidentally stepped on a fish bone. Because Avo has diabetes the infection grew, until a few months ago his foot had to be amputated. At the same time Avo's wife Samoa had a stroke, becoming unable to talk or walk. Now both are disabled and they rely a lot on their extended family to help them. It's impressive to see how easily this happens. A special chair has been made for Samoa, which has handles on either end so that the ladies can carry her to the water to wash and toilet, while Avo is pushed around by his grandchildren in his wheel chair. If this couple had lived in New Zealand they might have easily ended up in an old person's home. Here they are constantly around their family, and if it is not Sini, or Sio their daughter or son-in-law who help them, it is the cousins, nephews, aunties and uncles. In additon to these changes, Avo's daughter Jane has had a baby. The father is not on the island so it is the extended family who are taking part in the raising of the child. The baby is always in some body's arms, being admired, talked to or played with. And Sio, the father of the house, seems to be making a special effort to be the father figure in the baby's life.
I am sure families operate like this all around the world, and as much as possible they will try to help each other. I guess the main difference here is that there is no traveling time, or distance between people, making it much easier to be together. In fact, you could say the whole island is an extended family. Lyn tried to do a family tree of our three characters and she found that they were all related twice to each other on both sides of the family.
When you are here, you get the privilege of being part of the family too. One lady, after a few glasses of kareve (coconut beer) told me I was her booboo (grand child), giving me a visongi (hongi – rubbing of noses). That definitely felt like some sort of initiation into the island life