Today, the 300 or so people who still live on Banaba as caretakers, face more crises. The island of pinnacles, still filled with industrial debris, has run out of fresh drinking water. The bangabanga – the underground water caves that were once the only natural source of drinking water – were polluted by the removal of topsoil and 80 years of mining. Before displacement, only Banaban women could enter and collect water from these caves.
Earlier this year, after a period of drought, there were serious food shortages. The island that had “fed” so many hungry farms for most of the 20th century, no longer had enough for its own residents.
The piece of Banaba given to Helen in the form of a pendant, reminds us that what takes millions of years for the earth to grow, can, in extractive settler and colonial hands, be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.