Our Atoll Speaks

Ko Talatala Mai Tō mĀTOU WENUa

is a communal film poem about the vast environmental knowledge of Pukapuka/Nassau, an atoll in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands. 

This communal poem, developed from interviews with Pukapukans from 2015-2017, interweaves with stunning images of land, sky, and sea. Climate change and rising sea levels is the biggest threat to our island futures.  Conservation practices developed over thousands of years have something to teach. This short documentary provides a visual metaphor for indigenous climate knowledge from the perspective of the atoll and her people.

Director’s Statement

Our Atoll Speaks is a meditation on the environmental knowledge of the people of Pukapuka/Nassau, Cook Islands. Not many people have the opportunity to spend time in these Northern Group atolls because of their difficulty to access. It takes five days on a cargo boat to get here and transport is intermittent. This means that the 450 people on the atoll of Pukapuka and the 80 people on her sister atoll of Nassau still largely rely on the bounty of the land and sea. I was impressed with the deep respect and vast knowledge everyone from the elderly to the smalest children still had for their ecological environment. The conservation practices here include a strict system of having food reserves with a laui (prohibition) for certain foods at certain times of year. Fishing, cutting coconut trees, harvesting taro, and every aspect of food security is carefully regulated as a community to ensure that everyone survives. There is no room for individualism and taking more then your share. In this spirit, I wanted the film to be truly a collaborative effort. The storytelling was taken from the interviews with over sixty people collected on the three-week and four-month trips I took there with a small team.  The voice-over in this film intends to be the communal voice of the Pukapukan people narrated by the remarkable Pacific Islander writer Johnny Ngatokorua Frisbie.

In 2017 we received funds from the United Nations GEF Small Grants Programme / Cook Islands Red Cross Society to be able to document the environmental practices of Pukapuka. This included running storytelling workshops for the youth with co-producer Amelia Rachel Hokuleʻa Borofsky and also me training and working with a local production team. All the drone and underwater footage comes from Kolee Tinga, a teacher with a passion for filmmaking. Amelia Rachel Hokuleʻa Borofsky and Johnny Ngatokorua Frisbie first introduced me to Pukapuka over ten years ago. We are working on a feature-length documentary about their lives entitled Homecoming to be released next year. While these are two separate films, both films higlight the beauty, knowledge, and uniqueness of these atolls and the people who call it home.

Climate Change and Impact on Pukapuka

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights the importance of indigenous people in conserving lands, seas, and resources. Those reliant on their environment have traditional management practices that contributes to biodiversity, food security, and the sustainable use of resources. The close relationship of indigenous peoples to their environment also means they are often the first and most severely impacted by climate change.

Pukapukans have survived on a two square mile coral for the last two thousand years thanks to a rich scientific knowledge of their environment. Pukapukans have a wealth of management practices that ensures biodiversity, food security, and the sustainable use of resources. This atoll has stories.

Learn more about climate change and its impact on Pukapuka

Main Film Credits

Talcual Films presents in partnership with the People of Pukapuka/Nassau.

Our Atoll Speaks – Ko Talatala Mai Tō Mātou Wenua

Director, Producer, Camera: Gemma Cubero del Barrio

Co-producer: Amelia Rachel Hokuleʻa Borofsky

Editor: Kyung Lee

Voice Over: Florence Ngatokorua “Johnny” Tiane Frisbie

Writers: Amelia Rachel Hokuleʻa Borofsky, Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Florence Ngatokorua “Johnny” Tiane Frisbie

Drone Cinematography: Kolee Tinga

Cinematography: Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Gabriela Faaiuas,Vicente Franco, Kolee Tinga

Pukapuka People’s Fund: Pio Lavalua

Graphic Artist – Mataaliki Drawing: Kolee Tinga

Map Design: Cat Daniels Riveros

Sound Recording: Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Ray Day, Valerie Narte, Seve Taunga

Sound Design: Philip Perkins

Pukapukan Transcriptions & Translation: Mailalo Melota, Kevin Salisbury, Mary Salisbury

Music: Pukapukan Anthem & Chants recorded by Kevin. B. Salisbury. M.A. Thesis “Pukapukan People & Their Music” 1983 Copyright K. B Salisbury

Storytelling Workshops Coordinator & Teachers at Niua School, Pukapuka:
Amelia Rachel Hokuleʻa Borofsky, Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Kolee Tinga, Anna Katoa. All the teachers, staff, and students of Niua School, Pukapuka

Production Assistants: Makena Duffy, Gabriela Faaiuaso, Seve Taunga, Mozela Teiha-Tua, Noemi Zulberti

Poster & Title Design: Relja Penezic

Major funding provided by the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme, hosted by Cook Islands Red Cross Society

Eternally grateful to Pasha Carruthers & Teuru Tiraa Passfield, National Coordinators of UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme