PEN Transmissions is English PEN’s magazine for international and translated voices. PEN’s members are the backbone of our work, helping us to support international literature, campaign for writers at risk, and advocate for the freedom to write and read. If you are able, please consider becoming an English PEN member and joining our community of over 1,000 readers and writers. Join now.

The islands of Oceania – Kiribati, Tuvalu, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu,
We are the canaries
in the coal mines of climate change.
Singing and ringing the unruly bells.
Beating the big drums.

And yet,
drowned
out.

These lines are from ‘Poem for the Commonwealth’ by Karlo Mila, a Rotorua-born poet of Tongan, Palagi and Samoan descent. They get at an intractable truth for Indigenous Pacific Islanders: that those at the frontline of the climate emergency – who are also those with long-sustainable relationships to the land (‘a wealth of knowledge, / intergenerational meditations / on what it means to be alive, / what it means to survive / in a certain set of conditions / specific parameters of earth and sea and sky’, Mila continues) – are also those whose voices are routinely excluded from the conversation and from policymaking.

Over the coming weeks, PEN Transmissions is publishing personal essays by writers from across the Pacific, including a piece by Mila at the end of the month. These essays explore climate and land, but also a wealth of intersecting ideas – language, family, identity, sovereignty, politics. They have been commissioned with a particular index of free expression in mind: a writer’s freedom to write on what they want, in their own words, irrespective of what audiences (or editors) might presuppose to be ‘important’ to writers from particular communities.

Nadine Ann Hura (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi), whose piece opens this focus, challenges the very terms of a series like this:

I don’t have time to write an essay on the ‘broad thematic thread of climate and the environment from a Pacific perspective’, because I should be spending time with my 16-year-old son.

[…]

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting on the road to visit communities affected by climate change up-close, it’s that there’s never enough time. Sifting through priorities, and knowing where to focus your energy, is an exercise in both strategy and stamina. Everything is urgent; everything needs to be done now.

[…]

I keep asking myself: what is the point of the refrain ‘amplify Indigenous voices’ if the people who need to hear aren’t listening?

The pieces in this series are rich and urgent. They house copious ideas, experiences, imperatives and feelings; they say loudly what needs to be heard by those who need to hear. We hope you will read, and listen, and enjoy.

Will Forrester & Nadia Saeed.

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