By Nicola Marae Allain – nicola.allain [at] esc.edu
Despite their isolation, technological developments allow residents of Katiu, a tiny coral atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia, to engage as global citizens. The atoll is only 10 square km, 27 km long and 12.5 km wide. Its 286 residents subsist on fishing, copra harvesting and pearl farming. There is no tourism trade, and anything beyond coconut palms, breadfruit, taro, fish, seafood and some fruit must be imported on infrequent cargo ships. Until recently, the atoll was inaccessible except by boat, and islanders had limited communications with the outside world.
Things have changed in Katiu in the past decade. The territorial government built a small airport and established a road around the atoll. Residents travel on Air Tahiti flights between atolls, to Tahiti and other nearby islands. Homes are equipped with sophisticated solar power systems. Many have satellite television. Mobile communications are available on the atoll and residents have cell phones.
Despite the remote location and subsistence lifestyle of the Katiu Paumotu, they are remarkably well informed on current events, politics and international news. The primary topic of conversation during my stay in Katiu was the Obama healthcare plan. French Polynesians enjoy the same subsidized medical care as all French citizens, and find it puzzling that the United States has yet to offer universal health care. On Sunday, March 21, 2010, before mass, folks gathered around the TV in the house closest to the church to watch deliberations. Perhaps in solidarity with their American visitors, everyone reacted with excitement when the House agreed to the Senate amendment, passing the act. The following Tuesday, at a feast in our honor hosted by the school master, his brother happily announced that President Obama had signed the Affordable Care Act. He lamented the fact that Internet service wasn’t yet available for him to browse related news, and announced that he was headed on the next flight out to Tahiti to get an internet “fix.”
Nicola Marae Allain is an assistant professor at SUNY Empire State College with research interests in digital media, emerging technologies, and civil society. Her research and creative work include a focus on French Polynesian culture and society.
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