So much is new right now, and some things are indeed “unprecedented.” Yet I worry that we forget our collective past and present when we overuse this word.

Here’s one example from the South Pacific (there are examples almost everywhere):

People first arrived to the Marquesas Islands (where I met Poemoana) around 900 A.D., and the population began to grow. At its peak, the population reached more than 50,000. But by 1926, after 150 years  of sustained contact with Europeans, it collapsed to 2,225.

There are stories like this all over the world, including many in Canada, where I’m from. Angela Code recently wrote about this as a Sayisi Dene person (posted on March 23, 2020).

The world is a little quieter right now, so perhaps we can listen to stories we might not know, but that have shaped the world and the lives of so many.

Thank you to Poemoana for permission to share this story and photo, and to Heather Perry for her beautiful photography.

From Poemoana:

“‘Ia ora na Jenny

Triste maladie qui je l’espère ne sera pas à l’image des grandes maladies subies par nos îles les siècles derniers

Je t’embrasse et sais que nous aurons l’occasion de nous revoir, espérons le l’année prochaine.”

A woman with long dark hair swims beneath the surface

Poemoana Teri’inohora’i swims beneath the surface of the ocean. Photo by Heather Perry.