Fiji's rugby culture threatened by climate change

STORY: Location: Namatakula, Fiji

Generations of world-class rugby talent have been raised here, on the white sands of Fiji’s Coral Coast.

The beaches of Namatakula were once a prime training ground for rugby, the country's national sport and a cornerstone of its culture.

But rising sea levels are forcing villagers to consider relocating -- or risk losing everything they have.

"Our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, what are they going to face?”

Namatakula has been deemed “at risk” by Fiji's government.

Village headman Josevata Nagausaukula warns curious children about the incoming threats of climate change.

“Before it was pure sand, just sand, no rocks, no small rocks like this before. Before it was a playground in here, sand, it was a playground in here. Just because of climate change and the rising of sea level, it was being washed away."

“The hardest thing, we don’t want to leave is because people they’ve used, they’ve waste a lot of money building their houses. If we move to another site its going different lifestyle all together... So, we are going to lose our culture, maybe another culture. So we don’t want that.”

For Fijians, rugby is more than just a game.

Residents say it's been key to the country's economic development, and a source of great national pride.

They say Fiji’s fast, unpredictable and exciting style of play is representative of its philosophy "vaku vanua," or "the way of the land."

Lawmaker Inosi Kuridrani says moving away due to climate change would not only abandon their land, but also deeply rooted ancestral traditions, such as the pounding and drinking of kava roots.

“I would advise these big countries that are considered to be big polluters to think of us. Think of the small nations in the Pacific Ocean. Especially Fiji, especially in our village."

Several Fijian villages have already been successfully relocated because of the sea level rising or extreme weather.

Namatakula's residents are pinning their hopes on the building of a sea wall, which would preserve the village and allow the children to continue playing rugby -- at least for now.

Staying to battle rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges is no easy task, however.

During king tides, stones and dead fish are washed into the village, as saltwater intrusion poses a risk of contamination into fresh water.

A government minister told Reuters that only the villagers themselves can decide whether or not to relocate.

As for village headman Nagausaukula, the choice remains clear.

“There’s no place like home, that’s very simple, there’s no place like home. Growing up at home it’s not like growing up somewhere else. Namatakula, I call it, it’s my home. There is no place like home.”

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