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Kapua Gutchen

Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait), Erub (Darnley) Island

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains the names and stories of Zenadth Kes people who have passed.

Warning that this also contains distressing content relating to loss of culture, readers discretion is advised.

Kapua Gutchen is an Elder of the Meuram tribe who lives on Erub, a remote volcanic island of Zenadth

Kes/the Torres Strait. The people of Erub, the Erubam Le have lived on the lsland since time

immemorial. The original ancient villages are in the low-lying areas close to the fish traps where their

canoes were moored.

Now, the burial sites of Erubam Le, including Kapua’s ancestors and family members, are at risk of

inundation from sea level rise, with some already partially lost to the sea.

“One of my ancestors, called Ariag, is buried in the old Meuram village of Keirari. He had a simple

grave with cement there that I recall my relatives put there in the 60s, but the cement is not there

now. His grave is now in the sea. I think only the head of my ancestor is still there probably and his

legs have already gone into the sea. Soon maybe the entire grave will be gone.”

“My uncle’s grave is only about 20 metres from the shoreline and my great great great grandmother’s,

brother’s and nephews, are about 35 to 40 metres.”

“When the sea level rises, it’s going to be very emotional and sad to lose our ancestors’ graves. We and

family before us, buried them there to say that they own that particular plot of land. It marks the

space that they own, that is their home.”

“The consequence is that some serious discussions have to happen about whether we should move

the ancestors or leave them there and what the cultural consequences of that are.

“I’ve been to Masig [a nearby island] a few years ago and I saw men picking up the bones of their

ancestors and bringing them further in. This is the effect of the sea level rise and this is what we’re


“If things don’t improve, it will all get washed into the sea.”

Kapua’s ancestry is not only present in the lands of the Meuram tribe, but also in the stories of the


“The legend goes that our Madeur Kub (Spiritual Ancestors) left Erub in canoes with the intention of

creating our first reef, called “Arer Norr”. “Norr” means reef and “Arer” means Ancestor or ‘the Ancient

One,’ and the words combined mean that it is the oldest reef in the entire Eastern islands.”

“We know the names of two leaders who went on that journey. They are called Paiwer and Rebes.”

The story goes that these ancestors then created Merad and Maizab Kaur, two nearby islands, before

metamorphosing to stone.

“The creation story is that Merad and Maizab Kaur carry the totems of the other people who left Erub

in canoes to create them, alongside Paiwer and Rebes. These people are called Madeur Kub. ‘Madeur’

is the name for all the seabirds and sea creatures you will find on Merad and Maizab Kaur, Sea

Country. Those Ancestors and the birds are the same.”

“Not being able to see as many of the Beuger [Brown booby birds] nesting breaks the connection of the bird to our tribe. When you go to Merad, you should see the totemic birds and therefore know that you belong there.

Now that it does not nest there, I sometimes feel that I, myself, am gone, like part of me is not really complete. Half of the evidence of me is not there.”

“I think with the current situation of climate change continuing, Merad will be destined to become

covered in deep water, probably within the next 30 years. I expect that it will no longer be a place for

the nesting of birds.”

“If humans don’t fix this, every creature in this world will pay.”

You can support Athe Kapua Gutchen in the fight against Waratah Coal & Clive Palmer by donating here

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