Haiti’s Cyclical Suffering

By: Noah Taylor, Laura Boysen, Jessica D’Antonio, Ryan Silverstein, Zoe LaVallee, Marin Goodstein, Kevin Reed, Connor Skelton, and Charlie Kenny

On January 12th, 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale hit the island of Hispaniola. This catastrophic event was followed by two consecutive aftershocks with magnitudes of 5.9 and 5.5, which devastated the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. According to the United Nations, 220,000 people lost their lives and 1.5 million were left homeless in the aftermath of this earthquake. The source of the quake was a deep sea fault line known as the Leogane. Due to its hidden location, seismologists ignored its danger in favor of the more obvious Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone, which runs through the country. This miscalculation contributed to the overall mishandling of the disaster. The response to the disaster was not much better, and this ended up causing more issues when the 2021 quake struck. There seems to be a cyclical nature to these natural disasters. N.K Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy asks readers to examine the parallels between the cyclical nature of fictional tragedies and natural disasters. In doing so, readers may be informed enough to prevent repeating this history. 

The Broken Earth Trilogy implements a fictional apocalypse to draw attention to the devastation resulting from natural disasters in our reality. One only need look at the ways in which Haiti was ravished by the 2010 Earthquake to understand the parallels this series draws attention to. The numbers of those killed are harrowing, but the reality of these deaths is best felt through the words of those affected. 38 year old father, and business owner Jean Fanfan Vital spoke to NPR: “My child is dead. My father was carrying him, and as they passed by the building, some debris fell down and landed on them. The child was so young, only 4 months. And maybe that’s the only reason why he’s dead. He was so young”. This loss of life is a vivid representation of the impact that natural disasters have on humanity, especially those most vulnerable. The Broken Earth Trilogy confronts this understanding head on. The vulnerable in the Stillness are also the most affected by tragedy. A recursive example of this is the constant abuse of children that is proffered as a means to prevent disaster. That being said, one of the most poignant examples of vulnerability is through a man named Maxixe. He is a double amputee who finds himself in a near death condition. Maxixe sa ‘Rusting look at me, Essun. Listen to the rocks in my chest. Even if your headwoman will take half a rogga, I am not going to last much longer.’ ” (Jemisin 127). The vulnerability Maxixe experiences due to his disability causes him to experience the rifting in a harsher manner. He finds rocks forming in his chest, and he is less likely to be accepted into communities that might be able to aid him. The Broken Earth asks the reader to focus on how the most vulnerable are affected by disaster. Another real world example of this is how access to water exacerbated the effects of the 2010 Earthquake. 

Furthering the parallels between The Broken Earth Trilogy and the 2010 Earthquake, another major impact has been the lasting damage to water treatment, causing a mass increase in water insecurity in Haiti. In a US Geological Survey report from 2010, scientists reported that prior to the quake, the water supply system in Port-au-Prince (which supplied roughly 1,000,000 people) was already unreliable since it lacked proper treatment. In the aftermath, existing treatment facilities had become infiltrated, damaged, and none were left working as a result of the natural disaster. The inherent dangers of not having access to clean drinking water are disastrous. Cholera is an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease that spreads through contaminated water supplies. In Haiti, given that they have been left with no water treatment, and contaminated supplies/access, ShelterBox had reported a serious outbreak of cholera that “affected over 6% of the population and caused the further loss of thousands of more lives,”. The tainted water supply also had a major impact on the children of Haiti, the most vulnerable group. In 2021, UNICEF measured that around 540,000 children in the area hit by the 2021 earthquake were left with a potential “re-emergence” of waterborne diseases. While this report came from the 2021 earthquake, it highlights that there could be a “re-emergence”, referencing the waterborne illness issues caused in 2010. Looking again into The Broken Earth Trilogy, readers are shown an impact of damaged water supplies when Essun meets Tonkee in the first novel. In this section, as Essun and Hoa are traveling they come across a supply station that has been ravaged. Upon encountering Tonkee, she tells Essun that the rifting “‘Probably breached a lot of aquifers. They’ll repair themselves over time, of course, but in the short term, no telling what kinds of contaminants might be around here…You know what kinds of nasty things cities leave behind when they die?’” (Fifth Season 181). In this fictional world, cycles of destruction and world-ending events are constant over time. This parallels what the country of Haiti has experienced because of the 2010 earthquake and its traumatic history. Jemisin’s work in the Broken Earth Trilogy emphasizes the impact geologic catastrophe has on humanity, specifically in this case the impact that a tainted water supply has on a community or people. While the geological event of the earthquake might have been the final blow to Haiti’s clean water access, a dysfunctional political system is also a contributing factor.

Haiti has been suffering from political instability for centuries. To understand why these earthquakes were so disastrous, we begin with the historical issues at the core of the country’s difficulties: colonization. The Spanish, French, and British all vied for control of the region using barbaric methods of submission that left the populace hungry for freedom and sovereignty.  Independence was gained in 1804, but that did not stabilize the region as it has seen volatile shifts in sources of power ever since. Practices of ruthless dictatorships have strengthened the divide between the working and ruling classes, suppressed opposing viewpoints, and left the country at the mercy of foreign involvement. For all of these reasons, it is clear that true and lasting authority is lacking within the country.

Haitian gang violence is deeply embedded in its history. Gangs contribute to and result from political instability. According to an article from The New Humanitarian published in 2022, “the number of gangs has in the capital has skyrocketed since the assassianation of President Jovenel Moïse in July…it’s unclear which gang is in control…or if an area will suddenly be engulfed in gunfire.” This situation is similar to the 2010 earthquake, and has crippled humanitarian efforts, leaving people without access to assistance.

Stability is required for making a nation’s homes, hospitals, and schools resilient during seismic events. It is impossible to have adequate healthcare in nations that are politically insecure. Prior to the 2010 earthquake, Haiti appeared to have the “oldest HIV/AIDS epidemic outside Sub-Saharan Africa . Infrastructure was then devastated after the 2010 earthquake, namely insufficient water and sanitation. This precipitated the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded in a country. The earthquake destroyed “50 healthcare centers as well as the Ministry of Health building” and  part of Haiti’s primary teaching hospital, disrupting the education of future healthcare professionals”. Without adequate healthcare developments, Haitian citizens were unprepared for the 2021 quake. Since the recent earthquake, Haiti’s healthcare system remains destabilized. 

There are many political parallels present between this trilogy and Haiti’s history. For example, there is a connection between the slave uprising and the orogenes’ desire for autonomy. This desire is most distinctly represented through Essun’s actions towards those that would deny her people’s legitimacy as human beings. When leaving Tirimo on page 57 of The Fifth Season, Essun encounters difficulties at the gate and concludes that the people of her community are not innocent; “The kind of hate that can make a man murder his own son? It came from everyone around you.” Just as the enslaved people of Haiti were significantly oppressed and exploited, orogenes face constant discrimination that they are forced to push against. Another key comparison concerns the codified apparatus of Stonelore as it relates to the recurring censorship of information in Haiti. Stonelore provides truth. However, Alabaster on page 125 of The Fifth Season pokes holes in Syenite’s beliefs about the unshakeable nature of the text; “But what was on the tablet was different, drastically so, from the lore we learned in school.” As one should not express doubt about the political propaganda emanating from dictatorships unless they want their head cut off, Stonelore should not be considered anything but immutable.  However, dictators must die and stories supporting their oppressive rule must be challenged. 

And what better way to challenge oppressive rule than through art? Art has always been a significant part of Haitian culture, as it serves “as memory for a country that has suffered” from dictatorships, failed governments, and poverty. It not only operates as a way to fight against the hardship of the country’s circumstances, it also functions as an economic lifeline for the country as 85% of the population are unemployed. 

In a similar sense, orogeny is an artistic outlet also used as a survival outline, as only the most controlled orogenes can survive. In Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, orogeny can be viewed as an atypical artform. It is something that takes both innate talent and practiced skill, and the way it is done is wound tightly with the little orogene culture that exists. And, ultimately, orogeny is used to fight against corrupt government structures, as seen in The Fifth Season when Alabaster causes The Rifting which effectively destroys the Fulcrum. The Fulcrum acted as a governing body for the orogenes and was one of their many sources of oppression. Fulcrum trained orogeny is discussed more in the latter half of the series, as it becomes clear that their way of teaching this innate art is perverted, lacking the freedom of expression that someone like Nassun ends up expressing later in the series when she explores orogeny on her own terms.

Similarly, Haiti received an outright destruction of their artwork as a result of the 2010 earthquake. Musee Galerie d’Art Nader held some of Haiti’s oldest artworks, making it a center of both Haitian culture and history, and was reduced to rubble within seconds due to the natural disaster. The loss of this museum and countless pieces of art signifies an overall loss of culture as Haiti became a country marked by repeated devastation, as demonstrated by the recent 2021 earthquake. In fact, many of the pieces that were lost helped to signify the survival of Haitian citizens after being faced with these disasters, making the loss of such pieces all the more heartbreaking. As it was put by Camille Scully, executive director of Iowa’s Waterloo Center of the Arts and co-president of the Haitian Art Society, “They’re painting their lives. They’re recording their history,” With the loss of these museums, pieces of the country’s history were lost to the rubble. 

Jemisin’s series is a testament to how history can be lost to natural destruction. The old ways of orogeny were lost in the original Shattering, wherein the moon was hurtled away from the earth, which led to the survival based society we see depicted in the Stillness. The original form of orogeny was once called tuning, which merged magic with orogeny. Much like orogeny pre-Rifting, tuning was used by the government in order to fulfill their own needs, namely a utopic city that was powered by gemstone obelisks. The artforms of orogeny and tuning, while placed under the control of governing bodies, represents working within a system in order to break the binding rules. Essun was raised as a Fulcrum orogene and she imbued these teachings onto her daughter, Nassun. Yet, both of their stories are marked by how they learn to view and use their orogeny outside of the troubling context in which they first learned to control it. Essun’s relationship with Alabaster and her own personal journey involves her learning to use her orogeny in ways that she never would have thought to under the Fulcrum, moving beyond these boundaries. Nassun, on the other hand, reinvents the art of tuning due to the freedom of expression she is given in Found Moon. Despite the oppressive systems forced upon them, both mother and daughter learn to work outside of these systems to reinvent the art form integral to their humanity as orogenes.

Art is born from and shaped by calamity in a similar way. Look no further than Haitian artist Michèle Voltaire Marcelin. She revisited her home in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake and was surrounded by destruction that inspired her to create three paintings and a series of poems that evoked the fear and pain of the devastation. But Marcelin refused to create any more art of the event, stating: “Whether their lives and deaths were for hope, a new beginning or for nothing, we will decide. Let the dead bury the dead. The living must change the world.” A hopeful message in a time of sadness that is reflected in the final moments of Jemisin’s work, “This is the way a new world begins” (The Stone Sky 398) with the determination of the few. 

When considering the havoc associated with both of these earthquakes, Jemisin’s lesson rings true: History repeats itself. More specifically, those who rule with tyrannical power will remain in their position with a total disregard for the well-being of all people unless removed. We, in support of Haiti, must abandon archaic ways of thinking in favor of prioritizing justice and equity. Natural disasters will strike, but the promotion of progressive policy will lessen the damage. Artistic expression is a crucial means of advancing these ideas in hopes of a better future.

Generational Trauma and Healing: Not Just For Humans

By: Maria Pawlak, Abby Anderson, Makayla Williams, Elizabeth Roos, Hallie Edic, Francheska Colon, Emilee Coughlin, Lidabel Avila

More than a decade after the infamous Boxing Day Tsunami left hundreds of thousands dead, the Krakatoa caldera threatened to once again bring death and destruction to Indonesian shores. The area is extremely seismically active, particularly in the Sumatra region. As the region’s residents and those throughout the country received warnings that their worst day might be one-upped by a similar volcanic force, many found themselves forced to face the possibility that everything they had worked to rebuild could be washed away by something over which they have no power. Considering how long the Krakatoa caldera has been active, and how many deadly natural disasters occur in the area, one could wonder why generations of people choose to stay, suffer, rebuild, and stay again and again. However, it’s a very human instinct: to react and rebuild. This instinct is on display throughout N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. 

This sci-fi/fantasy trilogy features a world called the Stillness, which experiences cataclysmic events with an alarming frequency. Entire cities, continents, and peoples are wiped out and rebuilt and yet, Jemisin’s characters continue living doggedly on, through grit teeth and white knuckles, but also through love, family, and culture. A mirror of that same human instinct is found when considering the caldera itself. Recently after the initial, extremely lethal tsunami of 2004, the caldera exploded again, bringing new death and destruction with it. Strangely, this new destruction arrived with a new name: the Child of Krakatoa. Humanity’s instinct to map patterns of familiarity onto trauma is stark, made evident by the generations of people living where their ancestors perished, people who had the instinct to call a consecutive event of destruction a child. As a way to refer to the repetition of destruction and the generational experience communities have within it, we will use the term “generational trauma.” This term has become a buzzword, which strips away meaning, but it’s our aim to use it specifically as a way to refer to generations of people and land who survive through repeated ruinous events. Through examining how art intersects with trauma in seismic events of death and destruction, we can investigate humanity’s determination to make sense of suffering and rebuild generation after generation.

To fully understand the seismic generational trauma of the area, we must first detail the repeating history of the cataclysmic events in the Krakatoa region. Starting the morning of December 26th, 2004, a 9.1 quake ruptured a 900-mile stretch of fault line where the Indian and Australian tectonic plates meet. The quake caused the ocean floor to suddenly rise by 40 meters, triggering the massive Boxing Day Tsunami. More than 100,000 people died in the city of Banda Aceh after the first of several hundred-foot waves hit the shoreline, pounding the city into rubble. By the time the water receded, nearly 230,000 people were killed, making this one of the deadliest disasters in modern history—claiming casualties in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and even South Africa. Since this disaster, many governments and aid groups have prioritized disaster risk reduction and preparedness. However, years later, in December 2018, the volcano of Anak Krakatau, the ‘Child’ of Krakatoa, underwent ongoing eruptions in the Sunda Strait that caused undersea landslides, triggering a tsunami that struck beaches in Sumatra and Java. However, there was no warning prior to the disaster, resulting in the deaths of over 400 people. Since this occurrence, the Indonesian government is now working to add volcano sensors to its warning system. Data now shows that the Anak Krakatau has continued to erupt as frequently as every year since 2018, and research shows it will continue to do so for many years. This record of the area’s seismic activity depicts not only the repeated damage done to Indonesia and its surrounding areas, but also the human efforts to rebuild after each of these devastating events.

Before continuing to speak about the human story of the Boxing Day Tsunami, it’s important to pause and examine the environmental story. Beginning with a  prologue, the effect the seismic event had on the environment right before the tsunami hit is compelling. According to the presentation Social and Economic Impact of December 2004 Tsunami, just before the tsunami struck the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there were “changes in bird calls,” as well as an overall shift in bird and marine animal behavior. After the tsunami hit, however, there was a decrease in local fish populations, as well as salt intrusions into freshwater water sources. Additionally, there was “severe damage to ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, forests, coastal wetlands, vegetation, sand dunes and rock formations, animal and plant biodiversity and groundwater,” as well as a “spread of solid and liquid waste and industrial chemicals,” greatly polluting the water of islands hit by the tsunami that would not clear until years afterward. Thankfully, eight years later, the ecosystems of the islands hit by the tsunami have greatly recovered. The changes in the photos of locations such as Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, waterways have been cleared of debris and greenery such as grass and trees have returned, even as these locations have been developed by humans.

Moving from the environmental impact to the human impact allows us to witness the instinct to react and rebuild. The first novel of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy opens with the quote, “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.” The blasé tone the narrator takes demonstrates his repeated exposure to massive destruction, similar to the people of the Krakatoa region. It’s commonplace. While that apathy is not identical to our world’s reaction to destruction, there is something to be said for how areas of repeated seismic events carry “generational trauma” with them. In terms of the 2004 Tsunami, the human impact was overwhelming, with 220,000 human lives lost. Countless more were deemed missing. To make things worse, in the 2018 tsunami, Jakarta’s tsunami detection buoys were mysteriously non-functioning, leaving people scrambling at the last minute to find safety when the disaster was imminent—resulting in more deaths. 

However devastating the human impact, it was not ubiquitous throughout the region. Countries with more funds, greater access to western support, and charity found themselves in better positions. Thailand suffered more losses than that of Sri Lanka or Indonesia, though they were able to rebuild their country, but places like the Banda Aceh in Northern Indonesian are in real need of assistance to rebuild. By 2014 Indonesia had been fully rebuilt, but it took an entire decade. Regardless, the trials for the Indonesian people haven’t ended with the rebuilding of infrastructure. In Jemisin’s world, many mental illnesses plagued the people of the Stillness; for Indonesia, after the tsunamis the rate of post traumatic stress reactivity increased significantly, and remains in the minds of those who underwent this disaster.

The death and destruction of the tsunami have been transformed by artists as a means of finding peace in chaos, showing humanity’s need to create something beautiful from pain and rebuild the community. In The Stone Sky, Houwha the tuner learns the difference between art and utility upon encountering an engine created differently than others: “It had the same fundamental structure as other plutonic engines. Only its purpose is different—no, no. That’s too simple an assessment. What’s different here is…philosophical. Attitudinal. The Plutonic Engine is a tool. This thing? Is…art.” Examples of art are seen through the events that occurred after the Boxing Day Tsunami. For example, in the Aceh provincial community, World Food Programme personnel developed a school meals program for survivors in which children were allowed to sketch images of their experiences. Ten of the children were reunited with their drawings a decade after the life-altering event. Fir, a survivor, made a sketch of loved ones he had lost. He reveals, “It was bittersweet. I am really glad that my house and [immediate] family were not affected, but on that day I lost something greater, my relatives.” Fir uses this experience as a way of finding peace in what he lost in the tsunami. As most humans do, Fir employs art as a means of recovery from trauma and loss. These creations show the necessity of the human race to find beauty in destruction and use art as a method to comprehend and heal. 

In examining the colossal seismic events at and as a result of the Krakatoa Volcano, and the art that has emerged from the events’ equally destructive aftermaths, our attention is brought to a variety of issues which trace a pattern of human response and resilience to natural disasters throughout history. Additionally, we see that some people are vastly limited in their access to resources to combat these ramifications. Those who are responsible for this lack of accessibility, or for the practices that lead to the catastrophic event themselves, are never the ones highly affected by either. While attempts were made in relief efforts after the tsunami in 2004, they were not adequate for the community of people in the area that were already subject to external discriminatory factors before the event. Exploring these impacts can highlight the necessity for better safety education and accessibility to resources. 

Lastly, it’s difficult to reconcile our explosive, violent planet with the gentle image of Mother Earth, which is why N.K. Jemisin’s depiction of the planet is not only male, but aggressive. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy takes this long-upheld personification and twists it; in the Stillness, Father Earth is fully alive, completely aware— endlessly bent on revenge after being exploited. In doing this, Jemisin emphasizes humanity’s need to keep personifying the earth, but their contradictory practice of dehumanizing it in its treatment. At the same time, her protagonists also feel the effects of dehumanization; Essun spends her formative years being polished into a weapon, and her fear of how orogenes are treated causes her to train her daughter, Nassun, in the same emotionless way. This reiteration of abusive methods of control is just one way Jemisin acknowledges the cyclical way trauma takes effect. In the same way the earth and orogenes alike are and have been taken advantage of with no consideration for their safety, people in impoverished and underserved communities devastated by the tsunamis in the Krakatoa region are not fully supported before or after decades of destruction. Talk about generational trauma.

Not very gneiss.

Cracked Foundations and Changing Systems: The Mount Pinatubo Eruption

By: Cheyanne C., Hannah F., Isabelle C., Marlee F., Mia D., Peyton W., Sarah P.

Chronicling the Mount Pinatubo Eruption: From Myth to Magma Flow

The major Pinatubo eruption occurred on June 15th, 1991. But as early as March of 1991, there were signs that the mountain was waking up. A series of earthquakes shook the area over a period of several months, alerting the locals that Mount Pinatubo might become active for the first time in living memory. These frequent, low-magnitude earthquakes continued until the second of April of the same year, when there was an explosion on the north side of the mountain that opened up steam vents and a fissure, emitting sulfur fumes. The next day, locals led scientists from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to the site of the explosion. The scientists brought five seismic monitors and, realizing what the activity could mean, called the USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program for help monitoring the situation. On April 23rd, the USGS team arrived and set up a home base with PHIVOLCS using seismic and volcanic tracking and predicting technology. Over the next few weeks, the team determined that Mount Pinatubo was capable of a very large eruption, but they couldn’t tell if or when the volcano would erupt, or how big the possible eruption would be. By late May of the same year, seismic activity was fluctuating daily and more and more craters were appearing at the base of the mountain. It was still nearly impossible to tell when it would erupt, but they were able to map the areas of the island that would be hit by a worst-case scenario eruption (which unfortunately ended up being very close to what actually happened). At this point, they still couldn’t officially recommend evacuation because the team wasn’t sure when the volcano would erupt. 

In early June, the activity really started to ramp up. On the sixth of June, a swarm of low magnitude earthquakes accompanied the inflationary tilt, or puffing up, of the volcano, along with a continuous low-level ash eruption. A few days later, the first magma approached the surface of the volcano; on June ninth, the evacuation orders began, ordering 25,000 people to evacuate. Clark U.S. Air Base evacuated 14,000 “non-essential personnel” and their families due to the impending threats of growing lava dome, higher level ash eruption, and a worrying amount and magnitude of seismic activity. The first big eruption occurred on June 12th—Philippine Independence Day—at 8:51 a.m. The ash from this eruption went around 12 miles into the air. At this point, officials evacuated everyone in a dangerous range, for a total of about 60,000 people evacuated. After this eruption, seismic activity ramped up again and it was clear the volcano wasn’t stopping there. From the 12th to the 15th, there were three more massive vertical eruptions and 13 smaller ones, which produced pyroclastic flows down the slopes of the mountain. The team of scientists didn’t leave until the 15th, when the stop-and-go eruptions turned into one continuous eruption, that sent golf-ball sized pieces of pumice down over the Air Base, and lahars formed the ash and lava mixing with the rain from Typhoon Yunya, carrying boulders down the side of the mountain. That eruption led to the collapse of the peak into a caldera, which the scientists could feel from where they spent the night, 28 miles away.

The Range of Bacobaco’s Wrath

Most directly, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo affected the island of Luzon, where the volcano resides. As Live Science recalls, as Pinatubo erupted, the Philippines was already facing a natural disaster in the form of Typhoon Yunya, also known as Typhoon Diding. It is also remembered, in the context of how so many people were able to evacuate before disaster, that there were reoccurring earthquakes striking the mountainside which concerned residents and prompted Filipino scientists to contact the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Volcano Disaster Assistance Program to examine the tremors more closely. Thankfully, with these warning signs taken into careful consideration, many lives were saved as scientists  and officials called for evacuations, though the land surrounding Mount Pinatubo was ravaged. USGS documents that pyroclastic flows of lava seeped and exploded from the volcano, filling the surrounding valley, which polluted streams and destroyed crop fields. Even worse was the half-inch layer of ash, which Live Science reports covered 4,660 miles (7,500 square kilometers), but then spread further across the island and beyond the country of the Philippines because of Typhoon Yunya. It’s also explained that the ash falling from the sky mixed with the rains, creating lahars, a concrete-like mud, that collapsed roofs as far as nine miles (15 kilometers) away from the volcanic site, and USGS goes on to say that winds from the typhoon brought ash all across the South China Sea, affecting places as far as Cambodia. The initial effects of the eruption was not the end though, as there were earthquakes that followed and monsoons “eroded the thick pyroclastic deposits, recurring mudflows buried towns and farm fields, destroyed roads and bridges, and displaced more than 100,000 people,” as well as caused hundreds of deaths in addition to the original death toll.

Beyond the Philippines, USGS records that the ash cloud inoculated the stratosphere with nearly 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide, which cooled the global temperature by nearly an entire degree fahrenheit (half a degree celsius), causing weather patterns across the globe to shift and the effects of climate change to subside for a period of time.

Exploring Myth and Environmental Impact

Though the effects of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 can be seen in modern times, there is a much older history of the mountain among the Aeta people of the Philippines. They believe that there is a god–Apo Mallori–who lives on the mountain and is the source of their sustenance. Some of the Aeta elders believe that Apo Mallori is angry at illegal loggers who have stripped the mountainside of its trees and also at the Philippine National Oil Co., who has allowed drilling into the heart of the mountain. For them, Apo Mallori is punishing humanity for its injustices by raining ash over the land. In this ideology, humans are the prime agents for the seismic events that unfolded in 1991. One villager, Victorio Villa, told reporters in an interview in June of 1991, “‘It is our firm belief that had the lowlanders not disturbed our volcano, it would not have erupted.’” Jemisin plays with this ideology in The Broken Earth Trilogy, using seismic catastrophism as a response to injustice by writing, “So where they should have seen a living being, they saw only another thing to exploit. Where they should have asked, or left alone, they raped.” In this trilogy, Father Earth is angry at humanity for being destructive and for the loss of his child, the moon. This triggers seismic events like earthquakes and volcanoes, the cause of the Seasons in this world. Myths, stories, and traditions are an integral part of people’s ways of life and are important parts of humanity. To understand Mount Pinatubo’s history in this way is to understand humanity’s role in the destruction of the earth. The language used by the Aeta humanizes the earth, just as Jemisin’s depiction of characters that utilize the earth for their powers and those that are formed from it, humanizes the earth. Both the history of the mountain as told by the Aeta elders and the beliefs held by the villagers living on the mountainside after the eruption lays blame with humans. No matter the cause, the effects of this eruption were very real.

The effects of Pinatubo continued to impact the people and environment in the  surrounding areas 25 years after the initial eruption. The Aeta people lived on the highlands of the island Luzon in the Philippines and approximately 20,000 of these Indigenous people were displaced during the evacuation process. During this horrible process, the Aeta people tried to hold onto their livelihood. Many chose to bring pets, while others arranged to be married to their partners prior to leaving behind what they knew as home. These people had been living on the slopes of Pinatubo for centuries and had grown their community to a population of 60,000 before the eruption.

Displacement refers to the forced moving of people from their home country because of war, persecution, or natural disaster. This being said, displacement is more complicated than just being physically removed from an area, especially when the Indigenous people relied on the vegetation surrounding the volcano to survive and build tradition with their youth. Because the state of their environment directly correlates to the state of their community, the Aeta people are still living in resettlement camps until they can return to their home. To this day, the fields encompassing Pinatubo are still unable to produce crops for the Aeta people and this also impacts the traditions that they have developed over the years. There are no means of farming left available for the Indigenous people to grow food and other materials necessary for survival, so harvesting traditions cannot be passed on to the younger generations when they come of age. Ecotourism efforts have attempted to restore some Indigenous practices, but this often leads to the shifting of focus onto satisfying foreign tourists instead of the well-being of the Aeta people, proving it ineffective for this community. Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education [inclusive of both staff and guests].”

Some of the people who once resided in the lowlands were able to return home, but doing so forced them to continue facing danger due to lahars burning settlements and covering rice paddies and sugar-cane fields. The eruption also had a multitude of financial consequences for the people of Pinatubo including $700 million in damage, $100 million of the damage cost being to the 16 aircraft flying over Pinatubo at the time of the eruption, and $250 million in property with the rest of damage costs from agriculture, forestry, and land destruction.

Art Emerging from Tragedy

Like with many tragedies that happen on Earth, whether natural or anthropogenic, humans tend to create art to memorialize these events. In Angeles, Pampanga, a museum has been created to teach and reflect on the volcanic eruption that occurred. It was opened to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pinatubo and highlight the events before, during, and after the eruption. There are many murals for visitors to view, not only showing the timeline but also the negative impacts of the ash that spewed from the volcano. One of the most stunning, nonetheless tragic, pieces of art is titled ‘Lumud” (Drown). Its creator, Arnel Garcia, depicts a Filipino family buried in ash with their personal belongings. Their faces, which are incredibly lifelike, depict a wide range of emotions. Some seem to be calm and accepting, while others seem to be scared and distraught. Garcia shows us that not all Filipinos reacted to the tragedy in the same way. Although this museum is very much a “chilling reminder” of the eruption, it has been very beneficial to the Filipino community. The tourism industry in and around Pinatubo has increased, as people have traveled to visit the museum and to see the aftermath. Along with the museum, tourists enjoy appreciating the lake, Lake Pinatubo, that was created due to the eruption. 

Lumud by Arnel Garcia

Following the eruption, in 1991 and the years that followed, the sunsets became extremely pigmented and breathtakingly beautiful. The colorful sunsets were produced by the sun’s rays cutting through the sulfuric acid cloud, altered by the thickest layers. People within the Philippines sat on the beaches to view and appreciate the beauty around them. The eruption caused hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which did create incredible sunsets, but also contributed to climate change. This cloud accelerated the destruction of the ozone layer and lowered temperatures on Earth.

Sunset from a beach in the Philippines

The Broken Earth of Pinatubo

When thinking about why this matters, it makes sense to reflect on Jemisin’s underlying motivations and why the messages threaded throughout The Broken Earth trilogy matter. We connect the ways in which the destruction of something, whether it be the environment or a societal system, is a tragic event; it is also an opportunity for change. It redirects a society towards new discoveries and a greater understanding of the world we inhabit. In other words, failing foundations need to break in order to catalyze the growth of a system. “And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way, too, but not before conflict. No one reaches this place without a false start or two” (Jemisin). Furthering the idea that allows us to find hope within failure, destruction and change. Jemisin’s storyline reflects a foundation built on racial and ecological injustice, modeling a system with which we are all way too familiar. Our conversation is important because maybe some things break because there is a need for it to be rebuilt with a better understanding.

In regards to our seismic event, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, this applies to the way in which this event modified the way we approach and learn from volcanic hazards. It also alerts us as readers about the impacts of climate change and how necessary changes within society are, which connects to previous learning in this course, particularly our conversation with Dr. Reitz. If we do not begin to react to climate change now, we may end up relying on a poor solution in the future. Both the characters in the novels and us as humans have come to the conclusion that we are responsible for much of the destruction that happens around us. In local myth, the Mount Pinatubo eruption has been viewed as human-caused and allegedly occurred due to the exploitation of the surrounding area. Humans have also been found responsible for causing climate change: “The eruption helped scientists definitively declare that human emissions of greenhouse gasses are to blame for at least the past 60–70 years of warming” (Wendel & Kumar). Essentially, The Broken Earth trilogy ends within the realm of the same realization, who is at fault for all the turmoil: The humans who built the foundation in the first place. Even as old foundations crumble, we must remember them in order to build better ones in the future. As occurred in Jemisin’s novels, the loss of knowledge of what happened in Syl Anagist led the people of the Stillness to repeat the sins of their ancestors, in oppressing and enslaving a group of people, and led to their continual punishment at the hands of the Earth. We must always remember the cracks in the foundations we are rebuilding, so we’re sure we are making it better and stronger than before. As Jemisin questions throughout her trilogy, “How can we prepare for the future if we won’t acknowledge the past?”