Journey to the Edge of the World

The project focuses on the outer atoll of the archipelago by tracing the journey of Pedrua Liam Faijita, a Rilaoan from the Eels District who spent 3 years exploring this borderland territory. His book of notes, maps and photographs titled “Journey to the Edge of the World” were the subject of a recent story in the National Geographic titled, “Rilao Unearthed” after his daughter uncovered his manuscript and sent it to a journalist upon his death.

The journey through the atoll identifies three groups of people that Pedrua encountered, who he referred to as “The Worshippers,” “The Fishermen,” and “The Scientists.” These three unrelated but interconnected communities had different relationships to the space of the atoll, each occupied a specific territory within the atoll, and each had their own rhythms of movement and activity (which Pedrua notated on various maps).

The Worshippers: The Worshippers were a community of people (predominantly elder men and women) who rejected the speed of technological progress of the city and had moved out to the atoll upon their own free will in order to “find unity with nature.” They occupied a rich cross-section of the atoll encompassing the space between the coast, the mangrove marshes, and the forest. They did not return to the city for any occasion and instead created their own occasions through a calendar of rituals that they performed throughout the year. These rituals responded to natural cycles, including lunar phases, and tidal fluctuation, and often involved the creation of symbolic structures, which they would sometimes burn or to which they would otherwise pray.

The Fishermen: The Fishermen were a small group of men and their young sons, who would venture out to the coastal edge of the atoll once a week in order to participate in rogue fishing activities, which had gained them notoriety within the weekly urban fish market. Their aim was to venture out past the edge of the archipelago in order to hunt the most exotic species of fish that were not available in the areas in close proximity to the island. They had developed various fishing methods that would prevent them from getting caught by the underwater surveillance drones (the drones were disguised as jellyfish and would patrol the edge of the atoll in order to keep all Rilaoans in and all foreigners out). If the fishermen lost control and submerged in the water, they would find themselves quickly captured by the swarming drones. Part of their inventive techniques included appropriating and adapting some of the Worshippers’ symbolic structures as communication tools to warn their fellow fishermen of coming storms or of noted drone activity. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for fishermen to disappear in heavy storms, which would push them out to sea. They only ventured to the atoll the day before the fish market each week. At the end of these days, they would return home to the city and sell their prized catch the following morning.

The Scientists: The Scientists were a state-sponsored group of men and women who were involved in bioscientific experiments within this territory. Their main goal was to monitor and conduct in situ experiments involving the hybridization of flora and fauna with new technologies with the hopes of imbuing them with intelligence (examples included experiments with bioluminescence of plants as a lighting source, creating living surveillance systems, utilizing algae and seaweed for textile manufacture, and water filtration organisms that would embed themselves in the ocean floor in order to cleanse the increasingly polluted waters of the archipelago). They moved freely throughout the atoll but were predominantly interested in sites that offered the richest ecological value for their fieldwork (mostly the forested areas of the atoll). They lived in the atoll territory most of the week and would only return to their families in the city during the holidays or occasional weekends).

Besides his notes and maps, Pedrua’s most significant contribution was perhaps his photographs of the atoll and of these communities which revealed not only their association with the land and their rhythms and rituals, but, most importantly, give us a comprehensive glimpse of this mysterious Rilaoan territory.