Friday, May 30, 2008

South Pacific tragedy: The island that had (and lost) everything

Twenty years ago, the people of Nauru had the highest per capita income in the world. Today they are destitute: their natural resources exhausted, their wealth (and health) squandered, and their future scarcely imaginable.
At first glance, the rows of concrete shacks on the Nauru foreshore look derelict, with their cracked louvred windows, smashed walls laden with graffiti, and narrow passageways strewn with junk. But many of these miserable dwellings are inhabited – by the poorest of the poor – among them Sue Diau and her large extended family.

It is a shock to encounter such living conditions in a nation that once enjoyed the highest per capita income on the planet. But the affluence that flowed from Nauru's deposits of phosphate – extracted from fossilised bird droppings – has gone, and only one thing has saved the island from economic collapse: a detention centre housing Australia's unwanted asylum-seekers.

While Canberra's decision to dump would-be migrants on its impoverished Pacific neighbours was internationally reviled, it was embraced by Nauru, the world's smallest republic, once administered by colonial powers including Britain. One hundred locals, including Ms Diau, were employed at the detention centre, earning incomes that fed an estimated 1,000 people – 10 per cent of the population.

Now the vagaries of domestic politics 2,500 miles away are set to alter the fortunes of this remote coral island again. John Howard, architect of the "Pacific Solution", was ousted as prime minister last year, and one of the first acts of his successor, Kevin Rudd, was to scrap the offshore processing policy. The last refugees – 21 Sri Lankans – have just left Nauru, and the camp that is the island's economic lifeline is about to close.

Ms Diau, a shy 46-year-old, has worked there since 2001. A kitchen hand, she earns more than twice the A$140 (£65) a fortnight salary of a Nauruan public servant. Her husband, Philip, was employed at the centre as a painter and carpenter, on a similarly handsome wage. He was laid off three months ago; his wife will be out of a job next month.

Mr Diau has looked in vain for work. The government is the only major employer on Nauru, a potato-shaped island of just eight square miles. The unemployment rate is about 30 per cent, and there is no social security system. The Diaus support six children, as well as a dozen relatives, and neighbours who ask them for money or food. It is the Nauruan way to share.

"I don't know what we'll do," said Ms Diau, sheltering from the heat outside her tiny, dilapidated house, which is situated next to a rubbish tip. "Everyone is depending on my income."

The sprawling harbourside slum once housed foreign workers who toiled in the phosphate mines. For six decades Britain, Australia and New Zealand – mandated to administer Nauru after the First World War – profited from its lucrative resource. They stripped the island's interior, exporting the mineral and leaving behind a bleak moonscape of grey coral pinnacles.

A commission of inquiry later found they violated international law by failing to restore Nauru to "usable condition". However, mining continued after independence in 1968, and during the 1970s and 1980s the locals grew fabulously rich. The island had a shipping line and airline, with seven planes and half a dozen ships. No matter that two-thirds of Naura was uninhabitable.

Presidents would commandeer aircraft to take their wives shopping in Melbourne, New York and Singapore. Households owned three cars, including, in one case, a Lamborghini, although the island has a 40kph (25mph) speed limit and only one 12-mile circular paved road. Jobs were plentiful, housing free, and no one paid tax. Children went to the best schools in Australia and Nauruans gave lavish gifts, such as three-piece suites.

Eventually the bubble burst, as a result of corruption, mismanagement and sheer profligacy – and by 2001, when a Norwegian freighter rescued 438 asylum-seekers heading for Australia, the country was broke. Little wonder it was Nauru that Canberra approached – after it had refused to allow the Afghans and Iraqis to land – with promises of generous foreign aid.

While the offloading of the asylum-seekers – some of whom spent years on Nauru – was branded a scandal, life for Nauruans improved enormously. Hundreds of expatriates – security guards, catering contractors, maintenance staff – injected cash into the economy. Air Nauru flights and the government-run Menen Hotel were full.

In addition, Australia pumped vast sums of aid into the island. Schools were refurbished, along with the hospital, and notoriously unreliable power and water supplies were upgraded. One former Australian aid official described the cash as an "unmitigated bribe" to keep Nauru sweet – and Nauru's fear now is that the aid will be slashed.

Kieren Keke, the foreign affairs and finance minister, estimates that the centre represents 20 per cent of the economy. He said: "The closure will have a major impact. If the level of aid is reduced at the same time, it's going to totally cripple us."

The sense of anxiety is palpable in Nauru, which has suffered such hardships as workers going unpaid for months, power cuts for up to 20 hours a day, the telephone system collapsing for weeks, and the airline (now a single plane) being grounded repeatedly – and once even wheel-clamped due to unpaid bills.

Even the Sri Lankans who flew out to Brisbane this month voiced concern for the people they were leaving behind. Earnest young men, they chatted quietly in a yard at the centre, just before heading to the airport. One said: "We're very happy to be starting a new life. But the Nauruans, they are not happy. They need financial support from Australia."

On Nauru, the lush tangle of tropical vegetation fringing the island, which from the air resembles an upside-down pie, soon gives way to "Topside" – the mined-out, barren interior. It was here, on a hot and dusty plain, surrounded by a sea of coral pinnacles, that the original detention centre was set up. A second camp opened in 2003.

In the canteen, Evayne Gaubidi said: "It's my first steady job." Ms Gaubidi, 32, added: "We were hoping John Howard wins so the camp will continue." At the centre, workers receive three free meals a day. On Nauru, fresh food– mostly imported – is expensive. An onion can cost A$2. Nauruans are famously obese, a legacy of the days of excess.

Employees are also given 20 litres of water daily – a significant benefit at a time of drought. Nauru suffers from the "oven effect", with its denuded rocky interior reflecting the sun's rays back upwards and dispersing clouds and rain.

Around the island, few signs remain of its colonial past. The Nauru Phosphate Club – where expatriates gathered at sunset to play billiards and enjoy the sea view and evening breeze from its peeling balustrades – is now a Pentecostal church. A nearby nine-hole golf course is parched and overgrown, its abandoned club house a wreck.

The locals reminisce about the days of reckless extravagance. "After independence, it was like we suddenly won the lottery," said Mathew Batsuia, the health minister, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant. His wife, Tricia, said: "It was like there was a pot of gold and it would never run out. The Kiribati people [from a neighbouring Pacific nation] worked in the mines, and served us and cooked for us, and we just went shopping. It was mad with a capital 'M'."

But as Nauruans splurged on foreign travel and consumer goods, a trust fund established from mining revenues – intended to secure the country's future post-phosphate – was shrinking.

Nauru bought showpiece properties around the Pacific. However, millions were frittered on harebrained schemes including a West End musical about Leonardo da Vinci. The entire cabinet flew to London for the opening night. Panned by the critics, it swiftly closed.

After being swindled by foreign powers, the Nauruans were swindled by their own leaders, who raided the trust fund, and by "consultants" of dubious repute. The island became a money-laundering centre and at one point had 400 offshore banks, all of them registered to one government mailbox.

In 2004 the government defaulted on a A$236m loan to an American financier, which seized its properties. Nauru had no assets, and no money. Without the Pacific Solution, things would have been grim. But Australian aid is believed to have been wasted. Up to A$40m, for instance, has gone on improving the electricity supply – yet power is still rationed to 12 hours a day.

Many locals were jealous of the 1,300 asylum-seekers spirited to a distant and unknown country. As one woman recalls: "They were living better than us. They had power 24/7. A Hercules flew in once a month with fresh fruit and vegetables. They even had an internet connection."

A major drain on the country's finances is health. The hospital has seven dialysis machines. In some age groups, nearly half of Nauruans are diabetic. A favourite snack is a fried chicken, washed down with a chocolate milkshake. Life expectancy is 49 for men and 55 for women.

On his hospital bed, Henry struggles to sit. His right leg is missing – amputated as a result of complications associated with diabetes. He is lucky. Doctors believe they can save his left leg.

The man who will plead Nauru's case with Australia is President Marcus Stephen, a former Commonwealth Games weightlifting medallist. He said: "We don't want to be seen as a beggar state. We just need help to stand on our own feet."

Nauru has little to offer potential visitors. The hotel swimming pool is empty, with only a stray dog lounging by it. Richie Halstead, director of tourism, has not had a budget for three years. "We just sit around talking about tourism and playing computer games," he said.

There is one glimmer of hope. Secondary deposits of phosphate were recently discovered, and exports have resumed. At the same time, an ambitious programme to rehabilitate the interior has begun. The pinnacles will be crushed and levelled. Trees will be planted. The land will be used for schools, housing and recreation.

To Nauru's leaders, the mining represents a second chance: an opportunity to give the islanders a future. But it still has A$1bn of debt from the bad old days – and as one observer puts it: "It will take forever to pay that off, no matter how much bird poo they export."

Isolated tribe spotted in Brazil

One of South America's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been spotted and photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru.

The Brazilian government says it took the images to prove the tribe exists and help protect its land.

The pictures, taken from an aeroplane, show red-painted tribe members brandishing bows and arrows.

More than half the world's 100 uncontacted tribes live in Brazil or Peru, Survival International says.

Stephen Corry, the director of the group - which supports tribal people around the world - said such tribes would "soon be made extinct" if their land was not protected.

'Monumental crime'

Survival International says that although this particular group is increasing in number, others in the area are at risk from illegal logging.

Uncontacted tribe near Brazil-Peru border

What do the pictures tell us?
In pictures: Brazil tribe

The photos were taken during several flights over one of the most remote parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil's Acre region.

They show tribe members outside thatched huts, surrounded by the dense jungle, pointing bows and arrows up at the camera.

"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," the group quoted Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, an official in the Brazilian government's Indian affairs department, as saying.

"This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."

He described the threats to such tribes and their land as "a monumental crime against the natural world" and "further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilised' ones, treat the world".

Disease is also a risk, as members of tribal groups that have been contacted in the past have died of illnesses that they have no defence against, ranging from chicken pox to the common cold.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Terracotta Army, China

The Terracotta Army (traditional Chinese: 兵馬俑; simplified Chinese: 兵马俑; pinyin: bīngmǎ yǒng; literally "soldier and horse funerary statues") are the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Shi Huang Di the First Emperor of China. The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Chinese: 秦始皇陵; pinyin: Qín Shǐhuáng Líng). The figures vary in height (184–197cm - 6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the Generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority still buried in the pits.
The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor of Qin (Shi Huangdi) in 209-210 BC (his reign over Qin was from 247 BC to 221 BC and unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies". Some people think that the army was also built for protection.

The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Lishan (Mount Li).[2] Mount Li is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.

According to the historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Sima Qian, writing a century after its completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects', with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth'. Some translations of this passage refer to 'models' or 'imitations' but in fact he does not use those words. [3] Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian.The tomb of Shi Huang Di is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, in the hope that it will remain intact. Only a portion of the site is presently excavated.[4]
A terracotta soldier and his horse
A terracotta soldier and his horse

Qin Shi Huangdi’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. The remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb have also been found within its confines, and it is believed they were sealed inside alive to prevent them from divulging information about the tombs.

In 2007 Chinese archaeologists, using remote sensing technology, located a 30 meter high building buried above the main portion of the tomb. It appears to have four large stair-like walls. Although one of the archaeologists, Duan Qingbo, suggests that it may have been built to aid the departure of the Emperor's soul, another expert, Chen Jingyuan, questioned the nature of the discovery. He suggested that speculating as to the findings' purpose might cause complicatons for future archeologists. [5]

Of note is that fact that the terracotta soldiers are life sized and that no two are alike. Most researchers believe that each statute is based on an actual soldier of that time.

[edit] Construction
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.

The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government labourers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used and then the clay was added to give them individual facial features.[6] Once assembled the intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line style of production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced so as to ensure quality control; this has aided modern day historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other every day items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits outlined above in precise military formation according to rank and duty.

The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and replica weapons and armor used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The oroginal weapons were stolen shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labour and skill involved in their construction. It is also a confirmation of the power the First Emperor possessed that enabled him to command such a monumental undertaking as this army's manufacture.

[edit] The Pits

The four pits associated with the figures are about 1.5km east of the burial mound and are about 5 meters deep.They are outside the walls of the tomb complex as if placed there to guard the tomb from attack from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete. Pit 1, 230 meters long, contains the main army, estimated at 6000 figures. Pit One has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing and then mounded with more soil making them when built about 2 to 3 meters higher than the ground level.[7] Pit 2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit 3 is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty, seemingly left unfinished by its builders.

[edit] Destruction and gradual decay
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.

There is evidence of a large fire that burned the wooden structures that once housed the Terracotta Army. It was described by Sima Qian, who said that the fire was a consequence of a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu less than five years after the death of the First Emperor. According to Sima Qian, General Xiang’s army looted the tomb and the structures holding the Terracotta Army, as well as setting fire to the necropolis and starting a blaze that allegedly lasted three months (though no other recorded great fire in history ever lasted more than seven days). Because of this, only one statue has survived intact: a statue of a kneeling archer. Despite the fire, however, much of the remains of the Terracotta Army still survives in various stages of preservation, surrounded by remnants of the burnt wooden structures.

In 1999, it was reported that the warriors were suffering from "nine different kinds of mold", caused by raised temperatures and humidity in the building which houses the soldiers, and by the breath of tourists.[8] In addition, the South China Morning Post reported that the figures have become oxidised grey from being exposed to the air, which may cause arms to fall off, and noses and hairstyles to disappear. [9] However, officials have dismissed these claims.[10] In Daily Planet Goes to China, the Terracotta Warriors segment reported that the Chinese scientists found soot on the surface of the statue, concluding that the pollution introduced from coal burning plants was responsible for the decaying of the terracotta statues.

[edit] Terracotta Army outside China
Warriors' horses in a row
Warriors' horses in a row

* At the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art of the Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, Michigan, on display from January 20 to April 13, 2008. Timeless Warriors & Relics: 1500 Years of Ancient China. 50 objects including 2 warriors and a broad selection of relics rich in ceramics, with examples of bronze, silver, copper, and jade. The relics range from sculptural figures of humans and animals, to vessels, architectural elements, utilitarian objects and weaponry.[11]

* At the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA, on view from May 18 to October 12, 2008. Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is the largest loan of terracotta figures and significant artifacts to ever travel to the U.S. from the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.). Considered one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century, the First Emperor’s monumental tomb complex is contains thousands of terracotta warriors that were intended to protect him throughout eternity. The exhibition showcases 120 sets of objects that include more than fifty “level one” objects—the most important and highly restricted Chinese antiquities—and approximately twenty complete life-size terracotta figures representing all aspects of the Emperor’s army. After premiering at the Bowers Museum, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is scheduled to travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (May 18–September 25, 2009) and the National Geographic Society Museum (November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010).

* At the British Museum in London from 13 September 2007 to 6 April 2008: “The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army explores one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, giving an insight into China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, and his legacy. The exhibition includes a number of the world-famous terracotta warriors from Xi'an, China, which were buried alongside the First Emperor in readiness for the afterlife, as well as some of the most striking recent discoveries made on the site.” [12] 120 objects as well as 20 warriors are on display, making it the largest ever exhibition outside China.[13]
* Six of the warriors were displayed at Selfridges department store in London in 1981 as part of a marketing event called 'East Meets West'.

* Four terracotta warriors and horses from the Mausoleum were displayed at 1982 World's Fair; this was the first time China had participated in a World Fair since 1904.

* In 2004, an exhibit of the terracotta warriors was featured at 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona. It later inaugurated the Cuarto Depósito Art Center at Madrid [14], El Mundo, 28 September 2004. It consisted of ten warriors, four other big figures and other pieces (totalling 170) from the Qin and Han dynasties.

* Silent Warriors, 81 original artifacts including ten soldiers, were on display in Malta at the Archaeological Museum in Valletta during 2007. [15]

* The Drents Museum[16] in Assen (the Netherlands) displays 14 warriors of the Terracotta Army and over 200 other pieces, both from the First Emperor's grave as well as from other graves of the Qin and Han Dynasties and before. The exposition takes place in the period of 2 February to 31 August 2008 as part of their GoChina Project.[17]

* Forbidden Gardens, a privately funded outdoor museum in Katy, Texas has 6,000 1/3 scale replica terra-cotta soldiers displayed in formation as they were buried in the 3rd century BC. Several full-size replicas are included for scale, and replicas of weapons discovered with the army are shown in a separate Weapons Room. The museum's sponsor is a Chinese businessman whose goal is to share his country's history.

* The Santa Barbara Museum of Art included a display of the terracotta soldiers in 1998.

* Other replicas may be seen at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

Pink and White Terraces, New Zealand.

The world famous Pink and White Terraces were considered to be the eighth wonder of the natural world and were New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction. Unfortunately they were completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption on the 10th June 1886, at 3:00 am by Mt Tarawera, which violently erupted, belching out hot mud, red hot boulders and immense clouds of black ash. Several hours later, the bed of Lake Rotomahana blew out, burying the Maori villages of Moura and Te Ariki under a deep layer of liquid mud, stones and ash.

The Mount Tarawera eruption was New Zealand's most violent and destructive volcanic eruption in recent history. Mount Tarawera is 30 kilometres from Rotorua amidst the North Island's volcanic- thermal region. This eruption caused approximately 153 deaths.

The explosions were heard as far away as Auckland to the North and Christchurch to the South, and were thought to come from a ship in distress, whilst many in the Manawatu believed that the visiting Russian man-of-war, Vestnick was bombarding Wanganui. In Rotorua, no one was in any doubt as to what was happening.

Sigiriya in North Central Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya is an archaeological site in North Central Sri Lanka. It contains the ruins of an ancient palace complex, built during the reign of King Kasyapa (477AD - 495 AD). It is one of the 7 world heritage sites in Sri Lanka and is one of it's most popular tourist destinations.
To start of Sigiriya, was a palace complex cum fortress built on a rather unique granite mountain [the one that looks like a giant boulder in the first picture].

The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts.
Built in the 5 century AC this magnificent complex of geometrically laid gardens, pools, fountains (still working today) as well as oldest surviving murals of maidens has been a palace of the King Kasyapa.

Built on top of a 200m high rock, the entrance to the climb once has been through a lions head. Only the huge paws remain today. Half way up the rock are beautifully drawn painted bare breast Maidens whose existence is still a mystery. Which should be the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriaya, is a must see item in Sri Lanka. The occupation of the gigantic fortress ended when Kasyapa killed himself in a battle with his brother.