These islanders live and thrive alongside lava
Photographer Cris Toala Olivares visits communities who've built a relationship with one of nature's most terrifying forces.
Excerpt and photographs from Living with Volcanoes by Cris Toala Olivares. Copyright © 2022 by Cris Toala Olivares. Reprinted by permission of Lannoo Publishers.
Visiting the island of Fogo in Cape Verde in 2014 was a rare chance to people who actually live in a crater of a volcano, side by side with lava. I wanted to see this with my own eyes, despite the difficulties I had reaching the island, including a six-hour ride in a cargo boat that left many fellow travellers seasick.
While I was there, the Cha das Caldeiras community in the crater was being evacuated by authorities as the lava flow from an eruption engulfed their land and houses. Despite the dangers, the people were passionately trying to return to their homes due to the connection they feel with the place they are from. They were attempting to force their way back in, saying: “I was born with lava, and I will die with lava.”
I met and travelled with volcano guide Manuel during my visit. Like many residents of the crater, he was a confident character and strongly attached to his way of life. Most people would move away from the lava, but he was desperate to remain and help his friends and neighbors. While I was with him, I felt safe, he understood the lava tracks and he knew where to walk and where to avoid.
When I was in the crater, I experienced how it is to live in this environment: it is like being in the volcano’s womb. You feel heat all around you, as if you are in an oven, and there is a comforting circulation of warm and dry winds. This was also the first time I saw flowing rivers of bright red lava. The people here have everything they need, and they know how to work with the nature surrounding them. They also produce food for all of Cape Verde on the volcanic soils of their farms, including beans, fruit, and wine. Everyone lives close by each other, many in the same house. Due to the risks of the lava, they know the importance of cooperation and solidarity.
I was struck by the loyalty and the bond these people have to their traditions and the life they know. In a world where many others like to move around and lifestyles change so fast, it was inspiring to see people wanting to hold onto their way of doing things no matter what.