“Colorless Island” in the Pacific Ocean

Most of the inhabitants of the Pingelap Atoll, in the Federated States of Micronesia, in the Pacific Ocean, are unable to distinguish the bright green color of the plants or the color of the sands of the place where they live because they suffer from prickles, which is a rarity. A hereditary disease that includes the complete inability to distinguish colors. Due to the large concentration of people with this disease, a very rare form of color blindness, Pingelap is called the “island of colorless” (or incorrectly “island of color blindness”) and is much studied by geneticists and neuroscientists, but also by photographers: The story of this peculiarity seems to be related to the hurricane that hit the atoll at the end of the eighteenth century.

Pingelap is part of Pohnpei, one of the four territories that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, and is located more than 2,000 kilometers northeast of Papua New Guinea. It occupies an area of ​​about 1.8 square kilometers and is the only inhabited atoll in the state: it is estimated that between 4 and 10 percent of its 250 residents suffer from complete blindness, a genetic defect in vision that goes beyond distinguishing any color that makes you You see very poorly, especially from a distance.

It was British neurologist Oliver Sacks who gave Pingelap the name ‘Island of Colorless’, and talked about it in a book of the same title from 1996 where he explored the unique genetic history of the place.

According to the reconstruction of ethnographers, a catastrophic hurricane in about 1775 wiped out the inhabitants of Pingelap, saving only about twenty people, including the king; Genetic research on the local population made it possible to assume that the king had the rare gene associated with blindness, which was passed on to his children and then to subsequent generations, to this day.

It is estimated that one out of every 33,000 people usually suffers from color blindness. In Pingelap, in addition to people who suffer from it, about a third of the population will remain healthy carriers of genes associated with the disease. This is the data that greatly affects the lives of the local people so as to use the words National Geographic, Let’s say that “the concept of color is taking on a new meaning among the local population.”

Color blindness, often referred to as “color blindness,” is a visual defect that involves altered perception of colors, particularly red, green, and blue. Total color blindness is precisely defined as color blindness, an anomaly that appears to be attributable to a congenital defect of the cones of the retina, to which we owe the ability to distinguish between them. In general, the patient also has a high sensitivity to light and, among other things, is prompted to involuntarily move one or both eyes (nystagmus), to try to distinguish objects, especially in certain circumstances.

as . said BBC A resident of Pingelap named Herrol, in broad daylight it is almost impossible for him to keep his eyes open, and all he can see – no matter how painful – are images similar to negatives from overexposed photos. “When it’s sunny I can’t do my job,” said Hyrule, a fisherman. However, in the evening, he sees much better.

“For them, blind people ‘see no color at all’, on a black-and-white scale,” explained Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde, who in 2015 made a trip to Pingelap to understand how locals see locals. He used his journey to create a series of images that gave an idea of ​​how the atoll’s inhabitants perceive colour.

Color-blind Pingelap residents often claim to “perceive” the color red and its shades more than other colors, such as blue: that’s why De Wilde used an infrared digital camera to try to recreate the look of the images as well as to be seen by them. , also taking into account the large light sensitivity.

The result is images in which palm trees or forest plants appear in different shades of pink, while the sea, sky, or other details have other colors—less visible—that sufferers don’t recognize, or appear gray.

In some cases, De Wilde also asked residents to paint black and white pictures using different watercolors – which they were unable to distinguish – to understand how they “perceived” the different shades of what they were observing.

He commented, “Color is just a word for those who don’t see it.”

A black and white picture of a parrot drawn by a resident of Pingelap who suffers from color blindness

– Read also: The most isolated tribe in the world

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