Parrotfish help research traditional knowledge

I joined up with the research team on a Friday in Namalata village in the district of Kubulau. I have always had a keen interest in traditional knowledge, which is in danger of draining away, so this trip was my chance to help investigate whether and how it is being passed on to the next generation.

Team “Bubute” (named after the parrotfish that our interviewees were asked to identify) included Rachel (collecting data for her PhD thesis), Lai and Seini (graduate researchers from USP) and me trying to use my local connections and experience to explore traditional knowledge in these parts.

As Lai was wrapping the waka (kava root used to make the drink for traditional ceremonies), I worried that it would be turned against us – used for an early morning drinking session. This proved right next morning when we presented the sevusevu on the island of Navatu. As soon as Buli Navatu (the local chief) accepted our offering, he ordered for it to be pounded and served to us in the village hall – at 9.00 am on Saturday morning!

When we escaped the drinking, my first interviewee was a man who hailed from Ono-i-Lau in the Lau group of islands. He had married a woman from Navatu and lived there for most of his life. We talked about the different plants and their uses for medicine, food, to sell and for special occasions. I noticed he used most plants at home, rather than selling or donating them to village functions. My traditional links meant I was duty bound to joke that as he is not contributing to the village, maybe they should send him back to Lau without his wife!

The elders relate closely with seasonal weather patterns and know which crops to plant where and when. They will plant a certain species of uvi (yam) in certain weather at a certain time of year to ensure it is perfect to harvest for a feast at Christmas, New Year or a big i-sevu (presentation of root crops to the vanua or church). I now know that planting in July and harvesting the following March will give me the biggest yams (I made a note to take back to my village).

The next stage is to analyse the data and assess the links between traditional knowledge and natural resource management. Hopefully the results will help enhance the effective transfer and application traditional knowledge to meet current needs as well as providing for future generations.

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A village with a lot to offer

I recently helped facilitate a workshop in Vuya village, about 5km from the port of Nabouwalu (in Bua Province on the south-west of Vanua Levu). Having met people from Vuya at various workshops over the past year, I was always impressed with their enthusiasm for conservation and their organized approach. I had seen their Village Development Plan, heard about their projects and am also developing a research proposal with Brooke McDavid, a Peace Corps volunteer based in the village. It’s fair to say I was excited to be visiting and keen to find out more.

After the traditional ceremony (sevusevu) to introduce ourselves and ask for acceptance, our guide Mateo showed us around. With a chiefly bure at its centre, the village rises up a hillside overlooking the Vatu-i-Ra Passage, a hot-spot for cetaceans and an important breeding ground for the endangered humpback whale. As well as taking in great views, our tour included a detailed explanation of local challenges and insight into why and how a range of recently established projects were developed, including: a local marine protected area; a mangrove nursery and replanting site; and vegetable gardens dotted around the village.

Chickens are the animal with which the Vuya villagers traditionally associate and they are not supposed to cook or eat them. They recently built an impressive commercial chicken coup (selling the eggs and using the waste as fertilizer) and we awoke each morning to the sound of roosters.

As we drank kava in the hall each evening, villagers wanted to find out more about what is happening around the province. They shared experiences with visitors from across Bua and expressed interest in working together. Maria and Tupi, two ladies from the village development committee, requested to attend and made great contributions to the workshop. Jaoti, a local farmer, sought interest in forming a local cooperative with an emphasis on sustainable farming methods.

We’ll certainly miss Vuya and its people (if not the rooster alarm clock). Their input will be essential to developing an effective district-level management plan and I hope we can return some day.

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Inspired by kuta-weaving women

On the 18th of November Ged and I departed Nausori airport for Labasa to conduct kuta weaving training sessions in Bua and Cakaudrove. I have been really excited about this project, which hopes to revive the traditional Buan craft of making mats from Eleocharis dulcis, the freshwater reed known locally as kuta. It will also help women to generate income for their families and communities, reducing the pressures that contribute to unsustainable fishing, farming and logging practices.

The main objectives of the workshops were:

  • to enhance kuta-weaving skills amongst local women
  • to encourage women to pass on their kuta weaving skills within communities
  • to explore opportunities for a co-operative to generate and manage income
  • to raise awareness about good practice in managing kuta plantations

At our first workshop, the participants were mostly young mothers from the districts of Lekutu, Nadi and Solevu. They were keen to establish an alternative source of income and had good access to kuta growing in nearby villages.

It got even better at the next workshop at Namalata in Kubulau, where the ladies had organized the men to cook and serve all the meals!  This let them focus on the weaving and the results were really impressive.   Some young mothers even brought their children to the community hall – they were so determined to finish their mats by the end of the 2nd day.

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Our third workshop in Valeni was for the ladies of Wailevu district (in Cakaudrove) and showed that weaving skills are not confined only to Bua.  As we reached Savusavu at the end of a wonderful week I was even more positive that this project will take off. It had been great to see women of different ages and from different communities working together for a common cause.  They were so talented and grasped everything really quickly.

I texted a special thanks to our specialist trainer Edith Whippy, who not only taught the weaving techniques but motivated us all with her own story. Kuta mats are now Edith’s major source of income, so she told the ladies that if she can do it – so can they!

I even got a round kuta mat of my own (thanks Edith) and am looking forward to seeing the ladies make their first sales in 2013. Vinaka vakalevu to the Flora Family Foundation and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund for supporting this work.

Adapting to climate change: learning from our neighbours in Vanuatu

Recently I was lucky enough to attend a training course in methods of community adaptation to climate change, run by the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD). My 2 week trip to Vanuatu for this training was inspiring and taught me a lot of things about climate change. It’s amazing what we learned from one of the presenters, Dr Chris Bartlett from SPC-GTZ, about the wide range of different effects of climate change. After a week of classroom learning, we had a week in the field to visit community-based climate change adaptation projects and learn from them.

I was happy to see first-hand how they have setup a pilot project on the island of Pele which accommodates 4 villages (Piliura, Warasiviu, Launamoa and Worearu). The communities take full ownership of the project to make good use of the resources around them. For example, each village has their own MPA, the school has 2 composting toilets, Piliura village has a solar drying food compartment, and they even have a nursery in which they use Crown of Thorns starfish as manure! First they first collect the starfish, then ‘weather’ them to remove salt (either by burying or leaving exposed). Once properly dried the starfish are ground up and put in a composter, mixed with leaves, soil or organic matter and left to compost for 3-6 months with regular aeration and mixing. The village of Launamoa have a piggery, where cross breed the wild pigs and the normal ones and feed them with coconut and other food scraps. Pig waste is then collected and mixed with leaves or other organic matter to be used as manure for their sweet potato and vegetable gardens. I am quite sure that this can also be used in some communities we work in Fiji, with minimum help from government.

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As well as the excellent training, the 2 week trip was a chance to go back to my birthplace for the first time. The French influence was still very clear; I was surprised to see in most supermarkets how much food is imported and I wonder how do they offset these costs? However, the food was delicious especially the nice juicy steak!

Traditional methods help preserve coral reefs in Fiji

WCS Fiji Director, Dr Stacy Jupiter, talks to Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat about how indigenous communities in Fiji are making huge leaps towards meeting the national target to protect 30% of marine habitats by 2020. Through the determined efforts of local communities to establish traditional tabu areas (marine protected areas) protecting their coral reefs, Fiji has already achieved the internationally agreed 10% protection target for coastal and marine habitats, which is part of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/traditional-methods-helping-preserve-fiji-reefs/1017628