Sharing traditional Fijian weaving skills

Mrs Edith Whippy and her beautiful round kuta mat

Edith Whippy is a skilled lady. She is capable of weaving all kinds of mats from kuta (Water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis), but she loves most of all to make round kuta mats. Usually she collects kuta from Muanicula estate which is just down the road from where she lives. When she travels there by boat to collect the stems and she used to pay F$20 per day, but these now with the high demand for kuta the cost has increased to F$30 a day. Kuta harvesting is a job for all the family – the Whippys set off at 8am to make the trip worthwhile, and spend the day wading in knee-deep water to cut the plants.

At times Edith has to go to Kasavu village to collect kuta, a long journey past Savusavu town, and she is charged F$400 for the return trip which she shares with the other women. The longer you keep dried kuta the better it is, because it softens and becomes easier to use – often it is kept under the mattress to keep the brittle stems soft. Kuta weaving is done only on rainy days or in cooler weather since it tends to break if woven during hot, sunny periods.

Edith’s grandmother taught her the skills of weaving round kuta mats and she has been doing this since 1982 when she married Mr Whippy. Her mats are usually made to order from friends and relatives, providing her main source of income. Round kuta mats are generally charged by hand-span; at around $10 for every hand-span the mats can provide a good alternative livelihood for women. At the same time kuta weaving benefits the environment and local communities: by giving a solid reason to protect the important wetland habitats in which kuta thrives, essential ecosystem services such as clean water will continue to be enjoyed by the nearby villages.

“I conducted training in Natokalau and Dawara villages [in Kubulau and Wailevu districts respectively] last year [2012]. I could see the passion in the ladies to learn the weaving skills quickly, but most of them who came had their small children with them, which made it hard for them to learn as a lot of time was spent attending to the little ones”, said Edith. She is willing to help other women by sharing her special skills and experience from 30 years of weaving round kuta mats, making sure this tradition does not slip away. This will be made possible as part of a WCS Fiji project in Bua and Cakaudrove provinces, which will establish a cooperative selling round kuta mats, therefore giving communities a reason to maintain and manage their precious kuta wetland habitats.

This project is kindly supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint program of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Fiji communities cross boundaries for conservation in Cakaudrove

Mapping proposed protected area locations for Nakawaga.

When the villagers of Nakawaga and Nukubolu heard about Ecosystem-Based Management developing in the neighbouring district (tikina) of Wailevu, they approached WCS Fiji to find out more. Nakawaga and Nukubolu are located in the heavily forested, steep sided upper valley of the Nasekawa River, in the district of Koroalau in Cakaudrove Province. They are approximately 10km upstream from the district border, along the Nasekawa River which crosses Wailevu before discharging into Savusavu Bay.

Recognising their ecological and hydrological connectivity with ecosystems downstream, Nakawaga and Nukubolu hosted an awareness raising workshop and have now made links with Wailevu East Resource Management Committee (WERMC) in July. They will play active role in WERMC, adding their own experience of having managed the upper catchment (protecting a 2km stretch of river for over 10 years) and developed a range of community ecotourism activities.

Veresa Matakaruru, a Nakawaga village elder, said “We Fijian communities are connected by our forests, rivers and natural resources, as well as by our culture. We welcome the opportunity to work with different tikina, to help each other and preserve the natural environment with which we are blessed”.

Ecosystem-Based Management is taking shape in Nadi and Solevu

Two more districts in Vanua Levu are establishing Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to safeguard their natural resources.

The districts of Nadi and Solevu, situated in the province of Bua, rely heavily on natural resources to meet their subsistence needs. In November 2011, they sent representatives to a management planning workshop in the nearby district of Wainunu, where they found out more about environmental issues and Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM), which fuses scientific principles with local and traditional ecological knowledge to promote sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, coastal and marine habitats. These representatives took part in a conceptual modeling exercise which identified conservation targets, threats affecting those targets and strategies through which the threats could be addressed.

Participants at a workshop in Nadi devise management rules for their terrestrial & marine protected areas.

In January 2012, WCS Fiji has facilitated further consultation with each village in Nadi and Solevu. Recent district-wide workshops have further defined networks of freshwater, terrestrial and marine protected areas and sets of rules to govern the management of natural resources. These rules and protected area network will provide the basis for Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to maintain healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems in order to overcome pressure from population growth and climate change, enhance local quality of life and meet the needs of future generations.

WCS Fiji’s Director Stacy Jupiter stated “We would like to thank the leaders and communities of Nadi and Solevu. They should be congratulated on their progress and we look forward to supporting the development and implementation of their management plans.”

Children of Solveu will reap the benefits of the new protected area network.

WCS Fiji has applied EBM in working with communities in adjoining districts of Kubulau, Wainunu and Wailevu along the south of Vanua Levu. The expanding reach of this approach reflects its success (particularly in Kubulau where the approach has been established for longest), associated growth in demand from communities and WCS Fiji’s focus on the Vatu-i-Ra Ecoscape, one of Fiji’s last great wild places.

The Adventures of Joji Goby

Like fish (and invertebrate) puppets? Want to see environmental education in action? Then watch this short video we have made about a recent WCS Fiji trip to five schools in Kubulau and Wainunu districts to launch our comic “The Adventures of Joji Goby” with puppet shows. The puppets were made from recycled materials by Anne O’Brien of Anniemals. The project was kindly supported by the Disney Friends for Change Programme.

Fiji Youth Ministry takes up the environmental challenge

Children in Wailevu district, Cakaudrove, with mangrove seeds. Photo (c) Stacy Jupiter

Environmental issues will be at the heart of Fiji’s youth agenda – helping young people to address key environmental challenges. WCS Fiji attended a recent Ministry of Youth and Sport consultation workshop to inform strategies and plans for this new Ministry.

The workshop identified barriers and gaps affecting the engagement of young people and made recommendations for the Ministry, including:

  • Capacity building on youth engagement for traditional leaders (particularly Turaga ni Koro through i-Taukei Affairs)
  • Influence existing church and youth groups to tackle environmental challenges
  • Involve young people in monitoring their local environment
  • Incorporate climate change awareness/adaptation (in a Fijian context) into the national curriculum – empowering young people to participate in informed community debate and decision making processes
  • Showcase/promote good practice in youth engagement

We look forward to supporting the Ministry and young people in Fiji to make a better future for all.