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 showcase for talent in Bua

It was windy and cold when we boarded the early morning ferry at Natovi. By lunchtime it was sunny and hot as we approached the wharf at Nabouwalu – a good sign for my first trip to my tovata in the province of Bua (traditional allies with my people from Lau) and my first visit to the field as an intern with WCS.

We went straight to Kavula village in Lekutu District, where women are producing honey and weaving kuta mats as part of a sustainable livelihoods project supported by WCS. I introduced myself during the sevusevu (the traditional ceremony to state our business and request acceptance) before visiting the beehives to get a better idea of their honey production process. After speaking to the women I appreciate the skill and dedication required to maintain the hives and extract honey.

In the coming months we will help them to establish a business plan and access new markets. The income generated will reduce pressure on over-exploited natural resources, support local conservation and other community projects and provide cash to help meet their needs.

From Kavula we went to Wairiki Village in the district of Vuya. Responding to the community’s request for support, we facilitated a water management planning session. This involved mapping their water system (from source to disposal), calculating consumption needs, identifying risks and testing for bacteria. Hopefully this has given their Village Water Committee a good focus and everything they need to submit a report to the Water and Sewage Authority requesting further support.

Next we visited the Bua Showcase, which started on the 29th of August in Nabouwalu. There were many stalls with different decorations showing off a wide range of local handicrafts and other goods. It was a great to see the women of Bua showcasing their skills and products – including kuta mats, jewellery, baskets made from wild vine, fans, handbags and much more!

Among the many other stalls was one for the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST) – a partnership of communities, government departments, NGOs and the private sector with a focus on sustainable management of natural resources. Community representatives from all the districts were highlighting the role of BYMST and their plans to promote good practice across the province. We helped by providing posters and distributing fliers whilst Mateo (the representative from Vuya) spoke to people and answered their questions over several bowls of kava.

I was really inspired by the young people of Bua who were showcasing their talents too by helping to set up and operate the stalls.

Vinaka vakalevu to everyone for a wonderful trip, especially to Cagi for looking after me and my tovata Mateo and Drugu for all the laughs we had.

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Supporting businesswomen as drivers of change

WCS is supporting business women in the province of Bua and the district of Wailevu in Cakaudrove Province. Our recent workshop, held in Naruwai village in the district of Dama (Bua Province) targeted rural women running businesses that promote sustainable use of natural resources. The aim was to help develop their business skills and support networks.

A total of 30 women participated from across all 9 districts in Bua. Starting with limited business knowledge, they were soon defining business goals, identifying challenges and considering how to overcome them. Several were involved in a cooperative producing mats and other products from bamboo spike sedge, the fine-stemmed freshwater reed known locally as kuta. Kuta weaving is a traditional skill of women in Bua and they were motivated to pass this onto the next generation as well as earning income. Others were producing honey, coconut oil (sinusinu) and virgin coconut oil, jewelry, eggs and handicrafts made from pandanus and coconut frond.

Having gained in confidence and more clearly defined what their business is and how they can make it profitable, they targeted further training to address specific needs for marketing and business planning.

I was greatly inspired by these ladies and hope to help grow their businesses, which will in turn help address local poverty, stop unsustainable exploitation of local natural resources and directly support community projects. I also hope to support their engagement in community management planning in their districts. They certainly have the skills and motivation required to drive positive change!

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Vinaka vakalevu to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Flora Family Foundation for supporting this work.

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.

Sea cucumber harvest provides church roof

Holothuria scabra collected in Natuvu village

On the 24th September 2012 the communities of Natuvu village in Wailevu district started harvesting sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra, or dairo in Fijian) from the shallow waters outside their marine protected area. Sea cucumbers are being cultured in Natuvu village through a joint project with Fiji Department of Fisheries, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and James Cook University. The dried animals fetch a high price for sale in Asian markets – up to $100 per kilo. Around 1,200 of the valuable animals were collected on the first day of the harvest and 1,000 individuals on the second day. We are waiting to hear the final catch figures for the harvest from the communities.

During the harvest I saw first-hand the long drying process to prepare the catch for sale. First the communities cooked the dairo then buried them in sand for 24 hours. After this, they cleaned them and cooked again for 10 minutes and then dried the cooked animals using dryers. Finally, the sea cucumbers are cooked again for 15-20 minutes and then sun dried until they are sold.

It was very encouraging to see the community come together as the women of the village cleaned the dairo while all the men helped out in the cooking, cleaning and drying. Harvesting will continue until enough money is collected from selling sea cucumbers to purchase new roofing material for their village church.

Catch information collected from this harvest will contribute to a study by the University of Georgia in the US. In August, WCS Fiji staff assisted Professor Mark Hay and his team to carry out surveys inside and outside the marine protected area owned by Natuvu village, for example gathering seabed sediment samples and assessing the density of sea cucumbers before the planned harvest. These data are now being analysed by Professor Hay, before he returns to Natuvu for a post-harvest survey. The research hopes to answer questions about the effects of large-scale harvests of sea cucumbers on ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling.