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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Road building gathers pace in Bua

Our recent trip to Bua highlighted the speed at which construction of the Nabouwalu to Dreketi highway is progressing. Following a good spell of weather, extensive roadside clearing and leveling had been undertaken along the stretch between Nabouwalu and Dama, which was a hive of digging and landscaping activity.

The project represents a major upgrade of the former road, creating a tar-sealed highway that will improve connectivity and access to markets as a part of the Fijian government’s Look North Policy that seeks to encourage economic development on Vanua Levu.

Speaking with the Provincial Administrator for Bua in the course of management planning workshops, local people acknowledged that their access to services will improve and sought to identify further opportunities for local development. They also highlighted gravel extraction from local creeks and rivers as a concern, questioning whether requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments were being met.

We experienced another issue in the village of Wairiki, where the tap water was visibly discoloured by soil particles after a night of heavy rain. The village chief took us to their water source, a borehole around 20-30 meters below a sloping area that had been cleared for the road. He spoke to the foreman, who set off to investigate further.

Big changes are bringing new opportunities and challenges to communities in Bua. This visit certainly showed how vital and immediate these are, and how important it is for communities to understand and address them in order to protect the local ecosystems on which they rely.

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District management planning in Vuya and Dama

We boarded the ferry at Natovi and set off for Nabouwalu just after dawn, embarking on a week of workshops to help develop community-led management plans in the districts of Vuya and Dama in the province of Bua.

The ferry seems to get busier every time, with a notable range of digging, drilling and other machines as well as the returning trucks having swapped their cargo of dalo for a range of goods from Suva. Seats were at a premium with four full buses aboard, many returning from the ordination of the new Archbishop of Suva. I was too excited and distracted by the scenery to sleep anyway.

The workshops were the first of their kind in Vuya (hosted in Wairiki village) and Dama (Dama village) and followed on from our recent village awareness sessions. They were well attended by a range of men (including chiefs and district/village headmen), women and young people. This included Ratu Semi, Assistant Roko Tui from Bua Provincial Office, and Pita the National Trust Ranger from Yadua island, which is also a sanctuary for the critically endangered Fiji crested iguana.

Following the sevusevu (formal presentation of our intentions and request for acceptance into the village) and introductions, the Provincial Administrator for Bua outlined local development projects and opportunities including a range of potential tikina-based income generating activities. Ilia Nakoro from Fiji Museum then provided an overview of cultural heritage conservation issues, giving the workshop a holistic focus in the context of local sustainable development.

Participants mapped local water sources, land uses and threats as well as existing and proposed community protected areas. Conceptual modeling exercises helped them identify targets, threats and strategies for ecosystem-based management. Initial activities and local management rules were then proposed in relation to some strategies as people became enthused to take action.

On our second night in each village, they lifted an ongoing church tabu on drinking kava. Sitting around the kava bowl in Dama, the talatala (minister) explained that he was happy to see the social instincts and cultural norms prevail, suggesting that such occasions are central to the collective spirit which makes communities strong. These were great social occasions, establishing friendships, reaffirming traditional relationships as well as cementing commitment and sharing knowledge.

Ilia and KK were especially happy as they left, protectively cradling the precious yasi (sandlewood) samplings they had been given to take home.

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Village adventures in Vuya

Accompanied by the BYMST (Bua Yaubula Management Support Team) Coordinator and the Assistant Roko Tui, we received a warm welcome and a big bowl of kava as we arrived for the first time in Vuya Village. This was the start of a week of village workshops across the district of Vuya, at the southern tip of the province of Bua. It was also an early step in a process to help develop an ecosystem-based management plan for the district, supporting communities to work together for sustainable management of their natural resources.

We had been well briefed by Brooke, a locally-based Peace Corps volunteer, so knew the village had already developed a management plan and delivered some impressive projects (including its recently-established mangrove nursery!). Attended by 38 local men and women, the workshop identified ways they can build on their plan and achieve even more.

Our plans to visit Navave were scuppered by unforeseen circumstances, so next stop was Nabouwalu Village, overlooking the jetty that takes people and goods (including truckloads of taro) to and from Viti Levu. Presentations, discussions and conceptual modeling explored the threats to local ecosystems and strategies through which these might be addressed. More kava followed as we talked and got to know each other into the night.

Finally we arrived in Wairiki Village, the chiefly home of our companion Akuila Qio Turaganiqali, the BYMST Coordinator. Workshop participants showed great enthusiasm to learn more in order to safeguard their resources for future generations. The local development agenda includes major road building, mining, commercial forestry and development of Nabouwalu into a town – so there are plenty of challenges and opportunities.

The icing on the cake was lunch at Wairiki, where villagers prepared a feast of the highly poisonous moray eel to test me. Knowing the traditional ties from my mother’s side (Kavula village) to the natives of Wairiki, I was torn over whether to tuck into this dish with its potentially lethal effects. I trusted my instincts and took the advice of my trusted colleague Didi, who said that ‘if the flesh is as white as milk; there is no reason to refuse.’ It was a great relief to finish the bowl and I must say that it was a memorable and tasty meal!

We are already looking forward to returning, working with our new friends and enjoying many more bowls of kava.

[Editor’s note: While KK survived his moray meal unscathed, a man from Nakodu village was not so lucky recently where the WCS Marine Team were working to assess the impacts of harvests from tabu areas.]

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Korovou hosts first “Poverty Alleviation Workshop” for 2013

With the Fiji Government’s determination to alleviate poverty in Fiji, the Prime Minister’s Office has been conducting “Poverty Alleviation Awareness Workshop” in remote areas of Fiji since 2012. Despite our very tight schedule helping communities in Bua, Margy and I represented WCS at workshop held in Korovou, a small town in the district of Tailevu, located in the north-eastern part of Viti Levu on the 13th and 14th of March, 2013.

We expected it to be more business-oriented type workshop on how to make money, so we made sure to share our alternative livelihood project ideas in order to let the communities know that conservation and managing resources can help them earning as well. Margy designed a beautiful poster for the “kuta mat project” that instantly became a hit amongst women passing by.

Kini Koto came in to help on the 13th and was the star among school kids telling all about freshwater fish, while Margy stole the show with the cetacean videos proving her favorite quote “charismatic mega-faunas always win!”. I stood there thinking, how can I be so boring? So I had to literally interfere with the 2 stars and promote the puppet show that was scheduled for 4.00 pm. I directed kids to the publication poster to tell them about the “entertainment type” benefits of conservation- “comic books – easy and attractive”. Unfortunately for us, the puppet show had to be cancelled in the end as it was quite late and the students headed home by 3.30 pm.

I was quite impressed with the enthusiasm of the students about natural resources, mainly marine life. We had a lot of kids come around later to ask us, “Ma’am, how can we join this?” and I thought, “Wow, this is our future!”. All of the hype and enthusiasm about conservation was a reward for taking our time out to go for this workshop, not a bad deal after all.

Having our WCS booth about conservation and resource management in the middle of most money making institutions and Government Departments was like a little gift to people interested in resource management and school kids worried about the environment. Talking to us gave them an excellent opportunity to think about ways of getting money out of natural resources without exploitation. Sharing the experiences and stories of the beneftis that communities have gained from engaging with conservation was a big boost to other people coming into the workshop.

Until next time, moce!