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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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.

Teambuilding fun in the forest

On Friday the WCS Fiji staff headed off on an adventurous retreat to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park.  Various commitments conspired against a Christmas party this year, so we scheduled this away-day instead. We were even joined by our esteemed Community Liaison Officer, Didi, fresh off the boat from Savusavu and just registered for his Boatmaster training in Suva.

Just 10 minutes from Suva along the Prince’s Road, Colo-i-Suva is a mix of mahogany (planted in the 1940s and 50s) and native flora and fauna. We were glad that Akuila’s booming voice didn’t scare off all the wildlife as we spotted a a Barking Pigeon and a Blue Crested Broadbill in the tree tops.

Waisea and Margi gave us an insight into some traditional uses of forest plants, including natural ‘Fijian chewing gum’ (given to children to help develop their speech), ‘soap plant’ (also known as toilet paper!) with leaves that produce a lather, a plant with an inner stem that cures mouth ulcers and another with ‘menthal vapour’ roots to clear your nose.

Akuila led the way when we reached the waterfall at lower pools – straight onto the rope-swing and into the cool clean water!  After that Stacy couldn’t resist and others followed.  Waisea showed his climbing skills, confidently getting up into the high branches before backing out and retreating down to howls of laughter.

It was uphill all the way back, stopping to check out the big freshwater prawns and a great view over eastern Suva and the Rewa Delta.

Afterwards we had a lovely lunch at Raintree lodge as the TV showed Fiji losing to Scotland and England announced their intent at the Wellington Sevens by beating New Zealand – a great end to a wonderful 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.

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