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.

Women find sustainable, alternative livelihoods in Fiji

Women find sustainable, alternative livelihoods in Fiji

Dried kuta stems ready for weaving in Nabalebale village, Cakaudrove Province, Fiji.

WCS Fiji has just received funding to develop sustainable, alternative sources of livelihood in Bua and Cakaudrove Provinces of Fiji. We were very excited to choose weaving round kuta mats as a central part of this project. Kuta is the water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis. We feel that there is a need to take up the challenge on kuta weaving since traditional knowledge is slowly slipping away – this would be a significant loss to future generations who are ignorant of the value of this tradition. This project is a chance to revive these skills, preserve this knowledge and retain part of the identity for women from Bua and Cakaudrove who are renowned for their skills in kuta weaving. At the same time the project will create essential opportunities for women to generate additional income within their communities.

Kuta is a sedge, which resembles a tall, cylindrical grass, and inhabits lowlands and marshlands. The ‘chestnuts’ that give this marsh plant its name are not actually nuts, but the swollen underground stems that acts as a storage organ for the plant. In Bua and Cakaudrove, the stems are harvested, dried, and woven into soft sleeping mats, decorative round mats or traditional funeral waist mats (ta’ovala kuta) sold to Tongan people.

Unfortunately, viable habitats that support kuta are now under increasing threat from anthropogenic activities and climate change. The protection of wetlands and marshlands is important to ensure the survival of species like the water chestnut. Establishing kuta weaving cooperatives will give an economic value to these threatened wetland areas which are so important for biodiversity. This economic value will therefore give communities a concrete reason to preserve and manage these areas into the future.

With the help of Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF) and WWF one of our staff will be visiting  the districts of Wailevu East and West, Kubulau, Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu to collect information on kuta weaving. PCDF has already conducted training on kuta weaving in early 2011, when they taught some of the ladies in the district of Wailevu and Kubulau to weave round kuta mats. Cross-site visits and to share knowledge will be an important part of the project, since the weaving skills differ across the districts. It may be possible for villages to sell their kuta to weavers in other villages. We expect to have the first sales of kuta mats before the end of the year!

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”.

Ecotourism thrives in Bagata village, Fiji

The village of Bagata is in Wailevu district of Cakaudrove – the province which occupies the eastern side of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu. Bagata is only a 30 minute drive from Savusavu town, and is sheltered by mountains and hills. WCS’s Sirilo Dulunaqio (aka Didi) recently had the chance to talk to a man from Bagata who is behind a new initiative that will have many benefits for the people of the village. This is what he reported in our Community Bulletin newsletter this month….

The discussion of setting up a Village Eco Tour started in November 2011 and it materialised in January 2012. The Village Eco Tour helps tourists and understand the whole ecosystem including human beings and their various functions, and the communities get to showcase their traditional way of living and culture. At the moment there are 2 regular customers: Rosie Tours of Nadi and the Namale Resort and Spa – the latter comes in every Thursday to do a Village Eco Tour.

“The women of Bagata find this an opportunity to sell their handicrafts made from all the available resources around them, and this is an alternative livelihood for them”, says Bagata’s Environment Committee Chairman, Mr Vilimone Tulevu.

Beyond the Village Eco Tour there are 3 other sites in development: Magic Waterfall, Rock Pool Bathing and Hot Spring. Also they are proposing to have an Evening Village Tour so tourists get to see what a normal Fijian village evening is like. All money collected from the Village Eco Tour goes directly to a scholarship fund that the children of Bagata will access in 2014.

Mr Tulevu says that Bagata village is having discussions with Telecom Fiji and Vodafone Fiji to set up an Information Centre. “As part of our main objective we are thinking of expanding the Village Eco Tour and tapping into other organisations or government ministries that can help with this project for the benefit of the future generation of Bagata Village”, says Mr Tulevu.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Photo credits: Namale Resort and Spa

 
 
 
 
 

New Fish Wardens for 2012

In order to maintain sustainable resources for future generations in the Provinces of Cakaudrove and Bua in Vanua Levu, the communities of Wailevu, Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu have selected some members of their communities to be trained as fish wardens. These fish wardens will be empowered to see that their resources are use in an appropriate way.

This project was kindly supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two 3-day training sessions for the 2012 fish wardens were held: first in Natuvu, Wailevu district, and then in Navatu, Kubulau district. The training in Wailevu was officially opened by the Provincial Administrator Mr Uraia Rainima, and the Roko Tui Cakaudrove Ro Aca Mataitinihad was our chief guest who gave the certificates to the participants on the final day of the training and also officially closed the training.

There were 42 participants that attended the training in Natuvu, 30 participants were from the district of Wailevu and 12 participants were from the neighbouring districts of Somosomo, Saqani, Nakomo, Nanuca and Lekutu. WCS Fiji’s Waisea Naisilisili and Sirilo Dulunaqio were delighted to receive the training to become fish wardens themselves. In Navatu there were 27 participants, 15 from Kubulau and 12 from the neighbouring districts of Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu.

The Kubulau fish warden training was officially opened by Tomasi Cama; in his opening speech he addressed the importance of our connection to our environment through our totem fish, plants and animals. The fish warden training was conducted by Joji Vakawaletabua (Fisheries Department Nasavusavu), Tomasi Cama (Fisheries Department Bua), Nanise Kuridrani Tuqiri and Epeli Tawake (Fisheries Department Labasa) and a police officer from Nasavusavu.

To end the workshop on a positive note, on the final day of the training we managed to tag a male Hawksbill turtle and the participants named it Tui Navatu. Tui Navatu was tagged and released by the two heads of the tribe (yavusa) in Navatu, as the participants looked on. This was a memorable day as we also celebrated the reef enrichment initiative which was launched in April. The training in Kubulau was officially closed by Joji, who reminded us that we are inter-dependent with the environment: we depend on our resources and our resources depend on us.