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Listen to your elders: Applying ancient solutions to modern problems

By Jerome Meyer

From Samoa’s pristine To Sua, to Vanuatu’s idyllic coastal villages or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Pacific possesses a unique charm that can undeniably be called paradise. Early European explorers marvelled at such a vibrant and healthy environment, rich in natural resources that those of us who call this region home, still benefit from today. For thousands of years—or in the case of Australia’s Aboriginal people, tens of thousands of years—Indigenous peoples across the Pacific have nurtured and largely managed the land and its resources in a sustainable way. With this came a wealth of knowledge, and an unparalleled understanding of the environment and methods of sustainability that were once crucial to ensure survival. This is a skill which has become increasingly more important under the rising tides of climate change.

While the Pacific region is particularly prone to extreme weather events that propel the effects of climate change into the international headlines, there is a daily battle to keep heads above water that receives far less attention. Certainly, events like Cyclone Winston, or the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires, remind us of the true force of nature. However it is gradual or unconscious effects such as soil erosion, salinisation of fresh water, or altered precipitation patterns that demonstrate the relentless impacts of climate change. The World Bank has estimated that more than 143 million people will be forced from their homes by 2050, while studies by the UK Government have predicted that surface water temperatures could rise 1.2-1.6 degrees within the same timeframe, posing huge changes to phytoplankton populations, oxygen levels, coral growth, and oceanic currents. While most of these predictions offer a bleak window into the future, it has also allowed for a particularly unique opportunity to share, learn, and act.

For a long time, traditional methods have been sidelined in favour of Western technology, although this mentality is slowly starting to change. However, the combination of traditional practices with cutting edge technologies is proving to be the most successful and resilient weapon in the arsenal against climate change. Across the Pacific, we are seeing the implementation of climate smart development plans such as resilient networks of marine protected areas, experimentation with salt and drought tolerant crops, using salt-tolerant plants to protect coastlines from erosion and revitalising traditional wells and waterholes. These initiatives demonstrate both the invaluable wealth of traditional knowledge but also the potential of knowledge sharing with other communities around the Pacific to strengthen regional resilience to climate change.

So how does this knowledge transfer work in practice? An example of this is where Samoans engage in teaching people in Vanuatu the `Laufasa technique´. The technique uses a single banana shoot to grow up to 15 new planting sprouts, which rapidly expands production in regions which are losing land to rising sea levels. Likewise, farmers from Futuna Island have been teaching their neighbouring islands a traditional method of preserving bananas which could be used to promote food security, especially during the increasingly violent storm seasons. These techniques are not only limited to the Pacific region. A group of Fijians have created a prototype large sea vessel, called the ‘Uto ni Yalo - or ‘Heart of Spirit’ that runs purely on renewable energy sources and aims to ‘replace ships that rely on fossil fuels. These examples show what this region has to offer and demonstrate the importance of listening to the ingenuity of traditional knowledge.

Indigenous peoples from the Pacific region have an inseparable connection to the land and sea, their surrounding environment being the basis of their culture, identity, and survival. Yet where they once lived in harmony with the environment, climate change has forced them to fear it. While using traditional solutions to tackle regional issues is a strong step towards a sustainable future, it is just the tip of the iceberg. By coming together and acting as a unified voice, this region stands a better chance of having its voice heard by the rest of the world. Not only to share traditional knowledge that has been perfected over thousands of years, but also to share culture, understanding and a respect for the environment, all whilst promoting a sustainable future for our home and our paradise.

This piece was originally published in APYD's inaugural anthology Raising Our Voices.


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