Saturday, November 27, 2010

Indigenous vs Modern

Fiji Times News - 27 November 2010
by Samuela Loanakadavu

Manoa Mate and Filimoni Latianara with their giant yams at Nepani. Picture Atu Rasea
Manoa Mate and Filimoni Latianara from Yacata with their giant yams at Nepani. Picture Atu Rasea

I heard from so many people and read a good number of publications about the fact that we indigenous Fijians or iTaukei are slowly losing our culture and tradition.
We are also beginning to lose our language, what we eat and the way we plant and cook our food.
But now we are fortunate for being given the internationally-recognised legal power to protect what we rightly called to be ours as iTaukei.
Our national legislations will have to draw a clear line here on how we are going to handle the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) of Genetic Resources Protocol in order to fulfil the ideals behind it.
General knowledge tells me that most iTaukei are not aware of the Protocol, let alone understanding its meaning and implications on our lives.
Last month, Fiji joined 168 countries from across the globe at the 10th Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of Parties meeting in Japan, and agreed to adopt the agreement.
It was a major success because the decision came after 12 years of negotiation over the issues of preserving our genetic resources and our cultural and traditional intellect.
Definitely, the Protocol will ensure that the people of Fiji retain rights over their genetic resource and traditional knowledge and that profits from these resources can be shared fairly with the Fijian people.
In this piece, I would like to pay a lot more attention on the protection of indigenous knowledge against the tide of modernity.
This topic was the most important item to be negotiated at the COP meeting in Nagoya and that is why I see it appropriate for this column.
One of the lessons of my life as an indigenous being happened six months ago which was largely derived from my own observation of the world I lived in.
At that time, I was writing for The Fiji Times Fijian newspaper, the Nai Lalakai.
I then came to know of the fact that the standard of the Fijian language (spoken and written) is deteriorating and slowly disappearing from our grasp.
Speaking a mix of Fiji-English and sometimes Fiji-English-Hindi in informal conversations in today's day and age is understandable but to formally speak the original Fijian lingo when and where it is needed is a big ask to some.
Vernacular presentations through the mass media usually carry a mix of different lingo and it's a pity because this is what our children easily have access to every day.
Whatever the reasons may be for these changes, modernity is something that we cannot directly control.
I was really saddened by how we have lost track of our language because I have known quite a lot of iTaukei here in Fiji who do not really know their mother tongue.
Some, I believe, just choose not to be in the know but it's a worrying scenario overall.
All that they seem to be certain about was where they came from which I believe was something that they were told when they were young and will always be proud to say when asked.
That is quite an easy thing to recall just like remembering a person's name.
To set foot on their place of origin is a huge thing to some people because so many traditional protocols have to be observed in the process and may have not been fully remembered.
In the iTaukei context, it is only a norm because cultures and traditions are only maintained when they are passed down from one generation to the next successfully.
Each culture and society has its own traditional knowledge.
Different communities have different community practices, as well as experiences, institutions, rituals and value systems.
Language is widely seen to form the fabric of any culture - either modern or ancient. For the purpose of preserving a particular cultural belief, it is important that the right words are picked from the language of the trade.
So, in Fiji if we are to venture into the idea of protecting our cultural beliefs and identity, then the language of our forefathers is definitely the best available medium to convey that message.
The ABS Protocol is a huge development because it would enable communities to make rational and sustainable use of their natural resources, preserve the environment and produce food in a sustainable manner.
To give us an idea of what we are really looking at here, let us take one of the noblest practices of the iTaukei people about yam (uvi) farming.
From time immemorial this was one of the major activities of all Fijian men (tagane/turaga) and they are being referred to as real men (tagane dina/kaukauwa/qaqa).
And if they are not in that fold then they will be seen as weak (malumalumu).
In the old Fijian calendar, the month of July (Vula i cukicuki) is when they always plant yams and the month of November (Vula i balolo levu) is when they will then have to build towering frames on the plots to support its crawling branches as it grows.
Their first harvest, which are normally planted earlier, are always taken to church every second month of the year (Vula i sevu) for a special thanksgiving service by the farmers.
All their produce will be on display for the whole of that Sunday for all members of the congregation to see.
Soon after the 'sevu' (harvest of the first harvest) they then build a special shelter or store house called the 'lololo' before they start to harvest the rest of the yams from the farm.
The main harvest will always begin in March and their purpose is mostly subsistence as well as for other traditional engagement.
I have seen farmers who have different techniques on how to plant 'uvi' and may not easily share it with the others because they are always seen to be competing for the bigger and better.
The one who can plant the biggest 'uvi' is always highly regarded in society especially amongst his fellow farmers and are always referred to as 'turaga liga kaukauwa'.
This is what we are known for - our identity.
In the Pacific, it would be interesting to compare how the Indonesian 'ubi', Hawaiian and Maori 'uhi' are grown and the traditional planting methods of these staple root crops.
Apart from having a sustainable supply of food, we can also reduce the rural-urban drift, support mere family income by selling excesses, protecting our environment and most of all keep our unique indigenous knowledge at heart.
That is us, iTaukei.
And it will be the fruit of the ABS Protocol and we will come to see it all when the national legislations are in force to take care of the loose ends.

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