The influence of the Fijian way of life (bula vakavanua) on community-based marine conservation (CBMC) in Fiji, with a focus on social capital and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Resource and Environmental Planning at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This doctoral research explores the role of bula vakavanua (traditional Fijian way of life) in implementing community-based marine conservation (CBMC) in Fiji, with a focus on indigenous Fijian social capital and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK).
A combination of western and indigenous methodologies was utilised with a particular focus on CBMC experiences at three case study sites, namely Navakavu (Rewa); Kubulau (Bua) and Verata (Tailevu). The Vanua Research Framework (VRF) developed by Nabobo-Baba (2007) was adapted to elicit stories from these communities based on indigenous practices of talanoa, which literally means „to tell a story‟. I am an indigenous Fijian female researcher, and consequently needed to respect and follow traditional protocols pertinent to females and indigenous Fijians with regards to gender issues and tribal and kinship links.
The three key findings of my research are: the interconnectedness of all things in the bula vakavanua; talanoa as dialogue and negotiation to facilitate adaptation of the bula vakavanua to external factors; and kinship (veiwekani) as the hub through which TEK and social capital actions and behaviour are lived out. First, to indigenous Fijians, all creation is interconnected. The common Fiji mud crab1 (qari) is used as a metaphor to illustrate interconnection between all aspects of the bula vakavanua in an indigenous Fijian world. There is a „crab‟ saying in Fijian society that is translated “I‟ll walk how you walked, mother”. In CBMC initiatives, bula vakavanua (the crab) lives in an environment influenced by other factors, including political, social and economic factors. These factors have to be continually and appropriately integrated into the bula vakavanua so that the crab adapts and flourishes.
Second, this integration can be facilitated by talanoa as dialogue and negotiation so that community members and CBMC partners can share, reflect upon and reframe their worldviews, perceptions and ultimately practices. Talanoa is facilitated by developing listening and communication skills that enable participants to clarify, critique and re-
1 Brachyura species.
align their perceptions. This re-alignment may require the change in norms, behaviour and practices in prevailing Fijian culture in order to adapt to the changing environment. I use examples from my case studies to show where talanoa as dialogue and negotiations have worked and, where talanoa is still ongoing to develop shared understanding and resolve conflicts.
Third, kinship (veiwekani) is the basis upon which most aspects of the bula vakavanua are lived out. Kinship may be based on blood links, Vanua links or through marriage. In Fiji both TEK and social capital are embedded within the kinship system of the bula vakavanua. For instance in TEK, skills and knowledge are inherited through birth and reinforced by oral transmission and training throughout the generations, emphasising the embeddedness of TEK in families and kinship systems.
The impacts of this research are centred round the three key findings. Indigenous Fijians must appreciate that, just like the metaphorical crab, the bula vakavanua has to continually adapt to a changing environment through talanoa, or it will not survive. These adaptations will require different degrees of change in cultural behaviour and norms in order to make it suitable and relevant for the current times. The bula vakavanua (or other indigenous way of life) must be appreciated and how it plays out in the CBMC work must be understood, and appropriately facilitated, to help ensure the sustainability and success of the work. NGOs can play a more prominent role in facilitating talanoa sessions for unresolved issues in CBMC work, while indigenous Fijian individuals in the partner organisations can provide a crucial a link between the organisation and the community. The government also needs to exercise the political will to resolve some issues such as legal recognition of community-appointed qoliqoli wardens, MPAs and the issue of qoliqoli ownership by the Vanua.
This research is not only relevant to Fiji, but to other Pacific Island sites, or any CBMC sites where indigenous knowledge and way of life exist.