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Value of traditional oral narratives in building climate-change resilience: insights from rural communities in Fiji

Shaiza Z. Janif, Research Office, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Islands
Patrick D. Nunn, Australian Centre for Pacific Islands Research, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Paul Geraghty, School of Language, Arts and Media, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Islands; Department of Linguistics, University of New England, New South Wales, Australia
William Aalbersberg, Institute of Applied Sciences, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Islands
Frank R. Thomas, Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Islands
Mereoni Camailakeba, Fiji Museum, Suva, Fiji Islands


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In the interests of improving engagement with Pacific Island communities to enable development of effective and sustainable adaptation strategies to climate change, we looked at how traditional oral narratives in rural/peripheral Fiji communities might be used to inform such strategies. Interviews were undertaken and observations made in 27 communities; because the custodians of traditional knowledge were targeted, most interviewees were 70-79 years old.

The view that oral traditions, particularly those referring to environmental history and the observations/precursors of environmental change, were endangered was widespread and regretted. Interviewees’ personal experiences of extreme events (natural disasters) were commonplace but no narratives of historical (unwitnessed by interviewees) events were found. In contrast, experiences of previous village relocations attributable (mainly) to environmental change were recorded in five communities while awareness of environmentally driven migration was more common. Questions about climate change elicited views dominated by religious/fatalist beliefs but included some more pragmatic ones; the confusion of climate change with climate variability, which is part of traditional knowledge, was widespread.

The erosion of traditional environmental knowledge in the survey communities over recent decades has been severe and is likely to continue apace, which will reduce community self-sufficiency and resilience. Ways of conserving such knowledge and incorporating it into adaptation planning for Pacific Island communities in rural/peripheral locations should be explored.

Key words

adaptation; climate change; community; Fiji; oral traditions; Pacific Islands; resilience; rural

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087