As the Accelerator Lab Pacific continues its exploration of “Climate Security for Low-Lying Coastal Areas/Atolls”, references to cultural identity continued to emerge. Cultural identity for each community in the Pacific is unique and has strengthened their resistance to climate change. Through a series of system mapping exercises with experts, we can see the interplay of growing globalization and increased migration (exacerbated by climate change). This has led to island communities losing touch with their traditional ways.
Traditional knowledge (TK) systems are key to building resilience. TK systems reconnect people to their sense of cultural identity and community, a core tenet of Pacific life that is under threat from climate migration. It would potentially improve livelihoods, decrease migration, and improve self-reliance. A hypothesis was emerging – if we could revive TK practices, this could strengthen cultural identity and in turn improve climate resilience.
Along with the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Ridge-to-Reef project, we went to explore the traditional practice of salt making. Vusama village on Fiji’s Coral Coast, is the traditional custodian of salt making on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. The village had not made salt in 50 years, and it was on the brink of losing this traditional knowledge altogether with only four elderly village members left who knew about the practice.
The decline of salt making and reasons for revival
Women play a key role in salt making. However, as women marry outside their villages, the practice either moves or dies with them. A lady from Vusama who moved to the nearby village of Lomawai introduced the practice there. Since then, salt making in Lomawai has been connected to tourism and has improved the livelihoods of the community. Women who got married into Vusama village were not trained into the practice and preferred to buy the salt from the market. In recent years, there is a recognition of this lost art as a both a cultural and economic treasure that the village doesn’t want to` lose. A nearby resort sends tourists for a village experience to Vusama two to three times a week. The village hopes to revive the TK practice of salt making and add this to their existing tourism offer, generating increased revenue for the village. In a move to further explore this, we set up a trial for reviving the practice of crafting traditional salt from the ocean once again.
Intergenerational dialogue and collective work
The entire village came together for the event. In the height of summer, the village built a makeshift shack. The local rugby team helped with the strenuous physical tasks. Children, who were enjoying their holidays accompanied their parents. The rugby team together with the men of the village dug a pit in the Māqa area in front of the coastal village to access salty groundwater and set up a fire to boil the salt. The women weaved baskets for the salt, packed the salt into tin cans. There was a sense of pride amongst all as they walked in the footsteps of their ancestors. As young people took on different tasks, elders guided them based on what they had seen and heard during the last time the salt was made.