BY GEORGINA KEKEA
TRADITIONAL skills and knowledge are now considered endangered with only a small group of people still practising ancient wayfinding methods.
In the easternmost of Solomon Islands lies Taumako. Occasionally called the Wilson Islands, the islands of Duff are thought to have first been settled in the ninth century BC, around the same time as Anuta and Tikopia.
The people there depend on traditional farming through slash-and-burn cultivation and are well known for their traditional voyaging skills. However, this way of life is now under threat of trailing out.
“I came here to the festival with the purpose for people to see that we need to preserve our traditional way of doing things.”
Ambrose Miki comes from Taumako. He comes from a long line of builders and is a skilled sailor and navigator.
Though originated from Polynesia, the group of islanders from Temotu province felt that it is their duty to spread the word of retaining the traditional way of doing things, thus their attendance at the 6th Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival (MACFEST).
“I come from the far eastern part of the country and our islands are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“I see a lot of people in the rural area now using outboard motors and I asked, why are they using OBMs? Use of OBM is not good for our environment and they too contribute to the effects of climate change,” Ambrose says.
The people of Duff islands are well known for their skill in voyaging.
‘Vaka Te Puke’ is a traditional voyaging canoe that was used by the people of Taumako for many years.
This style of craft is unique and not found elsewhere in the Solomon Islands or the Pacific.
‘Vaka Valo’ association was established to preserve the traditional ways and methods of building a Vaka Tepuke amidst the lamentation of this skill dying out.
“The traditional way of doing things can help save the world and not just Solomon Islands. It can help us live a sustainable life, become resilient and help save the environment,” says Mimi George.
Dr Mimi George is an anthropologist, sailor and writer specialized in voyaging cultures. In the Vaka Taumako Project she studies Polynesians building vessels and making voyages using ancient technology, materials, tools, and navigation methods.
For some time she had been carrying out research and working with the people of Taumako and says traditional knowledge is very important.
“We must learn and have the opportunity to learn. Because in the future, we will save the world. I am a scientist but I know, traditional knowledge is more than science.
“Everyone must work together. Because in the past, there were the traditional way of doing things already that has helped us live sustainably and in harmony with nature and each other and we know how to make peace.”
The Vaka Te Puke is built mainly from bush materials. It is described as an outrigger canoe with a crab claw sail.
In MACFest, the group from Taumako demonstrated how the Te Puke is built.
Women were tasked to weave the sail mat panels and the men were tasked to sew the panels into a sail as well as adze a steering blade for the Te Puke.
Sail weaving and oar carving were part of the demonstrations done by the group from Taumako.
“Our culture is very important. We must try to preserve and promote our culture. For these sort of voyaging, government must recognize such projects and assist in some ways,” Ambrose Miki, founder of ‘Vaka Valo’ Association says.
It saddens him that while the issue of climate change is rife, we continue to contribute to its effects through the influence of western culture thus forgetting our own way of doing things that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“For future festivals as this, I want it to be custom and culture in its whole sense. Like now, we are here trying to promote our culture and traditions but most young ones are drawn to the live band music that are being performed on the other side of the village.
“How are we to promote our custom and traditions when there is live band music being played at the same time!
“Government should have a contemporary festival of its own so that traditions and culture are left alone to just that so that we will have more people appreciating what we do,” Miki says.
He then encouraged people to engage more in our traditional way of doing things rather than flocking to the city.
“Go back to your home village and get involved in such projects and save the environment. Each one of us originates from the village and all of us have customs.
“Learn, acknowledge, appreciate and accept our traditional way of doing things. It is worth more than money.”
Supported by UNESCO, Ambrose was able to attend MACFest all the way from Temotu.
The Pacific Traditions Society, UNESCO Office for the Pacific States and the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage under the auspices of UNESCO were pleased to support the elders and youths from Taumako to showcase their skills and knowledge at the MACFest.