Posts Tagged ‘Our Pacific Ways’


Once upon a time there lived two fishermen that got lost in the middle of the Pacific ocean without food or water. Five weeks later, they washed up ashore of a neighboring country 500 miles away in relatively good health. The chances of these men surviving were always going to be pretty slim but the chances of them finding a long lost relative on the tiny island they washed up on? Slim to none wouldn’t you think? Well I thought so. But then again these men aren’t ordinary men. These men are I-Kiribati and are the best navigators, fishermen and survivors in the world. They are also my relatives.

I told this story to a good friend the other day and he refused to believe me.  ’That can’t possibly have happened.  No one could survive 33 days without water or food.’ Now as someone who goes into a fit of rage if I skip breakfast I know that my friends reaction is completely legitimate.  Except for when it comes to the I-Kiribati people.

So basically what happened was that when we were on Marakei – the day before first round elections – my cousin came to our hut and told us that her father was missing.  The day before he had made a trip to the neighbouring island – Abaiang – to get more fuel and hadn’t  yet returned.  This trip would usually take 1 day so for him not to return was a bit odd.  After 4 days, we all began to worry.  The men had gone out in a small fishing boat.  No lifejackets, no radio, hardly any supplies.  These trips are common and my Uncle had done this so many times.  He was known as one of the best sea navigators and fishermen on the island – people usually employed him to accompany them on their boat trips between islands.  So for him to be lost we all assumed that it was engine failure.  We were all worried but in true I-Kiribati way, there was never an assumption that he could have died at sea.

We all assumed that they were drifting at sea, they’d be found eventually when they drifted to land and then they’d return.  Four days turned into seven, one week turned into two, two weeks turned into a month and yet the only person that even suggested that they might not ever come back was my cousin’s wife who is known as a bit of a rebel in the family – when I asked her what she thought would have happened to him she dropped her head and let her tongue hang out before laughing and continue hanging the washing.  It wasn’t denial on anyone else’s part, there was this general feeling that they would come back eventually.

33 days later, we learned that they had been found in the Marshall Islands – 500 kms from Marakei – after I jumped on the internet at 2am after playing a particularly long game of cards with my Mum, Auntie and Grandma and read a report on the ABC website that confirmed that these men had been found.  We jumped in the car and drove up and down the island, waking up relatives and spreading the news.  Funny how we had to learn about the news from Australia but that’s island life – not everyone has a phone/electricity so everything is done word of mouth.

Four days after we learnt the news, I had to fly back to Australia.  You can then imagine my surprise when I found news articles everywhere – newspaper, websites and even the 7pm project on Channel 10!  No one had ever heard of Kiribati before but suddenly people were chatting about it.  The funniest report I saw come out was this one on ‘How to survive a month adrift at sea’.  I say funny because they mention things like using cardboard as hats, not panicking and collecting freshwater in buckets.  I don’t mean to sound patronising because this is great advice – advice that I will surely remember should it ever happen to me – but it’s clearly not written with experienced Kiribati fishermen in mind.  These men didn’t have cardboard or buckets and Kiribati people are known for their ability not to stress.  They are so laid-back about everything that I’m pretty sure any other I-Kiribati person would agree when I say that the men would have sat there, quietly talking about which way the tide was, predicting the weather and tried to figure out which island they were closest to.

Kiribati people are born survivors.  They catch fish in the middle of the night with a knife and a torch.  They make rope out of coconut husks that are strong enough to hold a house together.  They climb ridiculously high coconut trees.

Here is my cousin Kairo climbing a tree to get me a drink after we went mudcrab hunting.  Please ignore my ridiculous commentary!

After what I’ve told you, I would like you all to realise how much of an idiot Bear Grylls looks like in this video.  Hilarious and completely over the top but very much entertaining.  And yes, he is serious.

In the Pacific ocean? I love that he’s still wearing all his clothes and even his shoes.


Mine is a warrior culture. One that prided itself on conquest, expansion of territory and on the ability of its young warriors. But the great battles fought over long distances to lay claim to enemy lands wasn’t the central part of my people’s existence.

Diplomacy was of utmost importance and the skills to prevent violence through diplomatic means was and still is highly valued. Such skill didn’t come into play only to prevent war. It was part of everyday life.

Brothers resolved issues by talking for hours or even days so that their present disagreements didn’t affect their relationship and their children’s relationships in future. Past relationships between members of distant clans were also equally important. Each word used in the dialogue was chosen with care. The potential effect of every gesture was considered before it was made. Elders listened and were slow to speak because to offend someone physically or verbally was costly. It was the equivalent of an expensive lawsuit in today’s justice system. Resolving the issue involved an apology and compensation which included payment in the form of pigs and other gifts. So sincerity and honesty were of paramount importance during negotiations.

While the men provided protection as warriors of the clan or tribe, their economic power both in peacetime and in times of war rested on the women. Women were highly valued members of our society. They were our mothers who gave us life. They were key in the man’s economic and political status and they raised the warriors who laid claim to new land and resources.

Traditionally, women were marked to become wives. But that didn’t stop girls from choosing their future husbands if they so wished. In many instances, a girl would take her possessions and go to the family of the man she wished to marry and be accepted as part of the household. If she was rejected by the young man, another process of diplomacy was initiated by his father and mother. The young man’s family would take gifts – pigs included – to the girl’s family as a sign of respect. That gesture simply said: “We appreciate your daughter’s decision to choose our son but our son will not take your daughter as his wife. We value your daughter and respect the decision she made and we apologize to your family for the inconvenience this may have caused. We give you these gifts as a token of our appreciation and we hope our relationship and that of our children and our children’s children will not be affected by this event.”

In family life, disagreements between husband and wife rarely erupted into physical violence. This was because apologizing to a woman and her family was an extremely expensive exercise. The number of pigs demanded for the harm caused to their daughter or for the open display of anger was determined by the woman’s uncles and brothers.

The raising of children also had to be done creatively. Children were not only the responsibility of the parents but also of the uncles and aunts. Spanking and even raising your voice at your child in the presence of other family members or guests was offensive. It also called for an expensive apology.

Today many of those practices have lost their meaning. It’s the 21st Century and many feel that these customs are ‘stone age’, that we have no need for them. Similarly, some feel there is ‘no need’ for the extended family and children are our responsibility and we can do what we want.

Today, we march against gender based violence and inequality. The man is called the the ‘breadwinner’ and the ‘head of the family’. We attend conferences on child abuse run by overseas consultants. We use child protection methods that come from other countries and we’ve forgotten that violence against women and children was shunned in our societies.

Yat Paol is a farmer on Madang’s North Coast. He runs a grassroots NGO aimed at linking up rural PNG communities who are using their land to build small businesses.  Rather than selling off their land, and their children’s future, to a logger or miner. Journalist Andrew Pascoe interviewed him.

“This model of development, this alternative from the outside, that’s aggressively being promoted and pushed by the government and all the other powers – including the financial institutions on the outside, the Australian government with AusAID, aid programs by other governments also, and even some NGOs who buy into these programs like poverty reduction and that garbage – they say we are a poor country, we are a starving people.

I plant my own food and I eat it from my own land. I catch fish from my own river. We get it free. We get it free, we don’t buy it, so what do you need $1 a day for? I don’t need that garbage. And I’m not alone in that thinking.

Our own model of development is already there. We’re already having it. I’m living in my village. I’m OK. I can live for up to a week without a kina or a toea, without spending one toea. Everything I need is there already. That’s our model of development which our government and the powers that be lose sight of, they’re blind to that, turning a blind eye to that. The real model of development that is ours, that has sustained us for 50,000 years or more. And now we have this alternative model of development that’s come in and is aggressively promoted.

The government and all these who are supporting this model of development, this outside model of development, they forget that people are living their lives. Life still goes on in the villages. People don’t need your big money. People don’t need your big industry – big, so-called ‘development’. We have marketable produce all over the country. We are not poor people. And I don’t believe this garbage about poverty reduction — not in this country. Papua New Guinea is evergreen. We have everything.

So whose interest is this model of development serving? It’s serving big business, it’s serving the Government through the taxes, and those corrupt politicians and high level executives who steal all the money, most of the money, anyway. And their bosses: the foreign governments and the aid programs, international financial institutions, who think they are doing good, for the so-called developing nations. So it’s benefiting rich people – not us, on the ground. I’m saying us because I am part of that now.

The only thing we need is good roads, accessibility to the markets. That’s the only thing – access to markets and services. To goods and services that we cannot produce ourself. That’s basically what we really need.

I believe in agriculture. But agriculture in our terms, agriculture that we the people can be in control of, not some foreigner-controlled agriculture project. Whatever we can farm ourself, of course with technical support, and some finance from the outside, but we do it ourself, and we control it. Like cocoa, or our buai, even tobacco. Those are money makers. We don’t need to buy this British American produced tobacco, we have our own local tobacco. And buai, that’s a big money maker. They talk about ‘informal’ sector. What’s informal? That’s what’s sustaining us, economically and socially. That’s the only sector that sustains us financially and socially, not the so-called formal sector. What is it doing?

I’m optimistic, because I see that people are not sleeping. They don’t need no government to come with their development model. They are tilling their land. They are cultivating their land. They’re making small business. Of course they need outsider support. For them to be able to manage, because managing cash economy is something that’s new for us. We need skills to be able to manage it and grow the business. This is small-to-medium kind business, not big business, not industries. Management skills and also processing kakao, we can make our own chocolate on a small scale. If the government is serious about its people, it should make that possible to happen, I think that’s the work of government, to be able to facilitate that. If its really serious about being a government for the people, by the people, and of the people, that’s the real work of the government.

And our constitutional founders saw that. The constitutional planning committee, they saw that our strength is in our land, in our cultural heritage, and in our artistic talents that’s ours. I think that’s the key. It’s in our blood. We are farmers. We discovered farming 10,000 years ago, so that’s in our blood. We don’t need no alternative to come and teach us how to farm. Our people are farming already.”

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ is Scott Waide’s outstanding new documentary which, over 18 inspiring minutes, proves there is another way for Papua New Guinea. A way that doesn’t involve corruption, urban ghettoes, dispossession of land and loss of PNG’s incredibly diverse cultures.

Watch video here:

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ tells the story of Saussi, a rural community which rejected offers to lease its land for oil palm. Instead it has used control over its land’s natural resources to become incredibly self-sufficient. Today, Saussi is far wealthier than any community we know of that has allowed extractive ‘development’ onto their land.

PNG is unique in that most of the people still own their land (86% – formerly 97%, before the current land-grab by foreign corporations began). But communities everywhere are coming under massive pressure from mining, logging, fisheries, oil palm and other companies to lease their land, in some cases for generations. Not realising the wealth inherent in their own land, or not having the power to maintain control over it, communities are being evicted from their land by companies at a rapid rate. As they do, traditional societies are breaking down and PNG is becoming awash with crime and hopelessness.

Saussi proves its doesn’t have to be that way. PNG and other Pacific countries can choose to become rich through holding onto their land, or poor by selling out their future to foreign corporations. It is a choice that involves all of us. Landowners need to realise the value of what they own, the middle class needs to support their rural brothers and sisters’ way of life, and the government needs to create an enabling environment to help people maintain control over their land.

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ needs to be shared by anyone who believes there is another path – a better path – for PNG and the Pacific.

ImageIt has been a long time since humanitypaid attention to mother nature and the world is collapsing bit by bit in all corners. In the Pacific it is becoming an everyday worry.

It seems human beings have run out of solutions that the only one left is large sums of money for unsustainable solutions. How can money fix a world that is falling to pieces? Would alternative energy do it? Would REDD do it?

Mother nature is not asking for money, instead it is screaming for a change in the way human beings are doing things. Only the willingness of human beings to make some really big sacrifices will save this earth and the already impacted populations.

Interesting is a lot of talk about best ways to help but almost all of them call for huge sums of money yet the simple solutions are in the south where traditional indigenous knowledge have been consistently applied in many rural communities in the Pacific and other nations in the south. For instance in Papua New Guinea many are relying on fresh organic food they access only a few steps away from their houses. No fuel burnt to bring in these food and no chemicals to grow those food.

Off course some people ask, how can we recreate a relationship with nature? In the world today there are about 370 million indigenous people who get by, most of them without a kina (dollar). In Papua New Guinea, a country of 6.2 million people, about 80% of this population just live on their natural environment. Now how’s that for survival?

As the climate change impacts become more pressing, many people are looking for money based solutions, that often require more disruptions to the natural systems. It is time human beings stopped wanting more, stopped burning more and stopped digging up more. It is time people stopped looking elsewhere for solutions and start looking within.

The changes Papua New Guinea is experiencing today came around some 12,000 years ago and it is making its round again. Surely the people at that time found ways to live and to this day some of these knowledge and skills are still present in some local communities.

A few months from now in June, Papua New Guinea will join large delegations who will convene in Rio, Mexico and this will be an opportunity for humanity to decide in favour of mother nature. The disappointments of Copenhagen and Durban should not be repeated.

In terms of ways forward in PNG it is not clear when the PNG government will come up with a clear direction as the country continues to see more floods, more landslips, more broken roads, moredisrupted schools and more. Imported solutions may help however, the calls are urgent and it would help to unpack some skills and knowledge already presentthat are being stepped on and pushed to the side.

Our Pacific Ways reflects on Our Pacific traditions for inspiration to move Our Pacific People forward.

It challenges the current systems of exploitation and asks: What if we did things Our Pacific Way?

What if we told you that Our Ancestors were the best navigators using the sun and the stars to travel the Liquid Continent?

What if we told you they were the best naval architects who built ocean-going vessels for international commerce between our island nations?

What if we told you that agriculture developed here first independent of any outside influence?

What if we told you that Our Ancestors lived in harmony with nature before the rest of the world knew anything about sustainable development?

What if we told you that tuberculosis and leprosy were introduced to Our People?

What if we told you that land was stolen from Our People to build Churches?

What if we told you that Colonial Administrations hung Our People in public the same way Blacks were lynched in America?

What if we told you that Fiji became independent when it overthrew the British Monarchy and that Solomon Islands is a colony of Australia?

What if we told you of the French domination of the Polynesia and the violation of Hawaiian sovereignty by the United States?

What if we told you of Nuclear testing and the displacement of Our People?

What if we told you about neo-colonization and the systematic exploitation of Our People and Our Resources?


….And so with-in the contemporary context of the Pacific it is now up to us to define Our Ways Pacific Ways as opposed to the failed model of development that is witnessed with the collapse of western economies.

Our Pacific Ways of land management should allow every generation to have a say about how land is used.

Our Pacific Ways of resource management should allow every generation to have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of those resources.

Our Pacific ways of trade and communications should enable individuals, communities and nations to foster relationships that are mutually beneficial.

Our Pacific ways of Banking should safeguard and create wealth for us as opposed to speculating with our savings elsewhere

Our Pacific Ways of Governance should empower individuals and communities to lead and to hold leaders to account.

Our Pacific Ways of International relations should be between equal partners  and not of neo-colonism, gun boat or checkbook diplomacy.

Our Pacific Ways of education should be one of empowerment of people and not of creating misfits in society.

Our Pacific Ways of healthcare should be one of community based solutions and not just about treating individuals.

Our Pacific Ways of Agriculture and Food Security should recognize our agricultural heritage as our strength and knowledge base

We live in a part of the world that has huge potential but is currently being subjected to a model of development that only allows for a few elite and money-men to prosper at the expense of the vast majority of our people.

The only way out is Our Pacific Way!