Before academic papers and international journals documented the value of traditional ecological knowledge, Pacific islanders scattered across the largest ocean, had long held the secret for not only benefiting from nature, but also using it in a manner that was sustainable and respectful of the trees, the land, sea and sky.
Growing up on the island of Savai’i, my grandmother was a traditional healer who taught us the value unique culturally significant plants, to cure skin ailments, throat infections, massage techniques for migraines and other gifts of nature to assist with pain.
At the age of 8, I fell off a book shelf and broke my arm, I was not taken to a hospital, I was taken to my great Uncle Afoa who corrected the fracture, and fashioned a corrective brace from the spine of a palm frond. My arm fully recovered by palm frond spine.
In addition to the health benefits of nature that our ancestors utilized, they also developed sustainable building structures and clothing.
The fale Samoa has been proven to withstand strong winds and in some instances flooding. The raised fale o’o which is usually placed next to the coast, provides such flexibility, and can easily be repaired after cyclones. The thatched roofs are made from natural products, and the coconut sennit used in place of nails.
Our traditional clothing, made from the bark of the mulberry tree, and fine mats made from pandanus leaves lasts for many many years.
Traditional voyaging canoes and va’ateles are sustainable and do not have the footprint of modern shipping vessels.
For years our people relied on nature for all our basic needs, food, water and shelter, and successfully lived off the land. Indeed many of our rural communities continue to live off the land.
So this Earth Day, let’s appreciate the traditional ecological knowledge that our ancestors had and passed down to us, to protect ourselves, our environment and to pass on to our children.
As my lat mother Va’asiliifiti Moelagi Jackson said: “Our culture is based on our environment, if we lose our environment, we lose our culture.”