THERE is a growing trend within many iTaukei villages nowadays. There are not many old people as the village population is becoming younger and younger. This may seem like the normal natural process but it comes at a price.
Many of these young people are not aware of their totem animals, birds or fish and many more do not even know their traditional relationship with neighbouring villages or provinces.
The reservoir of age old knowledge is slowly being lost as the older generation fade away without sharing it or the younger generation have all but become urbanites.
Meet Iliesa Ramode, who is from the mataqali Vatudagia of Volivoli Village in Nadroga. Ramode is one of nine people in his clan who is over 20 years old.
The rest and majority of his clan are still teenagers and little children. He admitted this had affected his knowledge of his own ancestry.
I met Ramode when I went to the village seeking permission to tour their old village site and one of the longest limestone caves in Fiji. I was surprised to learn that this was the first time for Ramode to enter the cave and he was not even aware that his ancestors once used the cave to live in.
Let alone the old village site that sits on a hill overlooking Volivoli, Kulukulu and the Sigatoka sand dunes. He was just a tourist as I was.
The irony is, the tour was given by a Namara, Verata man, Tuinayavu Komaimua, a former National Trust of Fiji employee. But my tau can be forgiven because he is vasu to Yadua Village. For Ramode though, the tour of the limestone cave was an enlightenment for him as his awe soon turned to pride, proud of his ancestral roots. But Ramode is not the only one who is finding out about his ancestry.
Previously I had talked to Vereniki Nacule of Nakabuta Village, a village which lies along the Valley Road. Nacule says the people in his village whom you can call the old generation are not older than 50. The precise term he used was "only 'turaga lalai' in the village". Though said jokingly, Nacule is pointing out the fact, there are not many of his people left in the village. Nacule's case is not the same as Ramode's but they share similarities.
Majority of those who stay and take part in village activities are those who married into the village or are 'vasu' there. So much so, that the turaga ni koro for the Nakabuta is a man from Naitasiri who married a Nakabuta woman. The leader of the women co-op which runs the village's pottery business is from Nadi.
Nakabuta is renowned for its pottery and even though they have a firm grasp of this traditional skill, in some villages and provinces, their traditional knowledge has been completely lost. A particular set of skill is fishing which by right belongs to the 'gone dau' or the fishermen clan.
The village of Muaivuso in the vanua Navakavu, they have been lucky to have the help of an NGO, the Honour Fiji Journey that has stepped in to preserve the skill of building traditional fish traps.
Honour Fiji ambassador Alisi Rabukawaqa says that not only do the iTaukei have these knowledge, but so too all Fijian communities in Fiji but in their own unique ways of co-existing with their living world.
"Honour Fiji Journey is about ensuring that this knowledge is passed on, not only through written documents, but more importantly by ensuring young people continue to practice them. Critical to the success of our goals is that we do not abandon "time-tested" traditional knowledge in our strife for development," she says.
Rabukawaqa added the present changing demographic, economic, social, political, technological and environmental realities of today clearly indicate that this traditional knowledge alone is not enough to sustain and preserve the people and environment.
"It must be married with the very best emerging modern natural and social scientific knowledge about environmental, economic and social sustainability. We must learn from the best and worst practices and science, both indigenous and modern, and marry these with parallel traditional knowledge to get the best from both worlds," Rabukawaqa says.
In another practical context, the notion of understanding and knowing their ancestry and totem animals, fish and birds, is also beneficial for landowners. It helps villagers know the boundaries of their lands and if and when any major economic development takes place within their land, they know exactly where they stand.
For example, Ramode's clan owns a piece of land which is being used by construction companies to source their sand from. This is big business and the mataqali Vatudagai had to deal with many people who claimed the land belonged to them or they're also part of their clan. Traditional cultural knowledge can help in many ways too. Like environmental conservation by preservation of forest and marine resources, allows people to easily adapt to climate and environmental change and extreme events, manage their watershed and water catchment areas and preserve their knowledge of medicinal plants and traditional health practices.
But for this to take place, many villages and provinces have to take the first step and first of all, link the older generations with their young ones.
* NEXT WEEK: The crocodile cave of Volivoli, Sigatoka.