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A Pacific concept for future dialogue

Lice Movono
Monday, October 30, 2017

TALANOA is a Pacific concept and definitions differ depending on who you talk to and where they learned the concept, about what the term actually means.

Pacific researcher Semisi M. Prescott said in a recent study the oratory tradition of talanoa was recognised in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Niue, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, and Tonga.

In 2008 Dr Winston Halapua, a leading sociologist, said talanoa was "engaging in dialogue with, or telling stories to each other absent concealment of the inner feelings and experiences that resonate in our hearts and minds (p. 1).

A Tongan academic, Timote Vaioleti, deconstructed the word in 2006 to explain the concept further and said tala means "inform, relate, or tell" and noa means "nothing in particular."

One could argue that talanoa means "talking about nothing in particular", say two other researchers, Trisia Farrelly a senior lecturer at New Zealand's Massey University and Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, Professor of Education at the University of Guam.

In their (Farrelly, Nabobo-Baba) paper published in 2012 entitled "Talanoa as Empathic Research", the two say Talanoa can also mean "to offload."

"Talanoa is also a philosophy involving 'an open dialogue where people can speak from their hearts and where there are no preconceptions,' the paper said. "To emphasise this point, talanoa is not all about what you say or even just about how one says it ... others remind us that in Fiji, even silence is far from empty: it is a way of knowing: 'there is eloquence in silence … a pedagogy of deep engagement between participants."

An important agreement between most Pacific scholars is the connectedness of talanoa and that dependent on the context and the participants of the talanoa, it calls for deep meaningful sharing between participants. That exchange creates connections.

A useful illustration of this is in the Fijian context, when an iTaukei introduction is made, one hears more than words. Instead immediately you begin to relate to the person based on what their name tells you about who their parents are, their tribe and village maybe, their totem spirits and even to some extent those simple few words can even invoke a connection.

Almost immediately, you tell stories which can display commonalities, create consensus and even educate and inform. It is the way indigenous Fijians preserve history and share skills and it is also a widely accepted Pacific culture.

This Pacific wide culture, used for generations to create connections across the different cultures of the region's communities, may form the design of the most important dialogue for our planet.

That being the Facilitative Dialogue, a key performance indicator of next month's COP meeting.

At the end of COP23, parties should have a design they agree to which describes how the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue (FD) should roll out. In May 2017 in Bonn, the talanoa concept was submitted as an option.

At the heads of delegations who met in Rabat, Morroco, in September 2017, the secretariat presented the principles of the Talanoa Concept.

"Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions, which are for the collective good," the preliminary proposal said.

"The process of talanoa involves the sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling. During the process, parties build trust and advance knowledge through empathy and understanding. Blaming others and making critical observations are inconsistent with the building of mutual trust and respect, and therefore inconsistent with the concept of talanoa."

It has since met enthusiastic support from parties, COP23 President Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said at the start of the PreCOP Ministerial Dialogue.

"I must say that ever since Fiji introduced the talanoa concept in Bonn back in May, it seems to have captured the imaginations of a great many of you. The spirit behind it seems to fit the needs of this process at this time," Mr Bainimarama said.

Those needs, according to the PM, include being able to share stories in an atmosphere full of respect, but devoid of finger-pointing.

That means not paying too much attention to what countries haven't done but instead focusing on "what they could and should do to lift ambition and reduce the risk to us all."

"And that's the point of talanoa. It's about delivering outcomes for the common good. And if Frank can be frank for a moment, I've always had a bit of trouble with the word "facilitative".

It's a tongue-twister that really doesn't resonate with my own people, that's for sure," the PM said.

"So excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: urgency, political will, co-operation, ambition and an absolute dedication to meet the 1.5 degree target is what we need and what we must take to Bonn. It's not enough to scare people. We can't resign ourselves to our fate."

"It's a future we don't have to be afraid of if we have the courage to act."

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