Identity threat

Dr Paul Geraghty says the cultural identity of native Fijians will be threatened by any loss of the country's biological diversity Picture: JOVESA NAISUA/FILE

THE cultural identity of native Fijians will be threatened by any loss of the country’s biological diversity, says linguist Dr Paul Geraghty.

He said there was an important link between nature and culture, hence the compelling need to protect our biodiversity.

Dr Geraghty and other experts say that in an area of national significance such as the Nadrau plateau — where the headwaters of the Navua, Wainimala, Sigatoka and Ba rivers are located — an increase in activities like hydro dams will adversely impact the cultural identity of natives in the area.

He said the erosion in identity would begin from the depletion of totems (icavuti) from their natural habitat.

“It must be remembered that these totems are not found throughout Fiji, they are found mostly on Viti Levu and adjoining islands,” he said.

He said the importance of biodiversity throughout Fiji also laid in other practical values of natural species, including plants providing material for smaller cultural products such as mats, baskets, utensils, pottery, ornaments and decorations.

He said these products, uniquely identified with the iTaukei, could become more difficult to produce as the source materials became scarce or even extinct.

Academic Dr Joeli Veitayaki echoed similar sentiments.

“The iTaukei have close relations signified by the names they share when referring to these biodiversity,” he said.

“They have totems they relate to so closely, they identify with them. “People have outstanding understanding of biodiversity in their area. The people of Draubuta in Navosa and Namosi, who use the nanai, know they will resurface after eight years and are aware of their life cycle.”

He added any disturbance of the biodiversity would contribute to the erosion of the iTaukei’s cultural identity.

“In the absence of biodiversity, the identity associated with them will weaken and disappear. The totems connect us to other iTaukei in a special and meaningful way. They link us and reveal who we are related to.”

Recent research found that out of the more than 300 iTaukei dialects that existed in Fiji, about 20 were extinct, he said.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) says any hydropower developments must take into consideration the impact it will have on the ecosystem.

Secretary general Francois Martel said renewable energy had to be sustainable, but environmentally friendly as well.

“As long as the environment impact assessments are done properly and that the species and ecosystems are protected in the process, in general it is best to have a balanced approach,” he said.

Environmentalists and conservationists say there was no proper consultation about the impact on the environment of raising the Wainisavulevu weir in Monasavu.

The $43 million project, commissioned in 2015 by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, severely damaged large areas of cloud forest in the areas surrounding the weir.

Questions sent to the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Environment remained unanswered yesterday when this report went to press.

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