Traditional knowledge must be recognised and mainstreamed into national policies, says Minister Regenvanu


By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Sharm El Sheikh

An initiative to document and preserve the unique languages, customs and culture of the people of Erromango in Vanuatu was showcased at a side event at COP27 Thursday to emphasise the importance of traditional knowledge in addressing climate change.

Erromango is the third largest island in Vanuatu’s Tafea Province, with a current population of approximately 2000.

In 2021, the people of Erromango embarked on a cultural heritage journey to collect “Netain en Namou Toko – Stories of Mother Ocean” in their attempt to preserve and protect their oral history and ocean knowledge before they are lost to the tides of globalisation.

Addressing the side event, Vanuatu’s new Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Honorable Ralph Regenvanu admits that more needs to be done to incorporate and mainstream traditional knowledge into government policies.

“For me as a leader, I have to listen to traditional leaders and include their perspectives into decision making processes. Civil servants especially those working in policies – they need to engage community perspectives and make sure they incorporate that into government policies.

“As civil servants and politicians we tend to think we know it all. We have to realise that we are not the sole repository of knowledge, it is with the local communities.

Minister Regenvanu said government leaders need to recognise ‘shared power with our traditional leaders and authorities and to realise that this is the future.’

“In the Pacific we enjoy such beautiful environment ecosystems because our ancestors have protected them for thousands of years to bequeath us with this amazing heritage. It’s not up to us in this generation to destroy it through industrialisation, waste, consumption etc. It’s sad if this generation will destroy the legacy of hundreds of years of careful management. We need to recognise that wisdom and bring it back into policy making processes in every sector of government.

Vanuatu’s National Sustainable Development Plan recognises traditional knowledge in the future management of the environment and resources in the island nation.

“In Vanuatu and the Pacific, we have some of the largest areas that are still held under customary management regimes, managed by customary rules, managed by indigenous peoples. We have one of the largest areas in the word if you count the land and sea areas. Our customary rule for resource management or what we call traditional resource management are based very much on traditional knowledge over many generations.

“This traditional knowledge has been built up for thousands of years of living and observing the environment, knowing intimately the weather patterns, knowing intimately the patterns of vegetation, the movement of animals and species. For any future responses and management to our environment and climate change, traditional knowledge will continue to play a key role and there is no way we can discount it,” said Minister Regenvanu.

He said the question his government will have to address is the breakdown of traditional knowledge systems.

It’s groups like the Erromango Cultural Association through artists and concerned citizens that are trying to ensure traditional knowledge is recorded and transmitted in a way that is friendly and accessible all the people in Vanuatu.

Minister Regenvanu admits that government is not doing enough to valorise traditional knowledge.

“A lot of work still needs to be to step up to valorise traditional knowledge especially in the area of ocean management.

“Climatic events are changing the application of traditional knowledge. There are changing weather patterns – but one thing we are certain Pacific peoples have always been changing and adapting. We are resilient people. For thousands of years we have seen natural hazards, we have seen natural disasters and we’ve always managed to adapt to be resilient – no doubt we will continue to adapt as climate and weather patterns change, said Minister Regenvanu.

Makereta Komai attendance at COP27 is supported by SPREP and Irish Aid.