On electric dragons and building a unified voice of the Pacific
The vaka is the heart and the spirit of the community. Its sails sewed together and painted by hand. Its mast felled from the forest at the center of the island, its floorboards originated from the same stand. This canoe is guided by nature. Its double-hauls are pushed forward by the wind and its power comes by way of the sun. The lead navigator looks to the stars for direction, feeling the waves for confirmation on their bearing. When the winds are silent, the vaka bobs, listlessly. The crew throws fishing lines off the back reeling in tuna, finishing the first before throwing the line out again to catch the next. Each night, under the light of a billion stars, stories are told.
Across the hundreds of events that took place at the World Parks Congress, not one can compare to the Traditional Voyaging session held at the Pacific Pavilion on the last day. This was a story telling session. As the week wore on, many sessions felt intangible. Great buzz surrounded topics such as community based conservation, locally managed areas, and how one inspires the next generation. Yet, looking around, there was a blatant absence of communities, youth, and any tangible strategy that can be implemented in day-to-day life. Conservation practitioners spent the week highlighting the most ‘innovative’ cases from around the world. However, I wonder why traditional tenure systems, that evolved over generations are today being labeled as innovative. Nevertheless, this innovation deemed successful by an NGO and by the donor agency, must be scaled up, replicated, and adopted by other local communities. I wonder to whom exactly are we scaling up for? The community?
Yet, the stories told by the crew are rooted in a raw, honest reality. It was this reality that I felt was absent from the many other sessions I attended. The crew came together to share what compelled them to volunteer for the MUA Voyage. They invited others to listen and to ask questions. The stories told were not scripted, nor sculpted by an outside institution. They share what they want the rest of the world to know and to realize. How climate change is already affecting the world’s low-lying islands, that they’re islands are drowning. That the Pacific Ocean has brought the beat to their drum, the voice to their song, and continues to define their culture and sustain their community. That she is in desperate need of restoration and protection. The people of the pacific are unified because of the realization that their future is bound with their neighbors and with each of us. They asked, through their presence at the congress, please remember that they are out there in the middle of the ocean. The crews on the vaka hope to touch the lives and hearts of those who have decision-making powers, because they can no longer save themselves.