SVS Cultural Officer, Sa'oletiti Caroline Duffy, teaching about Samoa's voyaging history
The word “convenience” would be a great one to sum up modern society, just think about it for a minute.
Fast food, fast communication, fast transport options, fast growing population, and so on; we develop with the goal to make life easier, to make life more convenient – nothing wrong with that, but as we begin to lose understanding of how our ancestors lived and how they were at pure harmony with nature and their environment, the word convenience becomes a dangerous one.
Compare today to 100 years ago, 500 years ago or even 2,000 years ago and so on, what do you think it was like?
Our ancestors never needed much to do seemingly impossible tasks. Impossible tasks like long voyages across the open oceans without navigational systems, radars, propellers, radios, engines, and so on.
All they had were their wits, knowledge of nature, nature to build a canoe, nature to weave the sails, and nature to guide their voyages and migration.
“Our knowledgeable ancestors were far more intelligent, scientifically and culturally, than us. They never had to rely on any modern devices to make long voyages,” explained Samoa Voyaging Society (SVS) cultural officer, Sa’oletiti Caroline Duffy.
“Our ancestors relied on nature’s elements for their everyday needs. They relied and used the sun, moon, stars, wind, currents and tides for fishing, sailing, and navigating.”
Furthermore, in order to locate themselves in the immensity of the ocean, Polynesian navigators learned to triangulate their position by reading the paths of specific stars, the weather, the seasons of travel, marine and faunal life (which gather at particular places in the ocean), the direction, size, and speed of ocean waves; colours of the sea and sky, especially how clouds would cluster at the locations of some islands and angles for approaching harbours – they were true role models.
“Samoa, known as the heart of Polynesia, has been occupied for more than 3,000 years. Our ancestors were able to live sustainably and were self sufficient in most things they needed for this entire time,” Sa’oletiti added.
“But what about today? Even with all our modern technology, can Samoa be sustainable for another 3,000 years? The answer is Yes! If we are able to conserve today, what we have for the future.”
As mentioned before, living a life of convenience threatens our environment daily. Everything is wrapped in plastic packaging, which end up polluting our land and sea and eaten by our marine life, our engine-based transports such as planes, boats and cars run on fossil fuels imported to our islands and cause air and water pollution, our building developments and roads require the clearing of land with increased run-off of sediment smothering our lagoons, our unsustainable fishing activities puts much stress on our marine life.
The list is never ending. And yet we wonder why we are catching less palolo, catching less fish, seeing more rubbish.
Our “convenience” is putting a real strain on the earth and at the rate we’re going, a quick search online will show many studies suggesting that we will need resources of at least four planets to sustain the current world population.
This begs the question: why can’t we return back to the ways of our ancestors. Back to when life was simple, when life was flourishing, when our people were healthy, strong and not overweight, when the world was beautiful, with less waste – it may not have been as convenient as today, but they knew sustainable living and how to become master conservationists so that things were left for future generations.
Samoa's very own traditional voyaging canoe, the Gaualofa, currently in the care of the Samoa Voyaging Society (SVS)
They built with natural material, they ate natural food, they were sustainable farmers and fishermen, and they took care of their environment, because they understood its importance and that humans cannot live without nature. People need nature to thrive. Our food, our water, our livelihoods — they all come from nature.
But sadly, most of that knowledge is being lost, and that’s where local organizations such as SVS comes in.
The Samoan non-governmental organisation has dedicated their efforts towards reviving that which has been lost.
“Our purpose is to revive and remind our Samoan people, communities, districts and villages the importance of our Samoan voyaging heritage and our stewardship ways,” says Sa’oletiti.
“We were the original Polynesian navigators, and still are. Double-hulled voyaging canoes and our migration and settlement to the rest of Polynesia, all originated from our Samoan Islands. We need to educate, encourage, promote, the revival of our voyaging past and knowledge as our ancestors knew. We are also strongly reviving Samoan cultural traditions, related to ocean sailing and the wise stewardship of our land and sea in the Pacific. We look after and maintain the Gaualofa (Samoa’s traditional voyaging canoe) on behalf of Samoa and our people. We are proud of our voyaging past, and we want our people to know more about our past, and take pride in continuing our amazing voyaging practices.”
With one of the organisation’s mission statement being “to encourage conservation, protection and awareness of the Pacific Ocean and island environments”, the group has been involved in many environmental programs.
“We must also bear in mind that our natural environment is our heritage. It is up to us, to protect it, keep it clean and healthy so we can pass it on to our children in a pristine state,” Sa’oletiti added.
Through the use of the Gaualofa as Samoa’s very own floating classroom, SVS has worked with local partners, the Samoan Government and Conservation International in conducting environmental and voyaging education workshops around Samoa. Back in early 2017, the SVS. took the Disney movie Moana around Samoa, highlighting the environmental messages of stewardship that this fabulous movie shows. The SVS has made immense impacts wherever they dock.
Sa’oletiti also explained that the Gaualofa is perfect for outreach programs in Samoa, because the communities have heard about Samoan voyagers in tales told by the old, but most haven’t had the opportunity to actually see or learn about the vessel. When communities see Gaualofa, they are reminded of our cultural heritage, cultural responsibilities, it opens hearts, and opens minds.
“The president of our organisation, Schannel Fanene van Dijken, saw this need first-hand on many of his voyages. With his persistence over the years, he set out to make this ‘floating classroom’ concept happen and in collaboration with partners,” says Sa’oletiti.
“In partnership with MNRE, MAF, MWCSD and NGO’s (such as CI, YCAN, SCS and SVS) we used the Gaualofa as a focal point of attracting our people to learn about our environment and how to sustain it.
“All this steering and weaving gave birth to what is now known as ‘Guardians/ Tausi Lou Fa’asinomaga’ campaign (campaign details can be found in Conservation International Facebook page).
“SVS Samoa is indeed very honored and proud to be a part of this huge group of professionals, to teach and help our people to protect, nurture and guard our environment, our heritage.”
So to answer the initial question at the start “what was it like back then?” just picture an even more beautiful and simple Samoa with.
Let’s be more like our ancestors and work towards making Samoa pristine again. Follow their journey around Samoa on their SVS Facebook page.