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The Role of Traditional Knowledge in Building Adaptive Capacity for Climate Change: Perspectives from Vanuatu

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  • 1 School of Geography, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

There is increasing recognition of traditional knowledge as an important store of information and practices for building adaptive capacity for climate change in the Pacific. However, empirical research and documentation of how Pacific Islanders experience climate change, identify relevant adaptation options, and mobilize their adaptive capacity, including traditional knowledge, remains limited. Given this context, indigenous islander perspectives on traditional knowledge and its role in building their adaptive capacity are examined in this article. The author draws on research with the Nakanamanga-speaking peoples of Tongoa Island, Vanuatu. This research documents traditional knowledge relating to weather and climate observations; resource use and management; social networks; local leadership; and values and beliefs in these indigenous communities and reveals differing perspectives about its potential to enhance local adaptive capacity. It highlights indigenous concerns about self-reliance, cultural continuity, and how the transition to a cash economy, the valorization of Western education and lifestyles, and rural–urban migration have had adverse implications for traditional knowledge and its retention. It further reveals potential trade-offs for indigenous communities on Tongoa Island, where traditional governance, tenure systems, and values enable flexibility and collective action that build adaptive capacity but can also promote conservative attitudes and limit uptake of new information and practices.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Ainka A. Granderson, ainka.granderson@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

There is increasing recognition of traditional knowledge as an important store of information and practices for building adaptive capacity for climate change in the Pacific. However, empirical research and documentation of how Pacific Islanders experience climate change, identify relevant adaptation options, and mobilize their adaptive capacity, including traditional knowledge, remains limited. Given this context, indigenous islander perspectives on traditional knowledge and its role in building their adaptive capacity are examined in this article. The author draws on research with the Nakanamanga-speaking peoples of Tongoa Island, Vanuatu. This research documents traditional knowledge relating to weather and climate observations; resource use and management; social networks; local leadership; and values and beliefs in these indigenous communities and reveals differing perspectives about its potential to enhance local adaptive capacity. It highlights indigenous concerns about self-reliance, cultural continuity, and how the transition to a cash economy, the valorization of Western education and lifestyles, and rural–urban migration have had adverse implications for traditional knowledge and its retention. It further reveals potential trade-offs for indigenous communities on Tongoa Island, where traditional governance, tenure systems, and values enable flexibility and collective action that build adaptive capacity but can also promote conservative attitudes and limit uptake of new information and practices.

© 2017 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Ainka A. Granderson, ainka.granderson@unimelb.edu.au
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