Pacific Islanders are culturally connected and wholly dependent on the ocean for survival. Over 3000 years ago, Polynesian history originated in and around the Samoan-Tonga-Fiji Archipelago Building Guardians of the Ocean. Around 1000 years ago, Polynesians purposely explored and settled the most isolated set of islands on earth from Cook Islands to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Marquesas, Hawaii, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). This was achieved via innovation in developing robust ocean going double-hulled voyaging canoes (think Disney movie “Moana”), forward thinking mindsets, and a sophisticated wayfinding system that used the observation of nature, stars, sun and moon, to be able confidently voyage and navigate this expansive ocean while keeping Polynesia inter-connected.
This knowledge intertwined with wise stewardship skills and values were passed down through generations via interactive story-telling, games, song, chants, hands on lessons and activities – solidifying knowledge of concepts and perpetuating navigation and environmental-stewardship values and skills. Over time things changed, voyaging stopped, new explorers emerged, education approaches altered, and this culturally defining practice eroded over time together with the knowledge of navigation, nature and wise stewardship. Today things are changing again. Traditional navigation knowledge is being restored and so too are the education approaches which Islanders understood worked so well – hands-on, experiential lessons and field activities that effectively built knowledge and environmental literacy.
Today’s presentation will be on building Guardians: Tausi lau Faasinomaga / persevere your identity – a traditional Samoa voyaging canoe (Va’a) based culture and environmental education program. It is a Samoa national partnership initiative developing the voyaging canoe, the Gaualofa, as an experiential education floating classroom that engages communities directly as a means to bolster environmental management. The program focuses on enhancing voyaging, stewardship and environmental literacy of coastal communities through youth engagement and empowerment.
Schannel Fanene van Dijken is a Marine Program Director for Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific Field Program. He is also the President of the Samoa Voyaging Society, and a National Geographic Explorer. His Samoan mother and Dutch father, as immigrants, raised their family in New Zealand. Schannel has worked in more than 15 countries spanning Antarctica and Europe, through Asia and Oceania. While living in Samoa for the past decade, he has worked with national and regional Pacific communities, intimately involved in environmental initiatives. He has had the privilege of leading scientific biodiversity survey teams (terrestrial and marine), managing teams, and building diverse & sustainable partnerships and projects. As a marine biologist and a Polynesian voyager, he has spent significant time exploring the open ocean and the challenges we face in the Pacific & globally.