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Salt Making revives Fijian traditional knowledge

If communities revived their traditional practices, it would help towards strengthening cultural identity and then in turn improve climate resilience, through better relationship with their biodiversity and natural resources.

Vusama village, on the south west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, was the traditional custodian of salt making but had not practiced it for more than 50 years. The community was overjoyed with the first successful run of salt making. Everyone from children to elders came together to celebrate their new success and witness firsthand a practice which they had only heard of. They improvised on the process, leveraged local resources, and saw a potential to invite visitors and tourists to the village.

The knowledge of salt crafting had been successfully spread in the community. Everybody could recollect the practice, including children who performed roleplays of how to make salt. The villagers did not view the salt as cooking salt. Rather, they saw it as cultural currency and frequently used terms like ‘treasure’ and ‘valuable possession’ to describe it. When the children were asked to describe Vusama, they used terms like ‘old village, no water and red soil.’ However, while describing Vusama in relation to salt making, they regarded their village as the land of maqa, a barren coastal space found adjacent to the mainland and often devoid of marine flora and fauna where medicinal salt was made. People referred to themselves as original salt makers acknowledging that this practice had travelled through the women of the village who married into the neighbouring communities.

Villagers believe that being native custodians of an age-old practice will help them negotiate with local government for a better water supply, something the village has been struggling with for many years.

Vusama is defined by the maqa where women go to hunt for crabs. Since the revival of the practice, all groups now visit the maqa. Over the years, women had been complaining that they had to go far and for longer periods to find crabs. The community admits that the maqa area is not what it used to be – lush with vegetation and rich in biodiversity. They see the need to plant more mangroves and coconut trees to bring back the maqa to its original condition. Women are the most directly affected by the deterioration of the maqa. However, the COVID-19 gathering restrictions and the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold have prevented the community from bringing their goals to action.

While salt crafting does not have a direct relationship with climate change, it has compelled people to engage with their natural resources. With some infrastructure like a small shed, the community hopes to continue making salt more frequently and protect their environment. Women from Vusama will be ready to lead the charge.

In indigenous cultures such as Fiji, where ancestors are revered, traditional knowledge is a means through which communities strengthen connections to their land and natural resources. It promotes unity and social collaboration to build resilience in the wake of disasters bringing together diverse groups especially older generations and children. Traditional knowledge can be a promising inroad to engage communities and supporting them towards poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, and climate security.

Photo captions: Salt produced through the revival of traditional Fijian salt making is drained through a hand weaved basket.
People gather around as Vusama community members dig a hole to source salt water for producing traditional Fijian salt.
Once a well is dug deep enough, salt water is drawn up to boil down over a fire.
Medicinal leaves are placed at the bottom of baskets used as a sieve to drain the boiled down salt.
Top: community members prepare cans to cook down the salt in. Bottom left: A salt producer scoops up the cooked down salt to siev in a handmade basket. Bottom right: They fill a can with salt to cook it until it's a dry brick.
Community members share their baskets of traditional Fijian salt.

Story Information:

Country: Fiji

Topic: Climate change (general)

Photo or video credit: UNDP Fiji/Zainab Kakal, Johannes Schunter

Text Credit: Zainab Kakal

Date : 25 January 2021

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