Climate Adaptation and Resilience-Building through Valuing Indigenous Knowledge in Fiji
When tropical cyclone Winston struck Fiji in 2016, it caused extensive damage to over 30,000 houses and buildings across the country. This revealed a primary reason for the failure of these structures: the lack of proper lateral load-resisting systems.
In addition, there was a shortage of skilled workers and limited knowledge about building code compliance in the country. In response, a study conducted by Aquino et al. looked at traditional Fijian structures in the village of Navala as a resilient solution for the post-cyclone restoration efforts.
The study highlights the importance of valuing indigenous knowledge in Fiji for climate adaptation and resilience-building, particularly in the face of natural disasters like tropical cyclones. By incorporating traditional building techniques and materials, such as using thatch roofs and timber frames, Fijians can create more resilient structures that can better withstand extreme weather events.
Located on the banks of Ba River in the province of Ba, Viti Levu Island’s Navala Village is Fiji’s last traditional village, renowned for its preserved Bure houses. These unique structures are made from locally sourced materials such as bamboo, local reeds, and ferns for the roofs, pandanus leaves woven into mats to cover dirt floors, and hardwood for the posts.
Not only do these traditional houses provide a glimpse into authentic Fijian culture and lifestyle, but they also serve as a source of income for some villagers who offer their Bure homes as tourist accommodations.
In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the resilience of traditional knowledge or indigenous construction practices has become apparent. A study by Aquino et al. highlights Bure as a post-disaster recovery solution for indigenous Fijian communities.
Bure is a product of indigenous people’s building skills developed through trial and error, which have withstood various environmental and socio-cultural tests. These structures are more sustainable and faster to build after a disaster because they use locally sourced materials and rely on communal labor.
The study showcases examples from around the world of communities that have rebuilt by preserving their traditional practices and methods. By valuing indigenous knowledge, Fiji can build resilience and adapt to climate change, ensuring the preservation of its unique cultural heritage.
Challenges to Rebuilding Bure Houses
After a disaster like Cyclone Winston, rebuilding homes is an urgent matter. However, the Fiji government’s policies and programs may not be favorable to the reconstruction of traditional housing structures like Bure.
A study revealed that one of the central challenges to rebuilding Bure is the government’s preference for modern homes, which is evident in their building codes and standards. Additionally, the government’s financial support to rebuild houses can only be used to buy materials from accredited hardware stores, which may not have the necessary materials for Bure.
Despite being a resilient solution for post-disaster recovery, indigenous construction practices like Bure are not widely recognized in Fiji. This lack of recognition and support makes it challenging for communities to rebuild using traditional methods.
The study suggests a broader interpretation and application of resilience in post-disaster recovery. A resilient house should be able to withstand extreme events, adapt to changes and environmental conditions, and be flexible enough for quick and easy reconstruction.
Navala village, the last remaining traditional village of Fiji, offers a glimpse of the indigenous building method using locally sourced materials like bamboo, local reeds, ferns, pandanus leaves, and hardwood. Bure is not just a source of income for some villagers, but it also preserves the authentic Fijian culture and lifestyle, making it an essential aspect of Fiji’s heritage.