Special Report
Indigenous Identities and Sustainable Development in Polynesia, Mar 16, 2017
A native craftsman from Rapa Nui teaches a Peace Boat participant how to carve a moai statue.
The Polynesian triangle is an area of the Pacific Ocean which stretches between Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the east, Aotearoa/New Zealand to the south-west and Hawaii to the north. The indigenous inhabitants of this area are widely thought to be the ancestors of East Asian peoples who began making the treacherous journey across the Pacific approximately 3000 years ago. During the final leg of the 93rd Global Voyage, Peace Boat docked in four islands throughout the Polynesian triangle: Rapa Nui, Tahiti, Bora Bora (also a Tahitian island) and Samoa. Prior to each port of call, participants had the opportunity to engage with three guest educators onboard - Mario Tuki from Rapa Nui, Gabriel Tetiarahi from Tahiti and Peseta Tiotio from Samoa - each of whom is dedicated to promoting sustainable development within their own community.

Mario Tuki teaches Peace Boat participants the Hoko - a traditional dance from Rapa Nui which was once performed by the island’s warriors.
Mario Tuki is the founder of Toki, an NGO which aims to empower the youth of Rapa Nui through music and art education whilst preserving the traditional culture of the remote Pacific island. In his first lecture onboard, Tuki explained the origins and significance of the moai - the mysterious stone statues which lie dotted all over the island in various states of recline. It is thought that since the moai's introduction to Rapa Nui in the first century, different tribes strived to create ever-bigger statues as symbols of their prosperity and status - a process which created a resource struggle and eventually led to environmental degradation. With over 70,000 tourists visiting tiny Rapa Nui each year, it is no surprise that Tuki is a strong advocate for ecotourism. In his second lecture, Tuki outlined his vision of a sustainable future for Rapa Nui, and urged participants to engage as much as possible with local people during their time on the island - not only does this provide a more authentic travel experience, but it greatly benefits the inhabitants and the local economy. "Green tourists should choose to understand and participate in the process; not just receive the results of the process," advised Tuki.

Gabi explains the principles of sustainable organic farming to Peace Boat participants on his farm in Tahiti (photo by Asakura Aya).
Whereas Rapa Nui has been governed by Chile since its annexation in 1888, Tahiti has been a French overseas territory since its colonization in 1880. Over the subsequent century, the Maohi - the indigenous people of Tahiti - became marginalized in their own country, losing self-reliance and effective control of government. It was in response to these circumstances that Gabriel Tetiarahi (known as Gabi for short) founded the NGO Hiti Tau (which means "stand up and make a change"). His mission has been to unite the indigenous Maohi people in their struggle for the recognition of their universal rights, the sustainable development of Tahiti, and a nuclear-free homeland. In his diverse lectures and workshops onboard, Gabi discussed the current initiatives of Hiti Tau to bring economic independence and self-determination to Tahiti, such as the sustainable agriculture and leadership training programmes which Gabi offers to young Tahitians. Gabi also described to participants the detrimental effects caused by the nuclear tests carried out by France in Tahiti between 1962 and 1996, including a drastically reduced national self-sufficiency rate (which declined from 96 per cent in 1960 to four per cent in 1996) and serious human and environmental consequences (Tahiti has one of the highest rates of thyroid cancer in the world). "The most serious impact of the nuclear tests is not the physical effects, nor the effect on the economy, but the effect on our minds - France has colonized our minds," Gabi lamented. Gabi is still passionately campaigning for Tahiti's independence from France, and in May 2013 successfully lobbied the United Nations to include Tahiti on its list of territories to be considered for decolonization.

Peseta Tiotio and her team of onboard interpreters smile for the camera after her final lecture on Peace Boat.
Peace Boat's final port of call in the Polynesian triangle was Samoa - the first country in the South Pacific to gain independence in 1962. Guest educator Peseta Afoa Arasi Tiotio is President of the Board of the Samoan NGO Women in Business Development Inc. (WIBDI), an organization which is dedicated to strengthening village economies in ways that honour indigenous tradition, use traditional and modern technology, and promote fair trade. WIBDI empowers and equips rural families to cultivate sustainable businesses that maximize farm-based resources. Onboard, Tiotio introduced participants to the history and culture of Samoa, provided an overview of WIBDI's ongoing projects, including its handicraft production and organic farming training programmes, and held a workshop in which participants discussed the merits and challenges of fair trade.

A young man on WIBDI's Organic Warriors Academy programme gathers coconuts which will be used for making coconut oil.
In Samoa, a group of Peace Boat participants visited a new initiative launched by WIBDI in 2016 - the Organic Warriors Academy. This programme aims to revive sustainable organic farming in Samoa by providing training to youth all over the island who lack other opportunities to generate an income. One of their main products is coconut oil, much of which is exported to the Body Shop in the UK through a fair-trade agreement. Partnerships like this between the private sector and NGOs are essential to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 17 on Partnerships for the Goals. Participants were fascinated to witness the full production process on-site and were impressed by the effort and attention to detail required to produce the oil. "I use a lot of coconut oil in cooking and for cosmetic purposes - seeing the faces of the workers who produce these products made me very happy. In Japan, we don't think about the origin of coconut oil or any of the products we consume. This experience made me reflect upon and appreciate the labour that goes into the final products which I buy," commented Kawagishi Yoshiko, a Peace Boat participant. As Peace Boat departed from Samoa and set off for Japan, its final destination, participants had gained a new insight into the challenges faced by indigenous peoples throughout Polynesia, as well as the grassroots initiatives aiming to improve their future.