Happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples from the Pacific!
Maima V’aai is a climate activist and indigenous person of the Pacific. Born in Samoa, she now lives in Fiji. Maima was part of the Climate Justice for All (CJ4A) campagin which All We Can supported. It brought together young people from across the global Methodist family to take climate action ahead of the United Nation’s annual climate change conference, COP26. Here, she reflects on the importance of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The Pacific is usually known throughout the world for its beautiful scenery and lush environment. However, what the global audience often misses and fails to recognise is how much Pacific indigenous communities have to offer in terms of sustainability and environmental consciousness played out through their culture, identity, and indigenous way of living.
As indigenous people, the spirituality of Pacific people recognises a deep relationship woven between humankind and the environment as part of God’s creation. Our Pacific spirituality goes hand in hand with our culture and our identity. It is what underpins the well-being of our Pacific people and is formed around a relational worldview where we see ourselves interconnected with everything in our surroundings, introducing the term known as ‘holistic’. This worldview is often the underpinning factor that shapes the Pacific perspective of doing things. It shows that our personhood is not a stand alone, rather we are believed to be relational beings. We are raised and grounded in the concept of ‘community’, where our identity is framed around service and love to others even in times of personal troubles and uncertainties. Our community does not limit itself to our people but is also inclusive of our environment and surroundings. It is believed that as we are given the responsibility to give and care for the other, we too are also provided with blessings, shelter, and life from our community. Additionally, this worldview is also what creates our consciousness – to not exploit, to use only what is ever needed and to base our decision making on whether our actions will either benefit or affect our community.
Our indigenous spirituality provides an outlook on how we approach life as relational beings. We allow the spirit of our ancestors to direct us towards the path of sustainability, we continue their legacy by keeping traditional conservation methods alive. These methods include sustainable fishing and agricultural traditions that provide ample time for our creation to rest and recover, a tradition known as ‘tabu’ meaning sacred. This has been preserved by Pacific people to teach generations to come of the importance of respect and giving life to our environmental community so in return it may provide us too with life and meaning. It is what creates harmony, it is what reciprocates love, our spirituality through these relationships encompass most if not all of life.
As a tama’ita’i (daughter of) Samoa, our culture speaks on an embracing yet sacred relational energy called va and fa’aaloalo – referring to face-to-face reciprocity and respect of relational spaces. In Fiji, the culture is grounded on a similar concept called ‘veiwakani’, meaning relationship, community, respect, and harmony. Many Pacific communities share similar traditions on burying umbilical cords of newborns to ensure the connectedness of the child with its ‘vanua’ land. This instils responsibility to care for, protect and never forget the motherland that provides meaning, stability and life to you as an indigenous being. These are traits that indicate how indigenous Pacific communities are born into a life where it is enhanced and protected by relationships, we do not create relationships but rather to continue with them so that they may be able to flow.
The indigenous Pacific spirituality has much to offer to the world in addressing the contradictions between modern society’s obsession with limitless economic growth and the ecological limits of our only planetary home. In this generation, we have noticed the ultimate failure in the neoliberal paradigm and how this has contributed to the moral crisis we as humans face today. The paradigm has introduced the concept of individualism and has birthed a culture of greed that continues to promote self indulgence in profit and materialism through overexploitation. Reflecting on this issue, I therefore pose a question to you readers:
‘How can Christians relate to indigenous teachings to help shift the narrative into one that centres people and planet over profit?’
Safe to say, the Pacific indigenous spirituality shares many commonalities with that of our Christian faith and traditions. In the biblical teachings, there is no doubt that our Lord is a relational being himself. In saying this, because we see him as relational, this too means that all of his creation is relational as well where it is structured according to our interconnectedness. The Christian spirituality amplifies stewardship as a core value and as a faithful follower we know that as part of God’s mission of love and justice, the relationship we share with him is not enough. We are taught of our responsibilities as stewards to care for and reciprocate love towards our community, inclusive of our environment, so that we may continue to uphold and live in a harmonious balance with the other.
Both communities (Christians and indigenous people) share a common role as custodians to care for creation. Allowing us to take into consideration a moment of realisation of seeing ‘where we ought to be’ of repentance for the world’s ecological sins. We must acknowledge that we humans are not at the centre of creation – so by de-centring ourselves, we may be able to recover from the selfish pull of consumerism and market driven empire our world is currently delved into. Once we acknowledge that we are not a ‘stand alone’, but part of a bigger community we will then be able to live efficiently and sustainably. Giving recognition to the responsibilities we hold as indigenous and Christian communities – promoting an intrinsic dignity and value of the many – of all peoples, all religion, all cultures, and all environments.