Wedding_Tapa
Fijian wedding tapa (gatu vakaviti) from the nineteenth century featuring traditional patterns and designs.

Cultural Mapping, a Safeguarding Methodology for iTaukei Intangible Cultural Heritage

Background

In 2003, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs) and the vanua (confederacies) of Fiji raised concerns about the need to safeguard the traditional knowledge systems of the iTaukei as well as the cultural expressions of the people. However, to implement legal safeguarding mechanisms, villagers needed to establish some kind of an inventory to see what rituals, ceremonies, dances, customary practices, etc. existed in their territories. Thus there was a need to develop a system by which the vanua and different tribes could freely participate and thus ensure that their stories and traditional knowledge could be documented. In other words, to satisfy their various needs in relation to intangible heritage safeguarding, the Cultural Mapping Initiative was established.

Cultural mapping in Fiji is an exercise to collect information about intangible cultural heritage elements and enter this information into the Traditional Knowledge & Expression of Culture Database, the nation’s first ever national inventory. Along with inventorying, the iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture is also working to preserve and safeguard tangible and intangible cultural heritage, promote the value of cultural diversity, respect for cultural rights, and promote tradition-based creativity and innovation as components of sustainable economic development. Since its inception in 2004, twelve of the fourteen provinces have been mapped, covering 954 villages. The iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture is currently mapping the thirteenth province, and the verification process for one of the provinces is expected to be completed by July 2017. The institute is also collaborating with other stakeholders to further expand efforts to safeguard iTaukei language and culture.

Launching the Project

In 2004, the iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture conducted a pilot study in two villages and one district to test the project’s viability. Among the variables being tested were the following:

  • The time required to research in villages or districts
  • Human resources require for conducting full inventory
  • The amount of money needed for each village visit
  • The time required to complete all the inventorying processes, include editing, vetting, and returning informant reports
  • Awareness-raising mechanisms or elements needed to promulgate the idea of inventory making
  • Understanding of the informant’s interpretation of the questions
  • Identification of additional questions and aspects of traditional knowledge and expressions of culture yet to be identified

Objectives of the Inventory

The core objectives of the cultural mapping program include the following:

  • Identify iTaukei ICH elements
  • Document iTaukei ICH
  • Provide platforms to revitalize endangered ICH
  • Inventory all iTaukei ICH
  • Provide safeguarding plans to enhance community-driven sustainable resource management

Identification

ICH identification is done by the iTaukei communities of the 1,171 villages spread out over the hundred islands of Fiji. Prior beginning the cultural mapping process, a consultation meeting is convened with community representatives to explain the rationale behind the need to conduct recorded interviews and documentation of TK&EC, assist them in making preparatory work in their respective villages, and confirm the visit schedule. Just below the level of the chief, who sits at the top of the social structure, are subunits called sub-clans, which are headed by an elder. These elders identify the ICH and nominate informants and spaces for the documentation.

Through a traditional approach called talanoa, data is openly discussed and vetted by informants before it is documented through audio and video recording. Talanoa is grounded in the indigenous iTaukei way of telling stories for transmitting and learning. The ICH documentation is done through recorded interviews that are stored as video, audio, and still images. Information collected in the field is then presented to the informants who verify it before it is digitized and transcribed for storage in the database. Both chief and the informants also need to complete consent forms when they are interviewed.

Revitalization/Transmission

Endangered cultural expressions and ICH identified during the cultural mapping program are followed up with revitalization workshops organized by the Ministry. Most of these revitalization workshops thus far have been on traditional crafts like baskets, mats, and pottery. In the workshops, an elder ICH bearer and selected younger members of the community re-learn traditional crafts. At certain times of the year when provincial festivals are held, space is provided to display and sell these crafts.

One recent workshop resulting from the cultural mapping project was on tali qolilawa buinigone (traditional fishnet making), which took place for three weeks in May 2016. The workshop saw to the revitalization of not only the actual fishnet pleating but also the related cultural activities, including colacola, a ritual whereby traditional fishermen are presented with gifts.

Building International Cooperation

Through the cultural mapping program, regional and international coordination for ICH safeguarding has been expanding. For example, in April 2010, in partnership with ICHCAP, the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs hosted its first sub-regional network meeting, the Pacific Sub-Regional Network Meeting for Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding. Attending this meeting were representatives from States Party to the 2003 Convention, including, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu. The meeting focused on sharing and learning about the current situation of ICH safeguarding in the sub-region and building cooperative relationships to promote the implementation of the Convention. Some of the topics covered were as follows:

  • Updates on the 2003 Convention
  • Introduction to the role and activities of ICHCAP
  • Examination of cultural mapping models and inventories as tools for ICH safeguarding
  • Assessment of the current situation of ICH safeguarding in the Pacific through paper presentations by Fiji, PNG, Tonga, and Vanuatu
  • Investigation into the complex indigenous knowledge systems and ICH in the Pacific
  • Exploration of possible avenues for cooperation and networking in the field of ICH

During the meeting, ICHCAP and the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture signed an agreement that formally recognized the partnership between the two institutions. Building on this relationship with ICHCAP, the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture was again invited to participate in ICHCAP’s inauguration ceremony as a category 2 center in 2011.

Conclusion

As the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture moves forward with its cultural mapping project and builds international cooperation partnerships, it hopes to learn more about how ICH can contribute to sustainable development of communities in Fiji and the Pacific as a whole.

Emi Bainimarama (Director, iTaukei Institute of Language & Culture, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs)

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