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Traditional Knowledge and Environmental Change in Vanuatu

Traditional Knowledge and Environmental Change in Vanuatu


This thesis investigates the extent to which traditional knowledge is used by local people on North Pentecost (NP) in Vanuatu to adjust to natural environmental changes. It  explores how traditional knowledge (TK), as part of original belief system and values, can be incorporated in the development of community-based adaptation strategies. Usng a qualitative research approach, this study uses individual semi-structured interview to collect primary data in the field, and thematical analysis was employed to identify evidence of traditional knowledge used by the indigenous people by process of coding and themes. The results proved that most aspect of traditional knowledge has values and belief system rooted in the local culture of local communities that helped them to sustain and adjust to changes in the natural environment. For example, the traditional knowledge indicators of faunas and floras, atmospheric and astronomical conditions were used by local people to predict short (weather) and long-term (climate) changes in the natural environment. Moreover, TK has an enormous capacity for adaptive management strategies that are essential for adaptation to weather and climate (variabilities and changes) extremes.

Three key components of TK were identified; 1) Facts and Information (Environmental monitoring), 2) Management strategies and practices (DRR and CCA), 3) beliefs, and worldviews that connect to their knowledge system of the natural environment . Futhermore this study also demostrates local people perception on the observed change (environmental and social change) within their communities.

Vanuatu like any other Pacific island countries are exposed to current environmental changes  (climate variabilities and changes)  such as in tropical cyclones strenght and frequency and ENSO phenomena (El-Nino/La Nina conditions). The findings of this thesis showed that traditional knowledge has significantly involved in adapting to the changes throught weather and climate predictions and the adaptative management strategies used to reduce risk and adapt to the extreme changes. TK should be used in isolated as tool to gain awareness from wider communities before it could be incooporated with western knowledge.  Also, policy must regoinised TK as important part of adaptation .

Key Words: Traditional Knowledge, Adaptation, Climate Change, Weather, Climate, Natural Environment, Vanuatu, Environmental Change, North Pentecoast










1.1 Introduction

1.2 Environmental Change and Traditional Knowledge

1.3 Research Contributions

1.4 Research Question and Objectives

1.5 Research Study Site

1.6 Thesis Organisations


2.1 Introduction

2.2 Defining Traditional Knowledge

2.3 Understanding Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Adaptation

2.4 Worldviews

2.5 Conclusion


3.1 Introduction

3.2 Pacific Islands

3.3 Vulnerability

3.4 Climate Change Vulnerability in the Pacific Islands

3.4.1 Biophysical Vulnerability

3.4.2 Social Vulnerability

3.5 Adaptation

3.6 Community-Based Adaptation in the Pacific Islands

3.7 Conclusion

CHAPTER 4: Contextualizing the study: Vanuatu

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Vanuatu

4.2.1 Climate

4.2.2 Politics and Governing Structure

4.2.3 Economy

4.3 Climate Change Adaptation in Vanuatu

4.3.1 The Government of Vanuatu Response to Climate Change

4.4 Conclusion


5.1 Introduction

5.2 Qualitative Research Approach

5.3 Semi-Structured Interview Approach

5.3.1 Strength of Semi-Structured Interview

5.3.2 Weakness of Semi-Structured Interview Approach

5.3.3 Application of Semi-Structured Interview Approach in this Research

5.4 Ethics

5.5 Secondary Data

5.6 Data Transcription

5.7 Thematic Analysis

5.9 Validity

5.10 Research Limitation

5.10.1 Limitation in Qualitative Research

5.10.2 Challenges of Home-Country Research

5.10.3 Positionality

5.11 Conclusion


6.1 Introduction

6.2 Environmental Information: Indicators of variability

6.2.1 Fauna as indicators of short-term changes in environmental conditions

6.2.2 Fauna as indicators of extreme changes (climate variabilities and change) in environmental conditions

6.2.3 Flora as Indicators of Climatic variability and change

6.2.4 Atmospheric conditions as indicators of future weather conditions

6.2.5 Other environmental indicators of weather and climate variability and change

6.3 Traditional Natural Management and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Strategies

6.3.1 Built Environment Traditional Tropical Cyclone Shelters

6.3.2 Food Management Practices

6.3.3 Water Management

6.4 Decreased used of TK and need to incorporate TK in Climate Change Adaptation

6.5 Conclusion


7.1 Introduction

7.2 Observations of changing climate conditions

7.3 Social changes: Reduction and challenges associated with TK

7.4 Worldviews and beliefs

7.5 Governing Structure and Adaptation Implication

7.6 Conclusion


8.1 Introduction

8.2 Traditional Knowledge Information

8.2.1 TK Information for Monitoring Environmental Conditions

8.2.2 Ecological Responses to climate change

8.2.3 TK Information for Climate Variability and Change

8.3 Use of TK for NRM and DRR

8.4 Use of Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Adaptation (CCA)

8.4.1 Incorporating TK into the Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) strategies

8.6 Limitation of Traditional knowledge for Climate Change Adaption

8.7 Worldviews and Belief systems

8.8 Conclusion


9.1 Introduction

9.2 Theoretical Contribution

9.3 Methodological Contribution

9.4 Revisiting Objectives

9.4.1 To Identify the Traditional Knowledge indicators used by local people to adjust to climate variabilities and extremes.

9.4.2 To investigate what types of indicators are perceived by local people to be the most important to manage climate variability and change.

9.4.3 To explore how traditional knowledge as part of indigenous belief system can incorporate into the development of community -based adaptation strategies

9.5 Limitation of this research

9.6 Future research

9.7 Conclusion


APPENDIX A  Ethics Approval Letter -UAHPEC

APPENDIX B  Letter of Introduction to Village Elder

APPENDIX C  Participant Information Sheets (PIS)

APPENDIX D  Consent Form (CF)

APPENDIX F  Semi-structured Questionnaire Guide

APPENDIX G Native Plant of North Pentecost


Figure 1. 1  Map of Vanuatu and Study Site

Figure 3. 1  Map of the Pacific Islands

Figure 4. 1  Map of Vanuatu with study island (red).

Figure 4.2  Vanuatu Governing Structure (Insert: Village Council Structure)

Figure 5. 1 Semi-Structured Interview process, researcher with participants at their homes.

Figure 5.2  (A) Initial Coding. (B) Grouping of Codes under main themes

Figure 5.3  Phases of Thematic Analysis

Figure 6. 1  Fauna used as indicators of extreme weather events

Figure 6. 2 Flora indicators used for forecasting extreme weather of climate variability and extreme weather events

Figure 6. 3 Traditional Cyclone Shelters (Gamali).

Figure 6. 4 Green coconut leaves place on local houses on Vao Island in Vanuatu during Tropical Cyclone Hola in March 2018

Figure 6. 5  Caves and rock holes used by local people of Matasso Island during Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015

Figure 6. 6 A cassava patch prepared for a cyclone in Vanuatu.

Figure 6. 7  Some traditional Food crops and Plants used for Extreme Weather and Climate events.

Figure 6. 8  Typical Agroforestry Farm Plot in Vanuatu

Figure 6. 9  Vovohe (Ficus wassa) tree.

Figure 6. 10  Present of Namele leaves indicates restrictions to harvesting of Marine Resources.

Figure 6. 11  Gaironmaho (Oxera vanuatuensis) with its yellow flowers attached to the stem.

Figure 6. 12  Sources of water used during droughts

Figure 6. 13 Tanks used for water storage

Figure 6. 14  Streams and small rivers as source of water for Villages in Aligu District

Figure 7. 1  Observed Change visible along Coastline at Laone Village (Ahivo District)

Figure 7. 2 Dual governance structures

Figure 7. 3 Traditional Village governing Structure of Agatoa Village in Gaitunhinleo Ward Council, North Pentecost

Figure 8. 1  Average Annual Precipitation for Pekoa, 1988 to 2010

Figure 8. 2  Mean Annual Minimum Temperature for Pekoa, 1988 to 2010

Figure 8. 3  Mean Annual Maximum Temperature for Pekoa, 1988 to 2010

Figure 8. 4  Multiple Roles of culture in Community -Based Adaptation……………

Figure 8. 5  Trend of Traditional Knowledge Uses and Understanding in Vanuatu………

Figure 8. 6  Participatory Methods for Formalizing TK as tools for Community-Based Climate Change Adaptation


Table 2. 1  TEK Categories for Wiriwoong…………………………….

Table 4. 1  Climate Change Issues and Adaptation programmes since 2007 (VanGov)

Table 5. 1   List of Interviewees (coded) and Interview Date

Table 5.2  Themes identified through thematic analysis.

Table 6. 1  Faunas as indicators of short-term (daily and weekly) weather conditions

Table 6. 2  The behaviour of fauna as indicators of tropical cyclone events

Table 6.3  Use of flora behaviour as indicators for extreme weather events

Table 6.4  Atmospheric Conditions as Indicators of Short -Term Environmental Change

Table 6.5  Atmospheric Conditions as Indicators of Long-Term Environmental Change

Table 6.6  Astronomical and marine conditions as indicators of short-term variations in weather conditions

Table 6.7  Traditional Food and Management Practices for Weather and Climate Extremes.

Table 6. 8 Water sources and Management Practices

Table 8. 1  Proposed Key concept from Participatory Approach


RAGA TERMS English Definition
Mwaragi Native name for Ground Dove (Emerald Dove)
Ahea The leftover of fallen fruit of Namabe collected and safely stored as source of food to be eaten after a disasters events such as cyclone.
Raramemea The Season of dry periods usually happens around July and August.
Tumun Gai Large tree roots that coiled around completely that can hold water
Waibilake Native name for Northerly wind direction
Gadue Native name for Westerly wind direction
Dueliu Native name for Easterly wind direction
Bwatgahuna Native name for Southerly wind direction
Rarasi Native name for North-easterly winds direction
Waibilake ata vui Native name for North westerly winds direction
Maliudu Maliudu is shallow or lower areas or small valleys that plants and food crops such as leaf lap-lap, bananas, wild yams and other root crops are grown here and are protected or sheltered from strong winds of cyclones.
Gamali Traditional built community hall /cyclone shelter
Teretabwubwu A type of cyclone strong wind strength usually happens during cyclones seasons that destroyed mainly food and plants. Usually during January and February.
Siritano A cyclone that brings with it a lot of rain, stronger than Teretabwubwu.
Ulugaitavu (Luluigai) Native description of a very strong or severe cyclone with very strong winds and rain that could uproots large trees and destroys everything along its part.
Mera Native description of the thin layer of clouds usually reddish orange in colour and appears on the horizon where the sun sets.
Wai ronuhe Native name given to a dug water source in the bush.
Wai Non Taga Native name given to a water source near the coast.
Udu Native name for Palolo worms
Pirivovohe Native name of vovohe fruits
Damtarabe Native description of yams that are stored in safe locations as source of food for disasters


AR1   IPCC First Assessment Report

AR4   IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

AR5   IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

AHD   Ahivo District

ALD   Aligu District

AUD   Aute District

CBA   Community Based Adaptation

CBD   Community Based Development

CBNRM  Community Based Natural Resource Management

CCA   Climate Change Adaptation

CF   Consent Form

DRR   Disaster Risk Reduction

EPA   United States Environmental Protection Agency

FAO   Food and Agriculture Organization

GIZ  Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Development Agency)

IK   Indigenous Knowledge

IPCC   Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

LDC   Least Developed Countries

NGO   Non-Government Organization

NP   North Pentecost

NRM   Natural Resource Management

PIC   Pacific Island Countries

PIS   Participant Information Sheet

SIDS   Small Island Developing States

SPREP   South Pacific Regional Environmental Program

TA   Thematic Analysis

TEK   Traditional Ecological Knowledge

TIK   Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

TK   Traditional knowledge

UAHPEC  University of Auckland Human Participant Ethics Committee

UN   United Nations

UNDP   United Nation Development Program

UNISDRR  United Nation Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

USP   University of the South Pacific

VNSO   Vanuatu National Statistical Office

WIPO   World Intellectual Property Organization


1.1 Introduction

Over the last two decades, as consensus has grown amongst scientists about the drivers and impacts of climate change, a plethora of new research has identified that rural communities in the Pacific Islands nations are amongst the most vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. A wealth of studies has assessed the nature of biophysical and contextual vulnerabilities in the Pacific communities, with places and peoples mapped out as living in hazardous locations and lacking capacities to adapt due to limited knowledge and resources. However, less scholarly attention has been devoted to exploring how local communities who have lived on islands for generations have cope with and adapted to variable and changing social and environmental conditions (Warrick, 2010). This thesis aims to address one gap in the literature, how TK is used by rural communities to manage climate variability and extremes weather events. Rather than focusing on vulnerability which has been debated in many studies (O’Brien & Wolf, 2010; Schwarz et al., 2011; Warrick, 2011; Wheeler, 2011), for this study I focus on resilience and the capacity of local communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

This thesis examines the different ways in which traditional knowledge (TK) informs local communities in Vanuatu perceptions of and responses to climate variability and extreme weather events, and the role of TK in adaptation to the impacts of climate change. I argue, and will demonstrate, that TK is an important component of North Pentecostal communities’ adaptive capacities. The abilities of individuals, households and entire communities to plan for and take action to address to climate extremes and environmental changes in rural Vanuatu is often dependent on their local environmental knowledge and implementation of natural resource management and disaster risk reduction strategies. At present there are limited attempts by communities, government, and scientific organisations to integrate TK with western science to improve climate science and adaptation efforts. My study highlights the need to move beyond simply thinking of TK as a repository of environmental information that can augment or fill in gaps in scientific knowledge. Rather, my research with my own and other neighbouring communities of North Pentecostal in Vanuatu demonstrates how TK is (or was previously) extensively and successfully used to reduce climate-related risks to people’s livelihoods, and social health and wellbeing. Although TK is not used in CBA projects in North Pentecost at present, there is potential for community-driven and directed adaptation efforts that incorporate both western science and TK to achieve sustainable futures for rural communities.

In Vanuatu rural communities, classified by the IPCC as being highly vulnerable due to their geographical location and lack of resources (such as financial, technological, natural resources, and education), employ their TK to manage climate variability and extremes and in doing so demonstrate a high degree of adaptive capacity (Berkes et al , 2000; Fletcher et al., 2013; Leonard et al, 2013a; Okonya & Kroschel, 2013; Orlove et al, 2010; Zuma-Netshiukhwi et al, 2013a). For this thesis, traditional knowledge of the local people in the rural communities on North Pentecost in Vanuatu is identified and investigated on its uses and roles in adapting to these changes. Also, it explores how traditional knowledge as part of values and belief system could be incorporated into the development of community-based climate change adaptation strategies. In doing that, this section firstly discusses the challenges that prompt such adaptation strategies. Then, it discusses the contribution of this research to the body of literature in environmental management. Furthermore, it outlines the research question and objectives and finally it details how this thesis is organized.

1.2 Environmental Change and Traditional Knowledge

The changes in the natural ecological system as result of climate change has widespread impacts across all sections of societies from developed to developing countries. The Fifth IPCC report states that warming of the atmosphere is causes by recent anthropogenic emission of green-house gases and the impacts will be visible on continents and across oceans (IPCC AR5, 2014 , Pachauri et al., 2014). Most of the impacts with/and observed changes are reported in extreme weather and climate events such , decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, increase high sea level and increase in number of heavy precipitation events (Pachauri et al., 2014). The risk is unevenly distributed and greater for disadvantage people and communities in terms food and water security, infrastructure, health and overall ecological systems. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which includes Pacific nations such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and  Samoa, are identified as being highly vulnerable to the impacts of  climate change (Bell et al, 2011; Betzold, 2015; O’Brien & Wolf, 2010; Warrick, 2011).

Pacific SIDS are classified as highly vulnerable due to geographical location which inhabits ecosystems that are increasingly prone to the effect of environmental change. These marginal environments or high risk areas exposed to seal level rise, increase in tropical cyclone frequency and strength, increase in air and sea surface temperatures and changing rainfall patterns (Lefale, 2010; Nurse et al., 2014; Schwarz et al., 2011). For instance, Vanuatu has experienced one of the severe tropical cyclones in its history when tropical cyclone Pam destroyed mostly infrastructures and agricultural products in early March 2015 (Hazelgrove-Planel, 2015; Hong et al., 2018). Also, Pacific Islanders are directly dependent on their surrounding lands and resources for meeting their basic livelihood needs (Minar et al, 2013; Warrick, 2011) and furthermore, for rural Pacific communities, the capacity to adapt to such changes is a challenge due to poorly developed infrastructure and limited natural , human and economic resources (Betzold, 2015). Many of the local communities rely or revisited their traditional knowledge to adjust to this current climatic variability and sea level rise by building seawall to reduced sea flooding and erosions (Nunn et al, 2017), planting drought resistance crops, building and revisiting traditional buildings infrastructure (Lebel, 2013a)

While natural environmental changes may create challenges for rural local communities to continue their traditional ways of life, yet other challenges intricated by socio- economic factors must also take into considerations(Gómez-Baggethun et al, 2013). Natural environment system coevolves with social systems that helps strengthen the capacity of human societies to deal with the disturbances and maintain ecosystem services favourable for local livelihoods. This evolution may be disturbed by globalization where use of science and information in policy for governance and decision making are being called to address climate change impacts  (Eakin & Lemos, 2006) without acknowledging the indigenous knowledge capacities. The impacts of natural environmental changes affecting rural communities must research in conjunction with social changes. This is to allow full dynamics of changes that communities really faced.

Climate change adaptation has become an issue where western knowledge tend to dominate climate change adaptation and seen as the only option of climate change adaptation. While, developed countries with resources could be well off with using scientific knowledge for adapting to climate variability, a focus was put  on integration of western and traditional knowledge for community -based adaptation (Alexander et al., 2011; Birkmann & Teichman, 2010a; Hiwasaki et al, 2014a; Lebel, 2013e; Mercer et al, 2007; Raymond et al., 2010). However, little is known about the uses and roles of traditional knowledge in indigenous communities and the capacity they have. Other scholars argued that using western science for climate change adaptation in community-based adaptation program is challenging and tend to override the real community goal of adaptation initiated by local people (Adger et al, 2013a; Changrsquo et al, 2013; Naess, 2013a). A need to fully understand all aspect of traditional knowledge so that integration process must involve equal contributions from both knowledge in proposed community-based adaptations.

Betzold (2015) argued that ‘local turn’ in adaptation may be a step in the right direction for communities with limited resources. This is when full adaptation measures are taken care by the communities themselves. Traditional and indigenous adaptation practices are utilised. It is where communities know about their needs and options and be able to make informed decisions and implement them according to their diverse adaptation needs. However, many local communities  do not have uniform climate change risk (Nurse et al., 2014), therefore, adaptation needs are variable from one island region to another. For that, the traditional knowledge of the environment in each region or local area is significant for each challenge caused by climate variabilities and changes.

In this thesis I demonstrate that traditional knowledge could be used in insolation as a mechanism for climate change adaptation. I argued that national government policy on traditional knowledge must recognised and elevate the awareness of traditional knowledge in the area of climate change adaptation. The IPCC report for 2007 has recognized traditional knowledge, yet, there is little critical engagement with indigenous knowledge systems, and the historical and contextual complexities of indigenous experiences are largely overlooked (Ford et al., 2016). More emphasis was placed on integrating of knowledge between science and local knowledge , however, in most cases this does not fulfil the goal of adaptation because “classification of knowledge is arbitrary and knowledge integration perspectives are qualitatively very different” (Raymond et al., 2010b). A co-management approach could encourage learning and collaborations among science and local knowledge through practical policies (Armitage et al., 2009; Olsson, Folke et al, 2004).

In chapter 6 and 7 of this thesis, I demonstrate that traditional knowledge was widely used by local people of North Pentecost in Vanuatu to adapt to changes in the natural environment. Based on the three key components of TK identified from this research, traditional knowledge of environmental monitoring, management strategies and practises and worldviews, it strongly argued that traditional knowledge could be used to adjust to natural environmental changes.

1.3 Research Contributions

Traditional knowledge of local and indigenous people have been recognised in many areas of studies such as in health (Tynan et al., 2011; Viney et al., 2014), medicine (Bradacs, Heilmann, & Weckerle, 2011; Hossan et al., 2010; Vitalini et al., 2013) , disaster risk reduction (Gaillard & Mercer, 2013; Kelman, Mercer, & Gaillard, 2012; Mercer, Kelman, Taranis, & Suchet-Pearson, 2010; Walshe & Nunn, 2012) . The concept of traditional knowledge as options for adapting to climatic environmental change and reducing risk to natural disasters is widely accepted by international communities.

The findings of this research contributes to the wide body of literatures (Fletcher et al., 2013; Gero, Meheux, & Dominey-Howes, 2011; Lebel, 2013b; Leonard, Parsons, Olawsky, & Kofod, 2013b; McNamara & Prasad, 2013; Zuma-Netshiukhwi, Stigter, & Walker, 2013b) on the uses and roles of traditional and indigenous knowledge in climate change adaptations. Recent studies have emerged that explores how traditional knowledge can become part of a shared learning effort to address adaptation in climate variabilities and change for resilience and sustainable community in the Pacific such as (McNamara & Prasad, 2014) coping strategies of the communities in Vanuatu and Fiji on extremes weather events. For example, Gero et al. (2011) and Walshe & Nunn. (2012) describing the incorporation of local knowledge in community-based disaster rick reduction and climate change adaptation in the Pacific, and (Dumaru, 2010) on community based climate change adaptation on Druadrua Island in Fiji and (McNaught et al, 2014).

Using the context of rural setting in Vanuatu for this study, I construct an analytical argument based on the data from the fieldwork and argued that the uses and role of traditional knowledge helped people of North Pentecost in Vanuatu to adjust to climatic environmental change. They use their knowledge to predict both short and long terms environmental change and how to adapt to these changes using traditional management of adaptations and practices intact within the cultural and traditional values and beliefs system. I argue that TK as a significant component of people’s values and belief systems must be controlled and management by the communities themselves. This is because any decision of adaptation undertaken must always favour the goals and aspirations of the local communities. For that, Community-Based Adaptation must be community driven.

1.4 Research Question and Objectives

The global climate system is change due to human influences (Pachauri et al., 2014), thus natural environment are the first to response to these changes. Local people who live in rural parts of the world and those that their livelihood depends on natural environment for daily living will be the first to see these changes. Many local communities were able to cope with such changes according to their needs based on their traditional and indigenous way of adaptation. Many rural communities in Vanuatu use their traditional knowledge to adjust to these changes. Even though, traditional knowledge has be recognised as an option for climate change adaptation in the Pacific (Allen, 2015; Barnett, 2001; Forsyth, 2017; Gero et al., 2011; Mercer et al., 2007, 2010; Williams & Hardison, 2013), there is little attention that related to its understanding of the uses and roles of traditional that is intact within the rural local communities.

This thesis aims to answer the question: to what extent Traditional Knowledge is used by local people to adjust to current climate variability and extremes and how could it be incorporated into the development of sustainable community-based adaptation strategies?

Guided by the main research questions, the following research objectives were

  • To identify the TK indicators used by local people to adjust to climate variabilities and extremes.
  • To investigate what types of indicators are perceived by local people to be the most important to manage climate variability and change.
  • To explore how traditional knowledge as part of indigenous belief system can incorporate into the development of community-based adaptation strategies.

1.5 Research Study Site

The research focuses on the island of Pentecost (Figure 2). Pentecost is part of the province of PENAMA with a total population of 16,899 people based on 2016 Mini Census (VNSO, 2016). Pentecost is divided into four areas; North Pentecost, Central Pentecost 1, Central Pentecost 2 and South Pentecost. This research targets North Pentecost area council with a total population of 5,778 people (VNSO, 2016). The total land area of Pentecost is 490 square kilometres with the highest elevation of 947 metres above sea level. The high mountain ranges divide the humid and rainy eastern coast from the more temperate western coast.

Figure 1. 1  Map of Vanuatu and Study Site

A close up of a map

Description generated with very high confidence

Source :

People live in small rural villages, surviving by subsistence agriculture. Copra was the main export for many years, but this was overtaken by kava, a narcotic root used to prepare for traditional drink. Since, kava has become commercialized, people turn to kava for quick cash. Pentecost is well known throughout Vanuatu as the main kava producing island that supplies most of the kava products to the two towns of Port Vila and Luganville and as well as to overseas markets such as New Caledonia and the United States of America.

1.6 Thesis Organisations

The reminders of the chapters are outline below:

Chapter 2 reviews and critics the different body of international published academic literatures on the uses and roles of traditional knowledge in climate change and disaster risk reduction. The debate focuses on the phenological aspect of the uses and roles of traditional knowledge of monitoring weather and climate hazards. Natural Resource Management (NRM) is discussed in relations to the community-based climate change adaptions strategies. Furthermore, the benefit of using traditional knowledge in providing data and adaptation strategies in the context of sustainable development is discussed and finally the different world views and beliefs in relation to climate change are highlighted.

Chapter 3 continues to review and critics the different body of published and grey literatures on climate change adaptations in the Pacific Island countries. This Chapter focuses on the vulnerability, both physical and social vulnerability and highlights the extent on the current uses and roles of traditional knowledge in adaptations by exploring the community-based adaptation strategies.

Chapter 4 describes the context of the field study site of Vanuatu. It describes the political and governing structure as channel for climate change adaptation policies to local communities. The emphasis will be on local communities or village government structures which provides clear pathways on how to incorporate traditional knowledge into the development of community adaptations strategies. This chapter is important for the discussions as it will give some ideas on how local people sustain the activities of subsistence farming and their way of life amid climate variabilities and change.

Chapter 5 present the framework on how data are obtained through qualitative approach. In depth semi-structured interview approach is described on how it is used to collect primary data from indigenous experts and local people on the uses and roles of traditional knowledge on the changes in the environment. Secondary sources from government publications were also gattered to support results and discussion. This chapter also outline and discuss the thematic analysis method used for the data analysis and also some challenges on the approach were described.

Chapter 6 & 7 present the results of the field research in relation to the question and objectives of this thesis. The three themes emerged from the data analysis were discussed. The facts and information used for monitoring environmental changes, management strategies for adapting to these changes, insights of local people on incorporating TK in community-based adaptations, perceptions of climate changes and the worldviews (values and belief systems).

Chapter 8 discusses the results in support of the wider academic literatures focusing on the uses of traditional knowledge for environmental monitoring and climate change, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptations strategies. Also, linking wider worldviews with the values and belief system of the local people of North Pentecost

Chapter 9 concludes this thesis by revisiting the thesis objectives. Also, it discusses the limitation of this research and proposes two considerations for future research (policy linkage and gender participations and climate change adaptations in Vanuatu).




2.1 Introduction

Traditional knowledge (TK) is part of socio-economic and cultural structures for the indigenous communities throughout many parts of the world. It has been a cornerstone for their livelihood which determines how these communities cope with and adapt to the changes in the environment (Leon et al., 2015; Nyong, Adesina, & Elasha, 2007; Riedlinger & Berkes, 2001). In this chapter, I explore the uses and roles of traditional knowledge in climatic variabilities and change. There is a firm belief that traditional knowledge helps in identifying onsets of these adverse ecological changes which triggers appropriate management options to adapt to these changes (D. Green & Raygorodetsky, 2010; Donna Green et al., 2010; Okonya & Kroschel, 2013; Weatherhead et al., 2010).

Traditional knowledge is seen as a mechanism for participatory approaches and is sustainable. Moreover, TK increases the rate of effective communication and dissemination of climate change mitigation and adaptation at the local scale level (A. Nyong, Adesina, & Elasha, 2007a). In part, I argue that traditional knowledge management techniques can be used to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate changes. I discuss how traditional knowledge systems, belief, and values shape and have shaped adaptation strategies of many indigenous communities in the face of adverse environmental changes caused by past and current climate variability and extremes. I begin by defining traditional knowledge based on different authors definitions. Then, I dicsuss the extent  to which traditional traditional knowledge is used in climate change and disaster risk reduction and the different worldviews .

2.2 Defining Traditional Knowledge

The definition of traditional knowledge is debated by many scholars and viewed in different contexts. Berkes (2017) claims that there is no concise or accepted definition of traditional knowledge due to its ambiguous and dynamic form, and how TK is used in each given context. In a similar but narrow concept, Dutfield (2003) refers to traditional knowledge as a knowledge associated with the environment rather than knowledge related to the environment. Dutfield’s definitions describe the knowledge as the use of plant and animal species, as well as soil and minerals; knowledge of preparation, processing, or storage of useful species; knowledge of formulations involving more than one ingredient; knowledge of individual species, and knowledge of ecosystem conservation for practical purposes by the local community or their culture. Similarly, Berkes et al, (2000) define traditional knowledge as knowledge based on accumulation of observations and practical experiences passed on from different generations.

Traditional knowledge is the main subject of all knowledge related to the environment and others are a subset of it such as indigenous or local knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). According to Li, (2014), indigenous knowledge can be defined in two ways, as a knowledge held and used by communities, people and nations that are “indigenous’ and as the knowledge that is itself “indigenous.” Traditional ecological knowledge refers to knowledge systems embedded in the cultural traditions of regional, indigenous and local communities.. Berkes Fikret et al., (2000) underpins the definition of traditional ecological knowledge by stating that traditional ecological knowledge is an enduring link between humans and the environment and is regarded as part of an everyday way of doing things. In support of this, traditional knowledge can be regarded as the main component of community survival at first glance in relation to natural environmental hazards.

Indigenous, traditional and traditional ecological knowledge can be used interchangeably with each other. However, most scholars favor using indigenous knowledge than traditional knowledge (Berkes et al., 2000). For this paper, the term traditional knowledge is used.

2.3 Understanding Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Adaptation

Scholars argue that traditional knowledge can be used as a tool to enhance the understanding of local climate in a data deficient region so that adaptation strategies are more robust at the local scale (Fernández-Llamazares et al., 2017; Pennesi et al., 2012; Riedlinger & Berkes, 2001). Leonard et al. (2013) documented traditional ecological knowledge (Figure 2.1) by indigenous people of Australia.

Table 2. 1 TEK Categories for Wiriwoong

TEK Categories TEK Applications
Environmental knowledge
  • Classification of weather conditions
  • Seasonal indicators
  • Observations of climate variability and change
  • Water availability
Use of biodiversity resources and management of environment
  • Fire management
  • Harvesting activities
  • Water way management
  • Biodiversity monitoring
  • Ethics and values
  • Cultural identity
  • Adaptation options

Source: (Leonard et al., 2013)

This argument is underpinned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that studies on climate change and global environmental change have explored indigenous knowledge to become part of a shared learning effort to address climate-change impacts.(IPCC AR4, 2007). To date, however, this remains particularly true in most developing countries where scientific data is lacking and that the only source of reliable information is through traditional knowledge ( Soriano et al, 2017; Weatherhead et al., 2010). In Northern Philippines, for example, traditional ecological and climate knowledge of the local people have helped them adapt to the perceived changes which help them to continually sustain the success of their local rice productions (Soriano et al., 2017). The traditional knowledge and use of bioclimatic indicators that link changes to atmospheric conditions such as wind, temperature and cloud formation with the behavior of flora and fauna throughout the seasons enable adjustments to how local people act and sustain their livelihood (Granderson, 2017). Moreover, it has further emphasized the importance that indigenous people must be included in the adaptation planning process so that they can identify strategies that are culturally appropriate and effective in responding to local weather and climate extremes(Soriano et al., 2017). Furthermore, it will allow traditional knowledge to be used in climate change research as a source of climate history and a baseline data for observed changes.

As stated above, TK can be used to inform science and contribute to enhancing community-based adaptation strategies (Green t al., 2010; Jacobi et al., 2017). For example, traditional knowledge is used in the Arctic region to monitor and observe the behavior of animals under changing environment contributes to science in understanding the movement and availability of livestock (Herrmann et al., 2012). Moreover, in Australia, natural resource scientists increasingly recognise traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of aboriginal people in fire, water and food management as a coping mechanism to adapt to extreme weather and climate conditions (Donna Green et al., 2010; Leonard et al., 2013; Prober et al., 2011) .Significantly, traditional knowledge has established a firm foundation that is already regonised and used within scientific communities.

On the other hand, climate change is disrupting traditional knowledge and culture of indigenous people (O’Brien & Wolf, 2010). A case in point is the Arctic region and the Philippines where local people experience difficulty in predicting the weather due to changing weather patterns (Soriano et al., 2017; Weatherhead et al., 2010). Recent evidence and prediction indicate that climate changes will lead to a wide-ranging shift in weather and climate variables (IPCC AR5, 2014). Consequently, the differences in climate variabilities and extremes will affect natural resources, food and water security (Heltberg et al., 2009; Walck et al, 2011; Walther, 2010; Walther et al., 2002). Local and indigenous people will have to cope with these changes not only by using their current traditional knowledge to adapt but to revisit past knowledge or invent new ways of adaptation to deal with these changes.

In realizing the scope of traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation, the national and international agencies and governments in both the developed and developing world tend to focus their attention on the documentation and research into this discourse (IPCC AR5, 2014, p. 637). The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC states with high confidence that the documentation of traditional methods of adaptation in both developed and developing countries have grown (IPCC AR5., 2014). This is true for Western United State and the Pacific islands where the opportunities to document and apply indigenous knowledge to support policy and practices of adaptive strategies (Armatas et al., 2016; Chambers et al., 2017). Again, there has been an increased effort by climate change scientists in relying on the observations of environmental change by local hunters and gatherers to better understand how to develop effective adaptation strategies (Da Silva et al., 2014; Ignatowski & Rosales, 2013). This shows the importance of TK in complementing western knowledge.

The significant increase of documenting traditional knowledge for climate change adaptation came to reality when Pacific island countries created a database for traditional knowledge indicators in weather and climate prediction (Chambers et al., 2017). Consequently, increasing documentation and research into TK is usually accepted as vital to both current and future use. However, caution must be taken when using TK if there are challenges in applying it to the rapidly changing environment, and for this, it must be recorded as a baseline for future research references. There is no such thing as a static solution to a wicked problem. Concerns were raised by Weatherhead et al., (2010) that documentation of TK must be done with care and in collaboration with the local TK holders.  Pennesi et al., (2012) argue that the significant aspect of developing traditional weather knowledge is the amount of time spent and experience engaging in activities such as farming, hunting, and fishing.

2.3.1 Traditional Knowledge Indicators

Adaptation involves being sensitive to interpretive signs in the environment and knowing how to respond (Weber , 2010). Indigenous people who are hunters, fishers, and who actively use the land and its resources possess a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge because of their close observation of the environment which includes looking for signs of change (Armatas et al., 2016; Ignatowski & Rosales, 2013). Armatas et al. (2016) argue that traditional phenological knowledge improves resilience to social and ecological systems amidst climate change by providing indicators to identify and assess environmental change. By contrast, the most significant aspect of developing local weather and climate knowledge is the amount of time spent engaging with the environment (Pennesi et al., 2012). To support this, Leonard et al. (2013) give an example of pelicans making corkscrew-like flights in the sky indicating signs to Aboriginal people that water sources may have dried up. Other traditional knowledge indicators used by indigenous people to signal changes of the environment include cloud formations, wind directions, increase in night-time temperature, time of growth and flowering of plants and behaviour of animals and birds (Barnhardt, 2005; Chang’a et al., 2010; Granderson, 2017; Lefale, 2010; Leonard et al., 2013; Orlove et al., 2010; Pennesi et al., 2012; Weatherhead et al, 2010). Granderson (2017) examines the link between the traditional knowledge indicators and the behavior of flora and fauna from environmental conditions that enable local people to act accordingly through seasons. In effect, the contributions of traditional indicators of environmental change are potentially important to climate change adaptation.

In contrast to the previous discussion, traditional knowledge indicators have also come under increasing challenges of predicting weather and climate due to rapidly changing environments (Weatherhead et al., 2010). Thus, as claimed by Fernández-Llamazares et al., (2017) caution is recommended when considering using indigenous knowledge to predict change in climate. Mengistu (2011) highlights the inconsistency of environmental indicators and cultural beliefs that even though they are part of local people’s knowledge and experiences, they are still difficult to compromise. He further argues that this will have an impact on adjusting traditional practices to adapting to climate change. Consequently, the socioecological resilience of local people may be affected due to their close connection to the natural world (Green & Raygorodetsky, 2010) and for this reason, when doing place-based research, facets of indigenous knowledge must be taken seriously (Berkes, 2012, p. 176).

2.3.2 Traditional Knowledge Management System

It is widely acknowledged that traditional knowledge management systems have not been fully utilized when dealing with natural disasters and current environmental changes (Mercer, 2010a). Mercer further argues that for community-based adaptation to be successful, the past and present traditional knowledge and experiences must be considered. Indigenous people have socially constructed their own ways of adjusting to climate variabilities and change, an aspect of reducing the risk of disasters based on their locally developed knowledge and practices (Leonard et al., 2013). As an equivalent to Leonard et al., Berkes, (2012) states that traditional knowledge has provided a baseline against which to compare changes and the strategies to manage these changes. Moreover, traditional knowledge offers a tool to ground-truth gridded descriptions of climate changes, so that adaptation strategy is more robust at local scales (Fernández-Llamazares et al., 2017)

There is a wealth of knowledge that has been practiced and adapted to over generations especially in areas of disasters and natural resource management and also agricultural and food security that has contributed to sustaining the life and living experiences of indigenous communities (Berkes & Ross, 2013). Natural Resource Management

The indigenous rural communities throughout many parts of the developing world rely heavily on resources from the natural environment including forest, marine, and surface freshwater resources for their survival (Singh et al., 2010). They organize and use their traditional knowledge and skills to manage the elements of their natural resources for food security, cultural and ritual activities, and for preservation and protection against natural disasters and other adverse weather events (Anthwal et al., 2010). Traditional knowledge and skills for conservation and protection are rooted in these types of practices, and most of them have been practiced until today (Léopold et al., 2013). For example, the practices of using traditional off-limits or taboo signs (Namele (Cycads) leaf) commonly used in the Pacific islands to indicate areas that are restricted to human activities for many years (Léopold et al., 2013). As well as the traditional knowledge of looking after totems or natural features that are connected to a clan or clans within an indigenous society and the traditional techniques of fishing or hunting which only allow for limited removal of species for consumption (Swanson, 2017). These methods are some of the self-learning models which involve traditional knowledge as a tool to control unsustainable use and for the survival of rare species of resources. The promotion of traditional knowledge-based practices such as those mentioned earlier can facilitate the conservation of resources and the subsistence survival of local people during extreme climate and weather events (Singh et al., 2010)

Before the concept of integration of knowledge emerged, and the increase in socioeconomic activities, traditional knowledge management for natural resources has been practiced and dominated by local and indigenous communities for many centuries (Stocker et al., 2016). In the Pacific islands, indigenous people developed a sophisticated understanding of the natural process regulating abundance and practical strategies to manage those resources (Friedlander et al., 2013). For example, fishing periods only happen outside spawning sessions or in a way that does not disturb mating and spawning seasons, and large trees are preserved for canoe-building (Friedlander et al., 2013a). This allows for fish and other sea creatures to replenish.

Traditional or indigenous knowledge has fit well with the concept of community-based natural resources. The idea of community-based natural resource management came about with the realization that there are a plethora of challenges when social systems interact with natural systems, a wicked problem (Cox et al., 2010, p. 249). As mentioned earlier in this section, an enormous number of scholarships on roles of traditional knowledge in the community are based on natural resource management and most of these scholarships are a concern with resource management in the developing world.

For the Pacific islands, traditional and local knowledge has contributed to resource management due to pressure on populations because of socio-economic development and climate change impacts (Clarke & Jupiter, 2010; Foale et al., 2011; Friedlander et al., 2013; Lebel, 2013) . For example, the works of Kronen et al., 2010 and Lebel, 2013) emphasize that local knowledge must be used to identify changes caused by climate change on the natural environment at the local level. One of the findings of Chamley (2010), is the Native Americans used traditional ecological and local knowledge to manage the northwest forest which resulted in maintaining the biodiversity despite a lack of scientific evidence. According to McMillen et al., (2014), community-based and participatory approaches can complement ground-truth models and appropriately direct resource management and adaptation measures at the local level of the communities. Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a development system and application of policies and strategies to minimize impacts of natural hazards and increase resilience to disasters amongst vulnerable societies (Kelman et al., 2012; Mercer et al., 2010).  The relationship of traditional knowledge to disaster risk reduction has become recently valuable due to its transferability and adaptability, participatory approaches mechanism and empowerment among vulnerable communities (Shaw et al., 2008). Many aspects of traditional knowledge are used in the developing world to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters such as tsunami, flooding, storms, and droughts. The extent of using and relying on traditional knowledge to mitigate or respond to natural disasters has been widely common in developing nations like the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia to cope with and adjust to the changes caused by natural variability and disaster (Kelman et al., 2012b).  For example, indigenous knowledge has been used as part of mitigation and preparedness to warn local communities against tsunami in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Simeulue Island in Aceh, Indonesia (Fritz & Kalligeris, 2008; Syafwina, 2014; Walshe & Nunn, 2012). Furthermore, the uses and roles of traditional knowledge in DRR has been commonly mentioned in other scholarly publications such as Anna Gero, Méheux, & Dominey-Howes, (2011) on integration of DRR and CCA, Rahman & Rahman (2015) on natural and traditional defence mechanism in Bangladesh and McNamara & Prasad (2014) on coping with extreme weather that focuses on the Pacific islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.

Traditional knowledge has found its niche within the current and modern way of dealing with natural disasters and current climate variabilities and change. In support, Birkmann & von Teichman (2010) argue that indigenous knowledge could help facilitate the preparation of specific adaptation and DRR strategies at the local scale because of the lack of local or down-scaled data of climate change effects or the localisations of impacts of extreme weather. Traditional knowledge is of great value for scientific research and environmental management, particularly in areas where local measurement and scientific data are lacking or limited (Leon et al., 2015). Traditional knowledge informs emergency preparedness due to its flexibility and seasonal cycle that made it possible to be intimately connected  with the knowledge of the environment (Pearce et al., 2015). It was claimed that a lower death toll from the tsunami in the Simeulue Island of Indonesian was connected to traditional knowledge of the local people

Even though traditional knowledge is widely accepted in disaster and climate change adaptation, the real challenge is that it must be integrated with science before it can be used (“Fifth Assessment Report – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” n.d.-a; Hiwasaki, Luna, Syamsidik, & Shaw, 2014a; Mercer et al., 2007). Furthermore, Weichselgartner & Pigeon, (2015) state that it is essential to understand the connection that links disaster risk reduction, knowledge management, and social learning to help improve disaster risk reduction at the local community level. The connections that relate to the use of traditional knowledge, in tandem with scientific knowledge and the top-down, and bottom-up approaches, require the support of national institutions and policies (J.-C. Gaillard & Mercer, 2013). By recognizing the use and roles of traditional knowledge in reducing impacts of environmental hazards, will help to maintain the remaining capacity of this knowledge in the local communities, hence increase adaptations and promote resilience. Traditional Knowledge and Adaptation

The adverse impact of global climate change on food and water security is expected to have profound effects on the vulnerable indigenous communities whose livelihood depend on natural resources through subsistence agriculture and fishery activities (Barnett, 2011a; Vermeulen, Campbell, & Ingram, 2012; Wheeler & Von Braun, 2013). For these subsistence activities to be sustained , the local communities traditionally depend on careful observation of the environment including climatic factors such as wind direction, cloud formation and rainfall (Granderson, 2017). Adaptation is considered a critical factor that will shape the future severity of climate change impacts on food production (Altieri et al., 2015). For Pacific island communities, food security is tested when it comes to extremes evens such as tropical cyclones and droughts (Campbell, 2015). Although this is true, studies have shown that local and indigenous communities could use or depend on their traditional knowledge to ensure food and livelihood security are maintained during arduous periods such as  natural disasters and extreme weather and climate events (Campbell, 2015; Fletcher et al., 2013; Gyampoh et al., 2009; Krishna, 2011; Leonard et al., 2013; Power, 2008). For example, the traditional knowledge of food harvesting, sharing and consumption for the Aboriginal people in Canada and Australia (Beaumier & Ford, 2010a; Leonard et al., 2013b; Power, 2008a) and the mobility or shifting of people from Savannah areas to forest areas or closer to water sources that favour planting conditions during droughts for the Makushi people of Guyana (Krishna, 2011). For this reason, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) includes traditional and indigenous knowledge in policies and programmes and recognize traditional knowledge as tools to tackle problems of climate change (FAO, 2009). Traditional Knowledge and Food Management

Food security consists of four components or elements which include food availability, ability to access food, ability to utilize food and the ability to sustain food supply (Barnett, 2011a; FAO, 2007). The elements of food security are treated by current climate variabilities and change (Wheeler & Braun, 2013). Other social factors have also threatened traditional food security such as limited accesses to traditional land, poverty, environmental pollution on traditional food system, loss of taste for traditional foods due to the intake of western foods and the decrease in the transfer of cultural knowledge from elders to young people (McCubbin et al., 2017; Power, 2008; Vermeulen et al, 2012). While there are challenges to food security, options are there for indigenous communities to utilise their traditional knowledge to cope with these changes.

According to the FAO, many local and indigenous communities have traditional knowledge related to thousands of indigenous crop and plant varieties, animal breeds and wild species that they use as food or medicine to ensure food and livelihood security (FAO,2009). For example, a traditional knowledge richness study in a single village in Vanuatu by Lebot & Siméoni (2015) found that 68 out of 70 traditional cultivars were identified by women alone and Bradacs, Heilmann, & Weckerle, (2011b) found 117 traditional flora used as a medicine on three other islands in Vanuatu. Again, 104 plant species are used by local people of Balkan region of Albania to foster resilience during periods of food insecurity(Quave & Pieroni, 2015) and 120 fodder plant species used in silvopastoral systems in Bolivia are used during the dry season (Jacobi et al., 2017). This shows that traditional knowledge practices and experiences of food cultivations and planting have been a backbone for indigenous people for many generations.

Numerous scholars have identified other traditional approaches to food security such as food preservation and conservation during extreme weather like  vegetables, breadfruit and cassava drying (Ibnouf, 2012; Warrick, 2011), cassava and yagona[1] stem cut to prevent wind damage during tropical cyclones (Campbell, 2015; Fletcher et al., 2013; K. E. McNamara & Prasad, 2014b), and burying the harvest of taro with soil or sand so that it can last up to six months to supplement food supply during disastrous events (Fletcher et al., 2013). In realizing the contributions of traditional knowledge and involvement of indigenous communities in adaptation throughout many parts of the world, many international institutions came to rally their support for these community-led initiatives on climate change adaptations(Fletcher et al., 2013; Krishna, 2011). For instance, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) came to focus its support on the protection of traditional knowledge (WIPO, 2009). Traditional knowledge provides the in-depth experiences in the local context regarding food and agriculture management in times of disaster and weather extremes.

Traditional approaches to planting and hunting seasons have become difficult to predict due to changing weather and climate patterns (Barnett, 2011; Gyampoh et al., 2009). Krishna (2011) argues that these changes could force indigenous communities to alter their traditional adaptive management systems and could jeopardize their food security. While this may be true in some sense, local people tend to use their traditional knowledge to maintain aspects of their food security by planting faster maturing and drought-resistant crop varieties and prudently identifying best times to hunt, as well as being selective when keeping livestock in areas where rainfall has declined (Armatas et al., 2016; K. E. McNamara & Prasad, 2014b; Mengistu, 2011; A. Nyong et al., 2007a). Other simple management techniques are also used such as adjusting the time of planting to collide with the onset of rain and introducing food for work scheme and small business such as the sale of firewood and even reducing the number of meals per day (Mengistu, 2011).

2.4 Worldviews

The worldviews on environmental changes are dynamically differentiated based on the traditions and the setting of places (Adger et al., 2009; O’Brien & Wolf , 2010). The approach to climate change adaptation is equally important to individuals and cultures (O’Brien & Wolf, 2010; Stringer et al., 2014). That is true in a sense that traditions tend to influence cultures and indigenous views and guide the local norms that direct indigenous people’s way of life (Abegunde, 2017). Traditions include social and spiritual elements that link to the environmental aspect of indigenous knowledge such as stories and legends (Berkes, 2017) because they signify meanings. Therefore, the values of meanings are rooted in place or land that are related to indigenous people’s way of knowing. These refer to the experiences and connections that are rooted in the everyday activities as people engage with the natural world.

Regarding a relational worldview, Stocker et al., (2016) identify three components of relationships that maintain the sustainability of environmental management. These components of relationships are found in human-environment relations, family, social relationships and the power of story. The values and beliefs in these relationships inspire people to have a sense of belonging to place and nature within their surroundings (Abegunde, 2017; Leonard et al., 2013; Stocker et al., 2016). In summary, having a close relationship with the natural environment leads to building a permanent connection and a bank of knowledge that significantly relates to specific aspects of survival for human and their natural resources.

O’Brien & Wolf, 2010 describe the influence of climate change at the local scale as both objective and subjective. This depends on how people respond and view the changes as vulnerable to their resilience. While this is true, it remains confident that traditional options of people in rural areas are nebulous when it comes to talking about effects of climate change (Abegunde, 2017). This explains why the people of Miriwoong in the Aboriginal region of Australia link the changes to the environment to the mistreatment of local land and the increasing physical infrastructure development in their country (Leonard et al., 2013b). On the other hand, Abegunde (2017) also found that level of an illiterate population and lack of awareness of climate change have also contributed to unenthusiastic appreciation to the effect of climate change in rural areas. Moreover, in Northern Philippines, the local rice farmers linked climate changes to the disappointment of their ancestral spirit due to the waning practices of their rituals (Soriano et al., 2017). Hence, the relationship of humans to the natural environment is significant when it comes to climate change adaptation. This may also raise concerns about the views of people and how they perceive the issues according to their settings and experiences.

In brief, O’Brien & Wolf, (2010) state that a values-based approach to climate change is significant because climate change is a wicked problem. It is dynamic and dimensionally oriented and can create value conflicts. It may be judged based on different value systems by future generations, and climate change itself challenges worldviews and values. The analysis on values-based approached to climate change adaptation is one of the criteria to study vulnerability discourse at the local scale contexts.

2.5 Conclusion

To understand the uses and roles of traditional knowledge in climate variabilities and change, three concepts of indigenous knowledge in relations to environmental management must be investigated. These are the traditional knowledge indicators of environmental change, the management strategies that are used to adapt to these changes and the worldviews which connect the local people to these changes. The traditional indicators of the environment are used as early warning signs for changes in both DRR and climate change. It is increasingly recognized that it can work alone or in tandem with external knowledge (Birkmann & von Teichman, 2010; Camacho et al., 2012; Carby, 2015; Mercer et al., 2009; Pennesi et al., 2012; Walshe & Nunn, 2012).

The use and roles of traditional knowledge in natural resource management are recognized through community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) activities where indigenous and external knowledge are utilized to maintain natural resources. It is adaptable that traditional knowledge used in agriculture and food security in times of extreme weather and climate events are workable in many local communities. TK offers scientist, policymakers and social development workers an opportunity to incorporate insight in local weather systems, impacts and coping strategies (Magee et al., 2016). However, the challenges remain on how to integrate traditional knowledge into the development of community-based adaptation strategies and to overcome different worldviews regarding climate change at the local level.



3.1 Introduction

This chapter explores the vulnerability of the Pacific people to current and future environmental change and the roles of traditional knowledge in managing these changes. It examines how the concepts of vulnerability and adaptation are used in climate change in the context of the Pacific Islands. The vulnerability is explored with specific reference to potential sections of the environment such as physical and social. The final part of this chapter looks at ways to cope with the changes to reduce vulnerability by exploring the community-based adaptation strategies. The emphasis is on traditional knowledge framework of adaptations.

3.2 Pacific Islands

The Pacific island regions are comprised of 22 countries and territories scattered throughout the tropical Pacific Ocean (see Figure 1). The people here depend on their natural environment for their sustenance and livelihoods. The countries are varied in terms of population and land areas with Papua New Guinea having the largest population (6,474,910 people) and land area (462,840 km2) and Tokelau with the smallest population (1,170 people)  and land area (12 km2) (Barnett & Campbell, 2010). The Pacific region is divided into three sub regions comprised of Melanesia with larger and higher or mountainous islands compared to Polynesia which is mostly volcanic to low-lying atolls. Micronesia is made up of atoll island territories mainly located to the north of the equator. The Pacific region has been heavily debated in relation to climate change in literature, international media and IPCC and environmental publications because of its vulnerability to the impact of climate change (Barnett, 2011; Barnett & Campbell, 2010; IPCC AR1-5). It has been identified that significant sectors such as food and agriculture, fisheries, water, and tourism are some of the sensitive sectors that will be affected (Barnett, 2011a). The SPREP has been mandated by the Pacific Island governments as a regional institution to oversee the adaptation program as a means to reduce vulnerability to the impact of climate change (SPREP)[2]

Figure 3. 1 Map of the Pacific Islands

A close up of a map

Description generated with high confidence

Source :

Pacific Islanders have been dealing with environmental change for centuries. Adaptation to these change is part of the Pacific community’s lifestyle, and traditional knowledge, values, and practices underpin the ability of the Pacific community to successfully live and engage within their environment (Barnett & Campbell, 2010). However, their livelihood, lifestyle, values and practice are becoming vulnerable to the novel anthropogenic climate change-related impacts (IPCC AR5, 2014) such as loss of coastal land due to rising sea levels, increase variability on rainfall pattern, adverse economic impacts through infrastructure damage and increased food insecurity from increased intensity of extreme weather events (Barnett, 2011a; Barnett & Campbell, 2010; Nurse et al., 2001). Dynamic adaptation strategies and policies are needed in order to reduce the islands vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Hall (2017) argues that there is no precise definition of adaptation due to it being epistemic ambiguity. This is because activities that are propagated are labeled as adaptation, and again it is difficult to monitor and track adaptation assistance.

3.3 Vulnerability

The term vulnerability has its roots in geography and disaster-related development work before employed in other research contexts including climate impacts and adaptation (Füssel, 2007). O’Brien & Wolf (2010) state that responding to climate change impacts depends significantly on what the effect of climate change means to those affected. In other words, their vulnerability factors will determine how they plan to adapt to such impacts. In brief, the level of vulnerability depends on the settings (exposure), the sensitivity of the ecosystems and level of capacity to adapt to the changes (Barnett & Campbell, 2010, p. 9).

Many scholars link vulnerability to other research contexts with more emphasis on disaster risk concepts (Heltberg et al., 2009). The IPCC Third Assessment Report defines vulnerability as, “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes ”(IPCC AR3,2001). Füssel (2007) states that vulnerability depends on the characteristics of risk, exposure, and sensitivity to risks and the expected impacts and losses. The use of vulnerability in terms of climate-related risk relates to all aspects of the effect of climate change. According to O’Brien & Wolf ( 2010) climate change cannot be assessed or responded to in only one way. The impacts of climate change are regarded as wicked problems which required dynamic responses.

Several vulnerability factors that are relevant to disaster reductions are physical, economic, social and environmental factors (“Fifth Assessment Report – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” n.d.-b; Hans-Martin Füssel, 2007a). This is equally related to S. Robinson (2017), who identifies 28 climates or climate-induced and 30 non-climate induced vulnerabilities in the small island developing states (SIDS). This shows that SIDS are among the countries in the world that are most vulnerable to climate change and required to adapt to its impacts. The Pacific Islands are vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to their exposure, sensitivity and coping/adaptive capacity (Barnett & Campbell, 2010, Blasiak et al., 2017; Heltberg et al., 2009; IPCC AR4 2007). Sietz et al. (2012) simplify the components of vulnerability with an example that, “if the sensitivity of a household is low and its adaptive capacity is high, then the household’s vulnerability is low.” This illustration highlights and demonstrates the vulnerability assessment in research when dealing with climate change adaptation at the local scale contexts.

3.4 Climate Change Vulnerability in the Pacific Islands

The Pacific Island countries (PIC) have been frequently cited as one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts (IPCC AR4 2007 ; Gero et al., 2011; Nunn et al, 2017; Orcherton et al., 2017; S. Robinson, 2017; Schwarz et al., 2011; Weir & Pittock, 2017; Wise et al., 2014) because of their geographical location in a climate-sensitive region which makes them vulnerable to tropical cyclones, rising sea levels, increase sea surface temperature and tidal surge (Barnett, 2011; Barnett & Adger, 2003; Weir et al., 2017). Moreover, this is coupled with island size, increased population, poverty and limited economic resources (Weir et al., 2017). According to the “Fifth Assessment Report – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” n.d.-b), there are five criteria to identify vulnerabilities. These include exposure to climate stressors, the importance of vulnerable systems, the ability to cope with and to build adaptive capacities, the persistence of vulnerable conditions and degree of irreversibility of consequences and the presence of conditions that make societies highly susceptible to cumulative stressors (IPCC AR5, 2014; Oppenheimer et al., 2014, p. 1051). There is no doubt that the criteria of vulnerabilities by IPCC is well vested with the Pacific Island countries.

According to the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP), most island countries are experiencing climate change impacts on communities, infrastructure, water supply, coastal and forest ecosystems, fisheries, agriculture and human health. This is because of their geographic locations and the size of the islands , their climate-sensitive sectors and also their weak adaptive capacity to deal with environmental hazards (Barnett & Campbell, 2010; IPCC AR5 2014; Heltberg et al., 2009) such as flooding, increase in sea surface temperature , sea level rise, storm surge and strong winds  (Duvat et al., 2017; Ellison et al., 2017; Thorne et al., 2017). For example, the top global index of vulnerability on climate change and marine fisheries for the least developed countries place seven Pacific island countries in the top ten positions (Blasiak et al., 2017). This shows that the climate change situation is increasingly driving sensitive sectors to the edge where appropriate adaptation strategies and policies are needed for sustainability of resources.

The works of Duvat et al. (2017) on trajectories of exposure and vulnerability in the Pacific reveal that the population of low-lying reef islands such as those in the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu are highly exposed and vulnerable because their locations are concentrated on flood-prone areas and in poor socio-economic and environmental conditions. Similarly, larger and high islands are also exposed to climate-related hazards risk because most human assets are located in low-lying coastal areas (Duvat et al., 2017; Thorne et al., 2017). Without a doubt, physical, social, economic and environmental sectors of the Pacific society are exposed and vulnerable to climate-related hazards (IPCC AR5 2014.). It is predicted that future impacts of climate change will have a negative influence on a wide range of socio-economic factors, including food security, livelihoods and public health and can reshape development trends and may inflict transboundary conflicts (Blasiak et al., 2017; McCubbin et al., 2015; McIver et al., 2015). It is not yet known whether all adaptation options are significant in reducing the vulnerability of climate change impacts to sensitive sectors. It is important that each island country develops adaptation strategies that are easy and those that have been practiced in the past to adjust to such environmental changes. The subsections below highlight how these sensitive sectors are vulnerable to climate change impacts.

3.4.1 Biophysical Vulnerability

The concept of a biophysical vulnerability refers to the combination of the function of hazards, exposure, and sensitivity (Brooks, 2003). In the context of the Pacific Islands, they are physically exposed to climate-related hazards such as tropical cyclones, droughts, sea level rise, coastal erosions and increases temperatures (IPCC AR4 2007; Füssel, 2007). As a result, the ecosystems that provide the main sources of resources for the Pacific people and their livelihood are sensitively affected by these climate-related stimuli (IPCC AR4 2007). For example, the changes in temperature and precipitation will bring changes in land suitability and crop yield (Schmidhuber & Tubiello, 2007)

Recently, it was highlighted that the Pacific Islands are already suffering the major impacts of climate change in some of their biophysical sectors such as coral reef and fisheries which are vital for coastal protection, food security and tourism (Blasiak et al., 2017; SPREP.; Weir et al., 2017). Barnett (2011) argues that climate change will adversely affect the food system in the regions. Moreover, with sea level rise, there are reported inundations of coastal areas which leads to saltwater intrusion that results in freshwater and crop contamination (Weir et al., 2017). Yet, not all local scenarios of climate change are similar, and options are available to the islanders on how to cope with these changes.

The biophysical vulnerability may be exacerbated by other social factors such as population growth and poverty (Adger, 1999). To date, however, it seems that climate change will continue to increase biophysical vulnerability to the Pacific Islands and that it will continue to have an impact on the socio-cultural lives of the people. With the rapid increase in the rate of climate change in the Pacific regions (IPCC AR5 2014) , adaptations will be the only option for the survival of the Pacific people unless mitigation actions are fulfilled.

3.4.2 Social Vulnerability

The factors that determine social vulnerability are poverty, inequality and food entitlement (Adger et al., 2003; Adger & Kelly, 1999) . This happens when individuals or groups of people are exposed to stress as a result of the social and environmental change (Adger, 1999). In other words, the study of the ability (adaptive capacity) of the population to respond and cope with unexpected changes and disruptive of livelihoods (Adger et al., 2003; Brooks, 2003). These factors of social vulnerability are based on a bottom-up approach which mainly focuses on vulnerable communities. Adger & Kelly (1999) argue that understanding the human use of natural resources is the bases of understanding the social vulnerability of a group or individual which leads to determining the coping and adaptive capacity to social and environmental change.

Pacific Island countries are socially vulnerable in the sense that climate change will significantly affect their socio-economic and cultural livelihoods. Brooks (2003) states that the nature of social vulnerability will largely depend on the nature of hazards in which the human system is exposed. For Pacific communities, populations, economics, food, and water are vulnerable to the impacts of climate hazards. For example, the vulnerable populations are those categorized as the youngest, oldest, disabled, poor and uneducated when disasters strike such as cyclones and droughts. Furthermore, some of the countries in the Pacific are regarded as Least Developed Countries (LDC)  by the United Nations (UN)[3] which means they have fewer resources to fund preventive activities and mega infrastructures for adaptations apart from their indigenous knowledge of adapting (Mercer, Kelman, Taranis, & Suchet-Pearson, 2010c).

Pacific Island food security will also be at risk or vulnerable to the impact of climate change as droughts, storms, cyclones and freshwater are contaminated by sea level rise, affecting agriculture products, quantity and quality of food and freshwater resources(Adger et al., 2003; Caruson & MacManus, 2008). However, Mercer et al. (2010) points out that due to limited resources for SIDS, indigenous knowledge is a crucial component of a potential strategy in reducing vulnerability to environmental hazards. Again, this depends on the people’s perceptions and values in relation to adaptation strategies. This will be discussed in the next section

3.5 Adaptation

The concept of adaptation comes from natural science (Barnett & Campbell, 2010, p. 16; Lenski, 2017) which examines how living things have adapted over generations, including human beings to the changing conditions such as personal, social, economic and climatic (IPCC AR5, 2014 p. 853). Due to the rapid rate of climate change, the term is employed by the international, regional and national government with strong emphasis from the IPCC to highlight the management of climate change risk in vulnerable communities (IPCC AR5, 2014).

However, the term (adaption) is still lagging behind mitigation efforts both in research and climate negotiation (IPCC AR5,2014). This is because its definitions are consistently broad and vague due to the lack of agreement over what constitutes adaptation (Hall, 2017; IPCC AR5,2014). Nevertheless, the First Assessment Report of IPCC defines it as “measures to reduce the impact of global climate change”, with a significant focus on technical activities such as engineering seawalls to protect against sea level rise (IPCC AR1, 1990). The concept was then broadened further in the Fourth Assessment Report of IPCC that defines adaptation as “initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects” (IPCC AR4, 2007). The report highlights the various type of adaptation such as anticipatory and reactive, private and public, and autonomous and planned adaptations. The latter definition of adaptation captures the social aspect that involves narrowing the concept of adaptation to more vulnerable dimensions of human society.

The Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC collectively defines adaptation as, “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects’’ (IPCC AR5,2014). Similar to IPCC AR5, Füssel, (2007) underpins the definition referring to adaptation as actions targeted at the vulnerable systems in response to actual or expected climate effects. Nevertheless, in a more local scale context in regards to the vulnerability point of view, the concept of adaptation involves being sensitive to the interpretive signs in the environment, make adjustments in line with the changes and knowing how to respond (adapt) (Adger et al., 2005; Pearce et al., 2015 , Nyong et al., 2007). Barnett & Campbell. (2010, p.16) argue that the response to changes in the environment depends on the nature, magnitude and speed of change and the attributes that are required for that particular type of change. In the context of the Pacific islands, the concept of vulnerability and adaptation depends on how people perceive these changes and the choice of adaption techniques they require that will be in line with their needs and values (Barnett & Campbell, 2010). In brief, adaptation at local scale communities is viewed based on the type of vulnerabilities.

3.6 Community-Based Adaptation in the Pacific Islands

Pacific Island countries must adapt to reduce vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. Community Based Adaptation (CBA) is an option because it is aligned to local culture, needs and capacity at the local level (Gero et al., 2011). CBA is an adaptation to environmental change caused by climate change at the local level in communities that include vulnerable people in design and implementation measures (Forsyth, 2017). The significance of CBA is that it encourages participants to build on the existing cultural norms to address concerns that make their livelihood vulnerable to the impact of climate change (Ayers & Forsyth, 2009; UNDP n.d.[4]; Dumaru, 2010) . Moreover, integrating CBA with external knowledge helps to raise awareness of climate change and increase communities accesses to external sources (Dumaru, 2010).

Some scholars argue that there is no clear line between community-based adaptation and community-based development (CBD). This is because CBA is seen as adapting to current or existing climate variability rather than that of expected future climate change. While this is true for Pacific Island countries where it is difficult to differentiate adaptation to climate change from normal development. For Pacific people, a new development at the community level either as community-based adaptation or normal national development is a change that could contribute to upgrading the standard of living.

In realizing the vulnerabilities of the island countries to climate change impacts, the Pacific heads of government designated the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) to coordinate the Pacific region’s response to climate change. This includes planning and implementing adaptation strategies and integrating adaptation policies into development processes at national to local community levels. However, most of the community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change projects in the Pacific Islands are funded and implemented in collaboration with other international such as UNDP, GIZ, Red cross and other non-government organizations (NGO) and academic institutions such as University of the South Pacific (USP), for example, the CBA in Druadrau Island, Fiji and in Samoa (Dumaru, 2010),

3.7 Conclusion

The Pacific Island countries (PIC) have no option of escaping the impacts of climate change and must fully abet with any adaptation options that are available to cope with the changes. This chapter demonstrates some of the key obstacles that make the Pacific Islands vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These include physical features such as islands size, the location of the islands and limited natural resources in the climate-sensitive region. These are coupled with other social factors such as increased population and food insecurity particularly in some of the smaller island states.

Success in promoting and maintaining the values and culture of the Pacific Islands will depend on the willingness of the Pacific people to change their practices towards adaptations. Pacific people will decide their adaptation practices based on traditional knowledge or adaptation based on introduced knowledge and skills. As mentioned previously in the chapter, CBA is one way of adapting to the impact of climate change, which recognizes both inputs from local and western knowledge.


CHAPTER 4: Contextualizing the study: Vanuatu

4.1 Introduction

Chapter 3 & 4 outlined the key theoretical concepts that provide the bases for this thesis. This chapter describes the context of the field study site of Vanuatu. It describes the political and governing structure as channel for climate change adaptation policies to local communities. The emphasis will be on local communities or village government structures which provides clear pathways on how to incorporate traditional knowledge into development of community adaptations strategies. Vanuatu economic depends on agriculture and tourism, while most of Vanuatu population live in rural, there contribution to overall economy of the country is low because of subsistence way of living. This is important for the discussions as it will give some ideas on how they sustain the activities of subsistence farming amid climate variabilities and change.

Vanuatu like other Pacific Island countries already experiences and will continues to experience impact of climate change. This chapter highlights some of the impacts of climate change identify by the government and finally outline some adaptation strategies that was initiated through National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) as government response to climate change impacts.

4.2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean (Figure 2). It composes of over 83 tropical islands stretching 1,300 kilometers from north to south (Dixson et al., 2017) with a total land area of 12, 281 square kilometers and sea area of 680,000 square kilometers (Ahmed et al., 2011) . Its neighboring countries include Solomon Islands to the Northwest, New Caledonia to the South-Southwest, Fiji Islands to the East and Australia further to the West. In 1994, the islands of Vanuatu had been divided into six provinces; TORBA, MALMPA, SANMA, PENAMA, SHEFA, and TAFEA. The names of the provinces abbreviate the name of each island representing that province. For example, the province of PENAMA represents the islands of Pentecost, Ambae, and Maewo. Some of the major tourist attractions include the easily accessible active volcano of Yasur on the island of Tanna and the original land diving on the island of Pentecost.

Figure 4. 1 Map of Vanuatu with study island (red).


A map with text

Description generated with high confidence

Source with author’s overlay

In 2016, Vanuatu population is estimated to be 272, 459 people (VNSO). The average annual growth rate of 2.3% per year, based on the 2009 census (VNPHCR, 2009). The population is sparsely distributed throughout the islands with roughly 76% of the population live in rural areas (VNPHCR, 2009). Vanuatu people (Ni-Vanuatu) are part of Melanesia people which include the indigenous people of Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and the Torres Strait islands. Crowley (2001) describes Vanuatu as the most diverse nation because of about 80 different active languages spoken throughout parts of the country. However, the main national language of communication throughout the islands is Bislama, and the languages of education are English and French.

4.2.1 Climate

Vanuatu lies in a subtropical climate region with two distinct seasons: a dry season from May to October, and a wet season from November to April, which usually associated with high rainfall, high humidity, high temperatures and an elevated possibility of tropical cyclones. Vanuatu receives on average 2 to 3 tropical cyclones passing close its territory every cyclone season. In March 2015, Vanuatu was struck by severe tropical cyclone Pam which devasted half the country’s population (UNDP, 2015). The peak months of tropical cyclone activities in Vanuatu are December to February. The average rainfall is 300 mm. Temperature vary, from below 23C in the dry season, and above 28C in the wet season.

4.2.2 Politics and Governing Structure

The islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited since 500 BEC and become part of Tongan Empire by the 14th century before the arrival of European sailors in the 17th Century. It was named “New Hebrides” in 1774 by Captain James Cook. During the 19th century saw the French and English Christian missionaries, traders, and planters settled on some of the islands. It became an Anglo-French condominium in 1906 and was ruled by two administrations, the British and French. The power struggle between the indigenous islanders and the dual colonial interests over land leads to further political turmoil resulting in the formation of the first government of national unity in 1978 with Vanua’aku Party (VP) as the largest indigenous political party. It was not until 1980 that New Hebrides gained independence from French and British and became the Republic of Vanuatu. After independence, VP remains in power for 11 years however the party becomes fragmented in 1991 which resulted in new political parties formed. Since then, there was no majority party ruling the government but a coalition of parties. Vanuatu governing structure (Fig 4.2) consists of the executive (head of state, head of government and the cabinet), legislative (Parliament and national council of Chiefs), judicial (courts) and regional government consisting of the 6 provinces. By traditions, Custom chiefs exercise authority within local communities if there are conflicting issues. Each village have their own village councils including chairpersons for each activity within the village. The chairpersons are elected by the villagers during a village meeting.

Figure 4.2 Vanuatu Governing Structure (Insert: Village Council Structure)

A screenshot of a social media post

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Vanuatu Government

4.2.3 Economy

Vanuatu operates on two economy systems, the cash economy and the tradition economy. The cash economy which is more popular western governing systems and the traditional economy which is more popular at the rural and village level. Cash Economy

According to the Quarterly Report of the Vanuatu Department Finance and Treasury (DOFT), the growth in the economy was recorded at 2.4 percent in 2015 (DOFT,2015) . In contrast, Agriculture has decline to 1.3 per cent in 2015 due to Tropical Cyclone Pam passage over the Vanuatu Islands. Services sector mainly in construction activities has increased due to the implementation of public projects. Most of the employment services sectors are concentrated in the two urban centers of Port Vila and Luganville, while about 80% of the population in rural Vanuatu still depend on subsistence farming and fishing for daily food productions. Addinsall et al. (2017) found that only minimal rural Ni-Vanuatu smallholders of business are contributing to the economy. It remains a challenge to involve these majority of people in the economic development of the country.

Vanuatu was admitted in the Least Developed Countries (LCD) category in 1985 (UN, 2015). It is regarded as one of the countries most exposed to violent natural disasters which its economy is mostly affected. For example 32 major earthquakes with average magnitude of 6.6 on Richter scale in 31 years, 10 active volcanic sites with exposed risk to thousands of islanders , over 100 cyclones struck Vanuatu within 40 years periods and ENSO events are been frequent (UN, 2015). Despite its economic vulnerability to natural disasters, Vanuatu has been earmarked by the UN for graduation from the Least Developed Country by December 2020 (UN, 2015). Traditional Economy

Traditional economy is seen as a source of resilience in Vanuatu.  According to Regenvanu (2009)  ‘traditional economy refers to how a society organises itself to sustain its members – how it manages and shares the resources it has between them, how it feeds, clothes and accommodates them, and how it instils in its members the values required in order to keep the society going’. Regenvanu (2009) argued that these 80% of population live in settlements (villages) with other members of their traditional extended families, on land that is theirs under the rules of custom. They satisfy most of their food and other requirements using traditional methods and forms of land, sea and resources utilization such as gardening practices on their customary land and sea. Furthermore, the rural Vanuatu people speak their indigenous language and are governed by traditional leaders (chiefs). Moreover, they resolves their disputes within the communities by traditional leaders using traditional dispute resolution approaches and participate in custom ceremonies which cement their places as members of their community (Regenvanu, 2009).

The benefits of traditional economy are that everyone accesses land product food and other materials and has excellent sustainable management of natural environment.  These are the rich natural capital were achieved through years of traditional management practices through generations. Furthermore, traditional economy provides social benefits that establish, maintain and mending relationships between groups. This traditional knowledge of economy could have been utilised further in establishing management practices for adjusting to climate variabilities and change.

4.3 Climate Change Adaptation in Vanuatu

Climate change remains a major global challenge for humanity. For Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Vanuatu, climate change remains, in fact, the most significant single threat to livelihood and sustainable development (Vanuatu Government, 2007). The linkage between climate change and sustainable development is well documented. Without addressing climate change, sustainable development in SIDS cannot be achieved. The impacts of climate changes in Vanuatu are felt across all sections of the society (see Table 4.1) but the most affected are rural people due to their underinvestment in physical infrastructure and growing competition for land and resources (Addinsall et al., 2017).

Table 4. 1 Climate Change Issues and Adaptation programmes since 2007 (VanGov)

Climate Change Issues and Vulnerabilities Adaptation Activities/Programmes

  • Coastal erosion, cyclones & flooding (threatening tourism, coastal and other major infrastructure).
  • Scarcity of sustainable water sources and salination of groundwater resources.
  • Water scarce areas vulnerable to droughts.
  • Salination of groundwater resources.
  • Significant vulnerability to droughts especially on smaller islands due to lack/limited underground water and limited capacity to capture and store rainwater.
  • Intrusion of saltwater into water taro plots.
  • Conflict with traditional calendars and natural indicators.
  • Limited understanding of climate change
  • Agricultural crops affected by increased temperatures, cyclones and prolonged/intense rainfall.
  • Farming and logging in water catchment areas
  • West part of Tanna experiencing prolonged droughts that are affecting agriculture and tourism sectors.
  • More people are using modern housing which are not resistant to climate change conditions.
  • Relocation of settlements and relevant infrastructures.
  • Demarcation of hazard and risk areas.
  • Develop provincial adaptation plans or incorporation of climate change into provincial planning.
  • Replanting of coastal vegetation to protect coastline.
  • Encourage the re-vegetation of coastal species with the assistance of the department of Forests to curb coastal erosion.
  • Encourage establishment of protected areas to ensure sustainability of terrestrial and marine resources.
  • Increase rainwater catchment and storage capacity or establish mini- desalination plants.
  • En-act bylaw to protect and manage water shed areas.
  • Improve and diversify agricultural crops
  • Improve climate change understanding at provincial and community levels
  • Diversification of crops and improve crop varieties.
  • Carry out study on farm irrigation.
  • Revival of traditional food preservation techniques.
  • Control the issuance of logging licenses and closely monitor logging and farming activities.
  • En-act bylaw to protect and manage water shed areas.
  • Development of improved crop varieties, best agricultural practices and diversification of crops.
  • Traditional practices (including housing) need to be revived to assist in the process of adaptation.

Source: Vanuatu Government (2007)

One direct consequence of climate change is the increase in extreme weather events. For example, Chand et al. (2017) show that tropical cyclones will become more frequent during future-climate El Nino events. Consequently, this will have an adverse impact on many people’s livelihood especially local people in the remote communities in which their daily livelihoods depend on agriculture and farming. Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu in 2015 (Hong et al., 2016; Kosciuch et al., 2017; Magee et al., 2016) has clearly demonstrated this, affecting 64% of the economy and 71% of the population as well as destroying 56.1 million dollars’ worth of food and agricultural crops (World Bank, 2015). Mostly, 100% of Vanuatu’s population and GDP are located in a tropical cyclone prone area. (Magee et al., 2016) Other extreme weather such as prolong dry periods due to ENSO phenomena has also put pressure on human lives and sustainable development for Vanuatu. Vanuatu is considered the most vulnerable nation in the world to the threat of natural hazards including climate change (World Bank, 2015).

Rising ocean temperatures resulting from climate change will also have a big impact on marine fisheries by changing habitat temperatures which will significantly influence their metabolism, growth, reproduction, and distribution. Dey et al. (2016) find out that fish demand in Vanuatu will increase, however growth in domestic fish production is projected to slow due to climate change. Fishery being one of the most important sources of food for many SIDS is thus, threatened (Eriksson et al., 2017). Other impacts that Vanuatu but also other SIDS are experiencing already include sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification. These developments are not only a risk to food security but also to tourism, which is for many SIDS the most significant sector of their economy. Tourism is increasingly one of the key foreign exchange earners for Vanuatu (Vanuatu Government, 2007). Thus, Climate change threatens the economies and the eradication of poverty, frustrating the countries’ efforts to achieve sustainable development.

The climate -related health risk in the PIC’s include trauma from extreme weather events, heat-related illnesses, compromised safety and security of water and food, vector-borne diseases, zoonoses, respiratory illnesses, psychosocial ill-health, non-communicable diseases, population pressures, and health system deficiencies (McIver et al., 2015). For Vanuatu, the direct and indirect effects on health impact by climate related are mainly from extreme weather events, heat -related illness, water borne diseases , food insecurity and respiratory illness (McIver et al., 2016). The adverse impacts of climate change on the people and their livelihoods in Vanuatu will continue to be felt if the climate continues to change and that the only option of coping with these changes is through adaptation programmes and initiatives mainly at the local community level.

4.3.1 The Government of Vanuatu Response to Climate Change

The main responses of government in tackling climate change issues is through adaptation programs (see Table 4.1). This is one of the primary policy objective of the Vanuatu government (VanGov) under the environmental pillar. Under this policy objective it states that to enhance traditional agricultural practices, focusing on disaster rick reduction and climate change adaptation (Vanuatu Government, 2016). Vanuatu become part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1993 and Kyoto Protocol in 2001. Vanuatu submitted its first communication to UNFCCC in 1999 (Vanuatu Government ,2007). The ratification of the UNFCC has help Vanuatu committed to addressing climate change. Vanuatu step up a National Advisory Committee on Climate Change (NACC) which was mandated by the VanGov to oversee the coordination of all climate change initiatives and programmes emanating from UNFCC processes (Vanuatu Government, 2007).

Vanuatu government employed an ideal approach to adaptation which is pro-active, no-regrets approach and encompasses measures and strategies that can be implemented in the present with the aim of reducing vulnerability in the future. Many programmes and institutions have been set up to increases adaptation efforts and strategies to climate change. National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) was one initiative with an objective to develop a country-wide programmes of immediate and urgent project-based adaptation activities in priority sectors to address adverse effect of climate change, including extreme events. Climate change vulnerability assessment was carried out and five climate-sensitive sectors projects were determined mainly in agriculture and food security; water management; tourism; community based marine resources management and forestry management.

For adapting to the detrimental impacts of climate change on agriculture sector, the government of Vanuatu through agriculture departments has encourage diversification and improvement of agricultural crops varieties (Vanuatu Government, 2007). The revival of traditional food preservation and agricultural techniques were other adaptation options mainly for rural communities. For example, the system of bartering and shifting agriculture which have remain with the rural communities for many generations. This supports (Fletcher et al., 2013a) findings that traditional methods, and family and community involvement during disasters are some of the coping strategies use for adaptation in the South Pacific. Furthermore, for food sustainability, a process for drying and preserving cassava which is important sources of food for most rural communities was also introduced as an adaptation option for food shortage.

Smaller and low-lying islands of Vanuatu depend entirely on rainfall as their water sources. The changes in rainfall patterns during ENSO drought events has critical impacts on the supply of rainwater water. The government has responded through the distributions of larger rainwater tanks to increase rainwater catchment and storage capacity for the local communities to adapt through prolong periods of droughts. Also, the government together with other international NGO; s has set up water distribution facilities in the islands where supply of freshwater is accessible as means to transport water to area affected by climate change impact. For example, in 2015, water was shipped to the Shepherd Islands from Port Vila due to water shortage because of drought brought on by an El Nino event (Vanuatu Government, 2007). Other responses by the government of Vanuatu on climate change adaptation include relocation of settlements and relevant infrastructures such road on the islands of Epi and Loh. Replanting of coastal vegetable to protect coastline in many coastal areas.

The government’s commitment to include traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation offers further explorations opportunities to the objectives of this thesis. While, rural communities throughout Vanuatu have been adapting to the changes that climate brings to their environment for many generations, it is significantly important to explore and reconsider these adaptation techniques and to incorporate them into community -based adaptation strategies and policies.

4.4 Conclusion

This chapter provides a contextual background of the study site. The demographical, political, structural and socio-cultural aspect of Vanuatu were outlined. The structural concept of the setting is significant as it will aid in further discussion in chapter 7 on traditional knowledge incorporation into community-based climate change adaptations. The next will describe the methodology and why it chosen to be used during the fieldwork in Vanuatu.



5.1 Introduction

In this chapter, I describe the methodological and research tools used in the study. I begin by discussing the field methods, focusing on the semi-structured interview methods and field notes. For analysis, I explain how field data is analyzed using thematic data analysis. Next, I provide an account of the challenges and limitations of this research focusing on the challenges of home-country research. Finally, I describe my position in this research, particularly about the fieldwork and the possible impacts it may have on the results/findings.

5.2 Qualitative Research Approach

A qualitative research method was employed in this research to gain insight into the local people’s peceptions and the extent of the use of traditional knowledge in adjusting to climate variability and change in Vanuatu. This research uses analysed data from the fieldwork to interpret the use of traditional knowledge. Moreover, qualitative research uses an interpretative approach in understanding the participants actions, decisions, beliefs and values of their natural world (Ritchie, Lewis, Lewis, Nicholls, & Ormston, 2013a, p. 4; Taylor, Bogdan, & DeVault, 2015a, pp. 8–9). It contributes to the body of knowledge that is conceptual to life experiences, perpectives and the histories of research participants (Bryman, 2015; Chadwick et al., 1984, DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006).

Qualitative reseach is widely used in other disciplines. It has been adopted in education, health , sociololgy and psychology disciplines from the 1980s through to the 2000s (Lewis, 2015). Qualitative research produces descriptive data based on the researcher’s own written or spoken words and observable behavior of the subject under study (Taylor et al., 2015, p. 7). Bryman (2015) & Chadwick et al. (1984) argue that qualitative research helps researchers deal with the subject in its natural world and allows the researcher to identify and understand the subject of the research deeply. Moreover, the research methods are flexible because the researcher can reprogram or alter plans based on unexpected discoveries during the research process (Bryman, 2015).

Qualitative research analyses data from fieldwork observations, in-depth interviews, focus group and written documents (Patton, 2005). This research project uses a semi-structured type of interview and field notes for data collections. These features of qualitative research design are employed so that data collected in the field could be analyzed for coding of themes. This research does not focus on hypothesis testing, rather it focuses on the interpretation aspect of academic research that uses this type of research design to explore and interpret themes and the  particpants insight on the topic understudy.

5.3 Semi-Structured Interview Approach

This section outlines the qualitative research method employed during the fieldwork to collect data for this research thesis. A semi-structured interview approach was used in the field to collect data for analysis. I begin by discussiing the strength of the approach, then I discuss the weakness and provide an account of how I apply this approach in the field.

5.3.1 Strength of Semi-Structured Interview

Semi-structured interviews involve a prepared questionnaire guide based on proposed themes which is designed to elicit more elaborate responses from the participants (Qu & Dumay, 2011). Baumbusch (2010) states that using an interview guide helps facilitate participant’s descriptions of their experiences without the researcher’s constant interruptions. The participants are asked similar questions in the same order systematically based on the questionnaire schedule. The data collected can then be compared, numerically transformed and quantified (McIntosh & Morse, 2015). In this research, I conduct semi-structured interviews with 25 participants on different traditional knowledge indicators they used to adjust to environment changes. The data was then compared numerically based on the usage level of each indicators by the interviewees. Semi-structured interviews are flexible, accessible and capable freely disclosing voice participants experiences in a way that they feel comfortable and in ways that they are able to frame and understand issues (Bryman, 2015, p. 314).

Many scholars use semi-structured interview methods (Adams i’hD, 2010; Baumbusch, 2010; Rabionet, 2011) because it allows for exploration of in-depth experiences of participants and the meanings that attach to these experiences (Adams i’hD, 2010, McIntosh & Morse, 2015). Scholars use semi-structured interviews to investigate indigenous natural resource management, traditional ecological knowledge and climate change adaptations in many parts of the world (Beaumier & Ford, 2010; Egeru, 2012; Hastings et al, 2012; McCarter & Gavin, 2014; Ribeiro et al, 2010; Seymour et al, 2010; Ugulu, 2011). For instance, Seymour et al. (2010) used semi-structured interviews to collect data to assist regional natural resource management bodies in better managing funds for environmental assets. Moreover, semi structured interviews were used to explore the perceptions of local people on the changes in traditional ecological knowledge in Vanuatu (McCarter & Gavin, 2014). Therefore, semi-structured interview was identified as the best interview method to be used in the field for this research thesis.

5.3.2 Weakness of Semi-Structured Interview Approach

A semi-structured interview approach fit into this research, however, there were some drawbacks. Qu & Dumay (2011) argue that the understanding of the interviews may sometimes be elusive. Qu & Dumay (2011) further argue that words used during the interview process may have different meanings even though both the researcher and participants speak the same language. It creates confusion and sometimes vague interpretations. Also, communication during the interview process may be difficult for novice qualitative researchers to identify where to ask prompt question or probe responses (Doody & Noonan, 2013) which may result in relevant data not gathered during the interview process. Furthermore, McIntosh & Morse (2015) argue that even interviewees may feel inhibited to respond to sensitive issues. I noticed this while in the field, that some participants tended to hesitate in discussing issues that they thought could jeopardize their knowledge and values and instead diverted the conversations away from the issues. Moreover, interviewees responses may be emotionally affected if pressure is applied by the researcher.

5.3.3 Application of Semi-Structured Interview Approach in this Research

I employ in-depth semi-structured interviews as the primary method for data collections for this field study. The decision to use semi-structured interviews was made because semi-structured interviews were the most critical qualitative data collection methods widely used in conducting field studies (Qu & Dumay, 2011). For well-informed results, there are processes of using semi-structured interviews that involve developing interview guides to analyzing the interview data (Adams i’hD, 2010). For this research , I manage to modify the style, pace and order of questions (Qu & Dumay, 2011) and do not interrupt the interviewees with prompt questions. I do however, note down issues that I want the interviewees to elaborate further on after the interviewees finish discussing the question. By doing this, the interviewees gained confidence and comfortably respond in their own terms and in a way that they think and use language without interrupting (Qu & Dumay, 2011). Furthermore, as an insider to this research, the interviewees were mostly comfortable during the interview process.

The individual semi-structured interviews were conducted between the 4th and 28th of January 2018. Each interview was approximately one hour in duration. A total of 25 interviewees (n=25) from 19 different villages within three districts of North Pentecost Area Council (NPAC) took part in the interview process (See Table 5.1 below). The participants were recruited based on their expertise and knowledge of the topic and the duration of time they lived in the study area. (Turner III, 2010). Most of the participants were eager and willing to speak after a message was sent verbally to them, and after they have read the Participant Information Sheet (PIS).  Even though they understood the content of the PIS, they demanded further explanations. I also answered further questions from the participants and again briefly explained that their contributions to this research project could impact their understanding on using the traditional knowledge to improve climate change adaptation not only within their communities but other communities on Pentecost Island as well.

The selection of the location for the interview process was essential because it may affect the emotions of the interview process between the participants and the researchers. For this interview process, participants preferred that the process took place at their residences. Moreover, given the sensitive nature of the research topic, interviewees agreed to only speak to the researcher alone.

Figure 5. 1 Semi-Structured Interview process, researcher with participants at their homes.

A group of people standing in front of a building

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Photos from fieldwork, January 2018


Both the participants and I agreed on the setting as the process of interviewing people required little distractions (McNamara, 2009; Turner III, 2010). Furthermore, the participants felt comfortable and very private from other members of the community. They were thus able to speak freely on the topic. The interviewee’s ages ranged from 40 to over 100 years, the oldest of the interviewees was 108 years of age.

Table 5. 1  List of Interviewees (coded) and Interview Date   

Districts Villages Assigned Codes for Interviewees Interviewee Number Interview Date






Ahivo District

Lamoru AHD 1 28/01/2018
Abwatvenue AHD 2 26/01/2018
Laone AHD 3 26/01/2018
Lagatava AHD 4 07/01/2018
AHD 5 27/01/2018
Agatoa AHD 6 22/01/2018
AHD 7 08/01/2018
AHD 8 04/01/2018
Lolkakau AHD 9 09/01/2018
Lavusi AHD 10 07/01/2018
Arongbwratu AHD 11 08/01/2018
Avese AHD 12 09/01/2018
Angoro AHD 13 09/01/2018
Labwaru AHD 14 23/01/2018



Aligu District

Avanguresi ALD 1 13/01/2018
ALD 2 13/01/2018
Singmwel ALD 3 13/01/2018
Lagarobweihe ALD 4 13/01/2018
Lavatmwagemu ALD 5 13/01/2018
Levondo ALD 6 12/01/2018
ALD 7 12/01/2018
ALD 8 13/01/2018
Nakgolum ALD 9 15/01/2018
Aute District Amatbobo AUD 1 09/01/2018
Lahalbulbulu AUD 2 16/01/2018

Source: Fieldwork, January 2018

5.4 Ethics

The evolution of human ethics emerged from two significant developments; moral philosophy and psychological realism (Fowers, 2015, p. 3). Fowers states that moral view is shaped by understanding impartial prescriptions for correct behavior which leads to psychological realism of the enchantment of moral education and moral action. In other words, the extent of human actions that determines their motives, characteristics and private actions are based entirely on how they conduct themselves internally and externally. Furthermore, Fowers argues that human ethics is the response of ethical questions based on seven domains of society. These domains include the duration and depth of human dependence, the requirement of forming an individual identity, the power of high fidelity imitation, the deep mutual interest in cooperation, the authority of social norms, the influence of in-group/out-group identification and the vitality of status interest (Fowers, 2015, p. 4). These domains illustrate that research with or on human nature is quite challenging and that necessary protocols and procedures must be adhered to when conducting research fieldwork. Guillemin & Gillam (2004) state that procedures on ethics usually involve seeking approval from relevant ethics committees if the research involves human participants. Portaluppi et al. (2010) further points out that these research procedures must respect the welfare and rights of the subjects (humans), including their cultural, religious and social customs.

This research thesis involves human participants; thus, ethics approval was required. An ethics application was submitted to the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (UAHPEC) for consideration and approval. It is vital that UAHPEC justify research design and the conducts that will contribute to new knowledge. UAHPEC requirements for human ethics application was based on four fundamental principles which include autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. According to the guideline of the UAHPEC, participants need to provide their dull informed content before an interview is conducted freely. That is why the Participant Information Sheet (PIS) and Consent Form (CF) are provided and that they highlight that participation is not compulsory and that participants were under no obligation to provide information unless they were willing to.

In this research project, the participant’s self-determination is treated with respect. The research participants were given the PIS and CF (see Appendix A & B) to determine if they are willing to be involve in this research. The participants thus freely consent to their participation in the research study. In a few cases where the participant found it challenging to understand the content of the PIS or CF, I was able to dictate and explain it to them. The benefits of this research are to get the communities to understand the values of their traditional knowledge in climate change adaptations. I was able to briefly introduce the research and the impact that it will have on their communities and others as well.  The result of the research will be communicated back to the communities after the completion of the thesis.  Most of the participants are enthusiastic that their contributions in this research could help other communities to adapt to the changes in climate.

5.5 Secondary Data

This research obtains primary data from the fieldwork which involved field notes and semi-structured interview processes. Secondary data sources are obtained from other sources such as the ministry of climate change, Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department (VMGD), the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO) and the National Adaptations Program of Action (NAPA). For this project, the secondary sources obtained are statistics, figures, tables, maps, regulations, and laws that are used along with the results and the discussion sections of this thesis. Sørensen et al. (1996) argues that secondary data sources are important because they already exist, require less time spent, the cost of the project is reduced, and they reduce the likelihood of bias. However, they further argue that the quality of selection and methods of collections may not be under the control of the researcher which may be impossible for validation (Sørensen et al., 1996). I used the secondary data to support the primary data and strengthen the discussion of facts within the results and discussion chapter.

5.6 Data Transcription

The transcription of the interview data for this research took three weeks to complete. Notes from fieldwork and audio recordings of the interview were transcribed. McLellan et al. (2003) emphasize that transcribing of interview data must follow a guideline so that is systematically easy to organize and analyze the textual data using any analytical tools. All interviews recorded data were transferred from the audio recorder to a laptop to free enough space for the next interview during the fieldwork. There was an attempt to transcribe the interview data after every end of the day, but this was not possible due to the limited electricity in the area. All interview data, both audio records, and field notes were transcribed in Auckland. The data was not transcribed word by word but was transcribed based on the questionnaire guides and the questions asked by the researcher during the interview process. Keys statements and messages that related to the questions during the interview were transcribed into textual form. Audio recording technology was used in the field to collect data. It is very beneficial because it maintains the actual interviews and avoids loss of meanings and specific interpretations during transcription (Markle, West, & Rich, 2011).  Tessier (2012) further argues that audio recordings bridge gaps between field notes and transcripts. It provides detailed accounts of the interview which can be written quickly and efficiently, thus reducing the time of transcription.

5.7 Thematic Analysis

Analysing interview data after the interview transcript is complete is often difficult (Burnard, 1991) because it is an iterative process (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). It may lead to a point where no new categories or themes emerge.  However, there are stages of analysis using thematic analysis methods which helps to ease the analysis process. Braun & Clarke (2014) emphasize that thematic analysis offers a toolkit for researchers who want to do a robust analysis of qualitative data yet present them in a way that is accessible to non-academic communities. Thematic analysis is mostly a method for identifying and analyzing patterns in qualitative data (V. Clarke et al., 2013). While this research project works with the local communities on Pentecost in Vanuatu, it is vital that thematic methods of analysis is used to analyze data set from the fieldwork. Verbal interviews and open-ended responses to questionnaire items tend to be the root of thematic research (Joffe, 2012), thus, the methods employed in the data analysis for this project are essential.

Thematic analysis also has some drawbacks that may lead to inadequate analysis. Most thematic anaylsis ends up with deprived analysis due to the failure to analyze the data at all. The failures arise as a result of using data collection questions as themes, a weak analysis which results in overlapping, a mismatch between data, theory and analytic claims and challenges to work out theoretical assumption (Braun & Clarke, 2006, V. Clarke et al., 2013). I was very vigilant of these pitfalls thus I applied a six points checklist of criteria for good thematic analysis by Braun & Clarke (2006) which helped with the data analysis. Even though it is an iterative process, it is a flexible, easy and quick method to work with even if one has limited experience in using it.

According to Joffe (2012), thematic analysis and content analysis share many principles and procedures. However, thematic analysis analyses emerging themes from a data set to establish patterns that can either be deductive or inductive, and it facilitates the meaning of results made of the phenomena under study (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Joffe, 2012). Thematic analysis is very significant to this research because it can also be applied to an epistemological approach which is the primary feature that relates to the research question and objectives.

Using the six steps of thematic analysis (see Figure 5.3) by Braun & Clarke (2006), I familiarized myself with the data set by replaying the audio recordings and re-read the field notes and transcribed data. This process helped in identifying initial concepts within the content of the thesis. During the actual fieldwork, I took several notes after the interviews process which I thought were relevant to the research topic. The initial process of thematic analysis sets a precursor for developing coding frames (Burnard, 1991; Joffe, 2012). Secondly, I generated the initial codes, mainly to identify exciting features of the data across the entire data set. I developed the codes based on the transcribed notes by highlighting and applying them to a specific group or categories (see Figure 5.2). The coding process allows for themes to emerge from the aspect of the data sets. (Burnard, 1991).

Figure 5.2  (A)Initial Coding. (B) Grouping of Codes under main themes

Source: Author’s Own


Figure 5.3 Phases of Thematic Analysis

Adopted fromBraun & Clarke (2006)

Searching for themes is the third phase of data analysis. Themes are a meaningful pattern in the data relevant to the research question (Clarke et al., 2013). Thematic analysis looks at manifest themes as a route to understanding more latent and tacit content of theoretical constructs for analysis (Joffe, 2012). Thus, understanding climate change impacts at the local community level and how traditional knowledge is used as an adaptation strategy can be explored thoroughly via thematic analysis methods. I identified the themes and collated the codes into potential themes. For this research, there are four key themes which the relevant data codes were grouped into according to, and they are facts and information (traditional knowledge indicators) , traditional management system of adapatations (management practices) , and values, beleifs and worldviews and the changes observed by praticipants on climate and social conditions . Furthermore, I also noticed that there were overarching themes which lead to developing tables that were used to sort the different codes into sub-themes as well (see Table 5.2).  The next phase looks at reviewing the themes. I checked the themes for their reliability to the extracted codes and the full data set. This phase of thematic analysis method is vital as it gives some ideas on the different themes and how they could fit together so that it tells the overall story of the data (Braun & Clarke, 2006), and its relation to the research objectives and question.

The two last phases of thematic analysis involve defining or naming the themes and writing the findings. Redefining and naming of themes helped me to identify the most important themes from the data that relates to the research question (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Redefining and naming were used to prevent overlapping between themes and allow for emergent of sub-themes from the main themes. Furthermore, it allowed for the scope and content to expand during the writing phase of the results. I then gave names to the themes. Clarke et al. (2013) suggest that names given to themes must be punchy and informative so that the reader knows what the content of the theme is about. Below are the themes that were identified through this analysis method. Chapter 6 details the complicated story of the data used for this research paper. In the result and discussion chapter, I provide sufficient evidence of the themes within the data and an argument that relates to the research questions.

Table 5.2 Themes identified through thematic analysis.

Key themes Sub-themes
  1. Facts and Information (Indicators of environmental change)
Local climatic, astronomical and ecological information
  1. Management Practices (Adaptation strategies)
Natural resource management (NRM) and Disaster risk reduction (DRR)
  1. Worldviews
Values and belief systems
  1. Observed Change
Perceptions of change (Climatic and Social Change)

Source: Fieldwork, January 2018

5.9 Validity

There are always challenges in qualitative studies, therefore to be defensive, validation is needed so that data obtained for research is plausible, credible and trustworthy (Venkatesh et al., 2013). Venkatesh et al., (2013) propose three categories of validity for qualitative research which include how well a qualitative study was designed and executed, the quality of data collected and analyzed and the quality of interpretation that reflects the quality of findings that are communicated to other people. These were further supported by what Maxwell (1992) suggest as descriptive, interpretive and theoretical validity. All these authors refer to the process of checking the validity of a finding or conclusion through analysis or cross-checking with other sources. Depending on the setting of qualitative research, some authors concept of external and internal validation refers to in the analysis of data for this qualitative research (Ritchie et al., 2013; Sousa, 2014). Techniques of validity include triangulation, respondent validity and constant comparison (Anderson, 2010).  Triangulation and respondent validation is useful in this current research. Triangulation helps to confirm and improve the clarity of research findings while respondent validation reinforces the confirmation of the contributions by participants (Ritchie et al., 2013a) through feedback on the researcher interpretations. It helps to pinpoint discrepancies and the researcher assumptions (Anderson, 2010) on the interpretations of the findings.

For this research, there are different sources of data collection such as interviews of local people who are farmers, pastors, and older adults and documents obtained from other sources such as Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department (VMGD) and Vanuatu National Statistical Office (VNSO) to help in the findings and results. There were attempts during the fieldwork to get members validation on the first instance of analysis. This was to allow participants to respond to some of the interpretations which I doubted after listening to the audio records at the end of each day after the interviews.  Member validation is significant for this research as it confirms the validity of the data analyzed and reinforces the continued collaborations between the researcher and the participants.

5.10 Research Limitation

This section presents limitations and challenges to this research project. I highlight three main areas which I believe contributed to challenging the process of this research from data collections to data analysis. I briefly touch upon the limitation of qualitative research, the challenges of home-country research and discuss how my positions as a researcher influence this process.

5.10.1 Limitation in Qualitative Research 

Anderson (2010) states some limitations of qualitative research which include the quality of researcher and research, issues of inconsistency, time-consumption, acceptance within scientific communities and issues of anonymity and confidentiality that may arise during the results presentation. For this current research, it took roughly four weeks to complete data collection. A large volume of audio recorded data was collected through individual semi-structured interviews. Another four weeks were allocated for data transcription before the data was analyzed and interpreted.  Data collection to analysis alone took roughly two months to complete.

Depending on the researcher’s position within the research setting, an outsider position as a researcher may sometimes affect the subject’s responses compared to the insider status. I discovered that as an insider, the participants are free to talk openly on the subject. I was thus able to inquire further into the topic of discussion. Only one participant was reluctant to be recorded due to being anxious about the tone of the voice in the recorder.

Another limitation is the quality of the researcher and research which Anderson (2010) suggests could be influenced by researcher’s personal bias and belongings to the research site. As a student researcher, I understand the values and ethical issues regarding conducting research. For example, I followed the protocols of adhering to the time that the participants agreed to be interviewed, which was usually in the afternoon or evening after each day’s activities. The interviewee’s consent are paramount in this research. I provided  enough time to read through the PIS and CF before any interview process began. If they did not understand anything within the content, I explained it further to them. From these forms and verbal explanations, they were able to understand the content of the research and the researcher before making their decision. Other challenges suggested by (Ritchie et al., 2013a, p. 289) include readers unfamiliarity with qualitative research, what it can and cannot do, its methods must be explicit and concise, and its integrity which will allow readers to understand and accept the outcome of the results easily. Furthermore, findings or results are in story type form which require the author to make the story intelligible for readers. I would not have been so coherent if I presented the findings in graphs, but again textual descriptions are still a challenge which requires concentration and time during analysis and the write up process. Moreover, diversely presenting the findings and results avoids focusing on the main messages or themes which sometimes misleads readers.

5.10.2 Challenges of Home-Country Research

I was very excited to do home-based research since I have not been to my country for a while, let alone my home island of Pentecost which is the actual research site. For this current fieldwork, I deliberately wanted to help local people understand and be more aware of the significant values and belief systems that have been part of their livelihoods for generations.  Also, to help local people understand and be aware that their shared values systems and knowledge can help broaden communities to adapt to climate variability and change. Through this research thesis, I was fortunate to talk to different people with different perspectives and expertise on how best they used their traditional knowledge to live in harmony with the environment and how they valued their belief systems (worldviews) that made them quickly adapt to the changes caused by climate variabilities.


There was evidence of interesting and useful data available during the fieldwork for this study and especially with the individual participants that took part in the individual interviews. Conversely, there were some challenges as well. The study site consists of villages spanned over a large area which required traveling on foot as vehicle access was limited in most cases. Moreover, the foot walk on small tracks took several hours to reach the participant’s locations. The month of January is rainy season in Vanuatu. The traveling conditions coupled with the weather conditions continued for the duration of the fieldwork. However, I managed to complete most of the interviews in time despite the weather conditions. Protective cloths such as raincoats and waterproof bags were used to store audio recorder and notebooks to avoid damage by rain. Though snowball technique was used, most of the participants requested their own time and place of the interviews. I did most of the interviews during the evening after the participants returned from their gardening activities.

The availability of telecommunication and electricity were other challenges. Telecommunication network around the research area was inferior to the standard of been able to work freely without distrubances. Local people identified spots where I could get better reception, but that was closer to the coastal area mainly the beaches and on nearshore reefs during low tide. There were no electricity grids on the island. However, there was a small solar panel system that helped in charging the laptop and the mobile phones. Audio recordings for each day were transferred directly to the laptop. Regardless of the challenges, I was able to complete the field work including interviews, photo shoots, and general observations before returning to Auckland.

5.10.3 Positionality

I came into this research with some understandings of the weather and climate as I was employed by the Vanuatu Meteorology, and Geo-Hazard Department (VMGD) before commencing my study here in New Zealand. My scientific knowledge of weather and climate is significant to this research as well. Moreover, I came from the island of study where the research took place on. I went into this research as an insider, native to the island as well as an outsider in the form of a student researcher and a government employee. I have dual positions going into this fieldwork. As a qualitative researcher, what we are told, the narratives we formed and shared with others are influenced by our position and experiences in relations to the study we involved in (Dwyer & Buckle, 2009; Greene, 2014)

The insider factor refers to the research conducted in the researcher’s society or social group. The decisive factor on the insider about this research is that as a researcher, I know the particulars of the area such as the culture, the context of the research, and knowledge of the historical happenings of the field site (Greene, 2014). For example, based on my historical knowledge of one of the study villages, I was aware that the first school was built there but was washed away by a storm surge caused by a severe tropical cyclone. This information was valuable because it allowed me as a researcher to dig deeper into finding on how the strategies they used could allow them to cope and adapt to the present and future changes. Another decisive factor is the interaction between myself and a potential participant. I found it natural to approach the participants, and the participants were happy to talk openly to me not just on the research topic but other issues as well. Moreover, the interview was conducted in the local dialect of the island. Local language or dialect helped in the knowledge sharing and construct trust for future collaboration (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta, 2012). I accessed the study site and even the interviewee’s locations with ease based on my insider status. Although this may be true about an insider position, Greene (2014) identifies several shortfalls in the insider research position such as the position being too subjective and biased. However, the ethical issues of this research sorted through the Participant Information Sheet (PIS) and the consent form (CF) which participants have access to helped to smooth the protocols in the study area. These forms were issued to defend the research and the researcher on the issues of credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.

A researcher as an outsider studies the group which they are not a member (Dwyer & Buckle, 2009). As an outsider into this research project, I experienced many concerns that participants questioned during the interview process. Here, I included a sample interview script on how they see me as an outsider. For example, one participant stated that

It is possible to incorporate the concept of traditional knowledge into community development adaptation strategy; there is an attempt to do this in this village which will base entirely on the traditional way of living. We need you people from the government to support these ideas. We know our traditional way of living and how we can survive through the changes. Now the western ideology has influenced people, but we need to recover and follow those things that we are part of them (AHD4, 07/01/2018).

In this case, I understood, that being an outsider, the participants knew that they have tried to maintain traditional ways of living but there are challenges from western influences, so government support is needed. While talking to many other participants, they argued that western influence has slowly crept into the society which will be a hindrance to the young generation and their traditional knowledge.

With my dual positions as both an insider and outsider doing this research project, I contributed more to the research by sharing my insights through scientific viewpoints and accepting what local participants value through their traditional knowledge that sustains their livelihood for generations. I will elaborate more on the values and belief system in the results and discussion chapters.

5.11 Conclusion

This study used the qualitative method of thematic analysis from fieldwork to data analysis. Though there are some challenges throughout the process, I tried to minimize those challenges and focus on the positive side so that objectives of the research could be archived thus, the research question answered. The methods used were justified, and my positions as a researcher, both insider and outsider were well described. The next chapter of this thesis paper will focus on the results obtained from the analytical method used.



6.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the results of my field research and applies the theoretical framework of TK outlined earlier in this thesis. Accordingly, I demonstrate that local communities in Vanuatu’s TK consist of three key components: 1) local climatic, astrological and ecological information; 2) natural resource management and disaster risk reduction practices; 3) and values, beliefs, and worldviews. In this chapter, I focus on the first two components (environmental information and management practices) and outline local people’s ambitions for and preferences about incorporating TK into community-based climate adaptation strategies. The second results chapter (chapter 7) examines the third component of TK (worldviews) and documents how local people’s perceptions of changes are closely tied to their overarching worldview and ontological understandings of the world around them.

In North Pentecost, local people use a variety of TK indicators for both weather (short-term changes) and climate variabilities and change (long-term changes). Local people identify the emerald dove behaviour and the blossoming of plants as being the most important indicators for identifying extreme weather and climate variability. Participants report that in the present day the use of TK practices for natural resource management and DRR, however, is becoming increasingly difficult due to the impacts of Western development, education, and scientific knowledge. The gradual erosion of TK due to globalisation and modernisation threatens to undermine existing risk reduction strategies and sustainable natural resource management strategies and engender greater vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Accordingly, local people are enthusiastic about the incorporation of TK into community-based climate change adaptation.

First, I discuss the environmental facts and information regarding the variety of indicators of variability employed by the local people of NP. I focus on the magnitude of changes, short (Weather) and long (Climate variabilities) terms changes for climatic, geological, astrological and ecological indicators. I then discuss the changes observed by the locals of NP and I link these changes with scientific understandings. Finally, I discuss the adaptation strategies based on traditional natural resource management (NRM) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) with emphasis on food, water and built environmental adaptation strategies.

6.2 Environmental Information: Indicators of variability

North Pentecost research participants report the use of specific phenological indicators (behaviour of plants and animal) and atmospheric and astronomical signs on a day to day basis to monitor environmental conditions and the availability of resources. Some of these environmental indicators are used to manage medium and long-term climate variability (across seasons, years or decades), and some for short-term variability in weather conditions (across days and weeks). For this thesis, I refer to climate as average weather expected within a month or more and weather is what happens now to what is expected within a week time.

6.2.1 Fauna as indicators of short-term changes in environmental conditions

Most participants (n=17) used fauna as indicators to monitor and make adjustments to variations in environmental conditions (see Table 6.1 & 6.2). Out of the seventeen indicators, four indicators were used for the prediction of extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, drought, and heavy rainfall events. The rest of the indicators (n=13) were used for the prediction of daily and weekly weather conditions (weather forecasting). For example, snakes coiling around vertical tree branches indicate that rain is expected within few days. The tight coiling behaviour prepares the snake to collect the water when it rains. Based on the data, 18 (out of 19) research participants reported the use of one or more of the 13 indicators for short-term weather forecasting. Ants were the most commonly identified fauna used for the prediction of upcoming rain (identified by 22 per cent of participants), followed by Tilatilia[5] (bush insects), earthworms, with snake, Singo, cattle and pigs are less commonly used. Since TK is held collectively, with information, management strategies, and types of knowledge held by different age, gender, occupation, and lineage groups, it is understandable that my research participants used different indicators for weather forecasting. Most of the interview participants were farmers and fishermen between the age of 30 to 80 years of age. Their occupations as farmers and fishermen prompt them to rely on the indicator of rain and wind direction for their activities such as clearing bushes and planting crops and for fishing. Not only in these activities, weather also determines when and how to practices their cultural and traditional rituals Thus, these indicators are vitally important for their decision making regarding their different activities.


Table 6. 1  Faunas as indicators of short-term (daily and weekly) weather conditions

Type of Indicator Weather Event Descriptions of Indicator Behaviours
Cattle Immediate rain/storm Cattle crying indicates the next rain. When they huddle together, this also indicates rain.
Pigs Immediate rain Pigs are pushing the soil with their nose searching for water or moisture in the soil, sensing cooling of air which indicates approaching rain).
Ants Expect rain If you see a convoy of ants build their hills with very steep sides and moving pieces of leaves or food into them, then it indicates they are preparing their food for bad weather ahead.
Snake Rain for few days If you find a snake tightly coiled around a vertical tree branch and holding it very tight then this indicates that there will be periods of rain. The coiling of the snake prepares the snake to collect its water when it rains.
Itchy skin of people with Vitiligo Expect rain People with Vitiligo (white spot on skin) become itchy and suddenly scraping themselves, then rain is expected.
Painful Callous Expect rain People with callous start feeling itchy and slight pain in the callous area of their foot.
Grasshopper Immediate rain Grasshopper hops into a house, seeking shelter from the rain
Beetles Expect rain Lighting a bundle of coconut leaves, and you will see that insects are attracted by the light, but, if you see beetles flying towards the light, it indicates that rain will continue for days.
Earthworm Expect rain If you find an earthworm, on the surface of the ground rubbing its body on dry soil, then rain is expected with a few hours.
Tilatila (Bush insects) Expect rain Tilatila crying or making a unique sound which indicates rain immediately.
Swiftlets (Gabagaba) Immediate rain Swiftlets (Gabagaba) in numbers flying in the sky indicates next rain.
Wood Crab Expect Rain If you come across a crab in coiled tree roots that holds water, and if you see that the water has dried up and the crab is still there, it signals that rain will start within few days.
Singo (a type of earthworm) Clear Weather Approaching When it rains until a Singo, comes into the house and rubs its body in the dust, these signals clear weather is expected.

Source:  Fieldwork, January 2018

Participants identified the behaviour of insects as common environmental indicators. This includes ants, who gather food and prepare their hills with steep sides to allow rainwater to flow out when it rains. Local people describe the connections between living organisms in the lead up to changing weather conditions.  Participant ALD4 described how a message is passed from one living organism to other to indicate the onset of rain. An insect that lives in the soil called Mwarivuvu[6] informs Bwastilosi (earthworm). Bwastilosi then appears on the ground surface to inform Tilatila (ALD4,13/01/2018). Tilatila then gives a unique sound to indicate to all living things on the land surface to prepare for rain which sometimes may last for few days. This understanding of the connectivity of all living beings is rooted in the cultural beliefs of local people of NP. Again, the earthworm is also used here as an indicator of rain because of its involvement in the process of predicting rain when it appears on the surface of the ground during fine or sunny weather.

6.2.2 Fauna as indicators of extreme changes (climate variabilities and change) in environmental conditions

For forecasting extreme weather conditions within a greater distance (weeks and months in advance) local people in NP use a variety of indicators (Table 6.2). These are chiefly used for forecasting tropical cyclones and heavy rainfall events. Most interviewees identify that the emerald dove (n=11 or65%) is an indicator that they can expect a tropical cyclone to pass in the vicinity of NP during the forthcoming cyclone season. A participant AHD10, for instance, described the behaviour of the wild emerald dove as indicator of tropical cyclone activity:

If I walked in the bush and came across [an] emerald dove nests or eggs on wild ferns (Tectarialatifoliaor rocksnear the ground surface, then I knew that there is a possibility of a tropical cyclone during upcoming cyclone season (AHD10, 07/01/2018)

The emerald doves prepare their nests lower to the surface of the ground (as a means to avoid the powerful winds of tropical cyclones) several months ahead of the commencement of the cyclone season (1st of November to 30th of April the following year). The participants in this study consider the emerald dove a highly accurate predictor of tropical cyclone occurrences in the area.  Local people are aware of the signs and of the traditional strategies that were used to reduce the risks associated with tropical cyclones. These include the storage of additional food, the preparation of gardens (including the planting of wind-resistant plants), ensuring that neighbours were made aware of the potential for cyclones, and the securing of houses (to ensure they withstood high winds). The use of tropical cyclone shelters is discussed in sub section 6.3.1 of this chapter.

The behaviour of other bird species (including Mansiroboe) are also used by local people as indicators of tropical cyclone activities. One interviewee reported:

Here, if I see a group of seabirds called Mansiroboe[7]  flying over land, then, I knew that a cyclone is near the island. These ocean birds only come on land during cyclone events looking for places to hide from the strong winds of the cyclone. (AHD6, 22/01/2018).

Figure 6. 1  Fauna used as indicators of extreme weather events

A bird that is standing in the grass

Description generated with high confidence

Source: Photos from google image

Table 6. 2 The behaviour of fauna as indicators of tropical cyclone events

Type of Indicator Climate Event Descriptions of Indicator Behaviour
Emerald Dove (Ground-dove) Tropical cyclone A ground-dove preparing its nest or laying its eggs on wild fern (Gasigasi), (Bwatmavoa) or rocks near the ground surface indicates that a cyclone is expected during the coming cyclone season.
Bwagoh (small reef Fish) Tropical Cyclone If you see a small fish called Bwagoh coming out from their home or hiding places into an open area, then it signals that a cyclone or the very bad weather is approaching.
Beach hoppers (Talitrus saltator) Tropical Cyclone Beach hoppers usually do not come out, but if there is the possibility of a cyclone in the area, you see them coming out from their holes, under stones and climbing on stones, leaves, logs near the beach.
Sea Bird (Laysan albatross) Tropical Cyclone If a seabird called Mansiroboe (seabird) flies over land, then it indicates that a cyclone is near the island. These ocean birds only come on land during cyclone events looking for places to hide from the cyclone

Other types of indicators are also used for tropical cyclone predictions, including the migrations of seabirds from ocean to land (12%), behaviour of fish species (Bwagoh[8]) and beach hoppers (6%). Most of research participants (n=17 out of 25) report they use fauna to forecast extreme weather events and take anticipatory actions in response to these indicators.    Most participants were aware that TK-DRR strategies could be used but did not necessarily implement it. Instead, they were increasingly reliant on western weather forecasting and waiting for the imminent signs of tropical cyclones (such as storm clouds and high winds), rather than phenological indicators of climatic variability. The diminishing use of TK is a source of ongoing concern amongst TK experts interviewed as part of this study and will be explored more in depth in chapter 7.

6.2.3 Flora as Indicators of Climatic variability and change

In this section I discuss the extent to which different plants are used by local people of NP to forecast and make decisions in anticipation of weather conditions, including extreme weather events. Almost all participants interviewed did not indicate any use of flora as indicators to forecast weather conditions on a day-to-day basis. However, they did note the use of certain plants as indicators of seasonal variability and extremes weather events (see Table 6.3). Local people interviewed as part of this study identified six different types of plants that people in NP use as indicators to predict tropical cyclone, drought, and heavy rainfall occurrences. Research participants note how in the weeks preceding the start of the tropical cyclone season (1st of November to 30th of April the following year) the widespread blossoming of plants and over-abundance of fruits on fruit trees forewarn them that tropical cyclones are likely to strike during the cyclone season. Participants report that this indicator is widely used in many other parts of Vanuatu to predict tropical cyclone events with trees including mangoes, breadfruits, Vele[9] (Barringtonia edulis,) allof whichwere mentionedduring the interviews.

Table 6.3 Use of flora behaviour as indicators for extreme weather events

Type of Indicators Climate Events Descriptions of Indicator Behaviour

Blossoming of fruits and plants

Tropical cyclone There is an abundance of fruit on fruit trees.   Some trees may have fruit popping out from the stem upwards and in large numbers This a perfect indicator of cyclones occurring during the upcoming season.
Dry season continues into the wet season & small jungle plant leaves start to drop El-Nino/Drought If the dry season continues into the wet season or the wet season does not start as expected, then we go into the jungle and check the leaves of small plants. If you see plant leaves start to drop, then this indicates longer dry periods ahead.
Leaves of Sileage (Pongamia pinnata)tree Tropical cyclone Sileage (Pongamia pinnata) tree leaves turning yellow and falling off the trees indicates the possibility of the cyclone in the coming season. This tree is the first to grow immediately after the cyclone.


Moss (Mosses)

Drought Moss growing on the stem or trunk of trees to thicken the skin (cover-up of the tree) so that moisture is maintained on the tree. During droughts, the moss will dry and fall out including the thin outer skin of the tree, but there is still moisture to hold the tree during the dry time (drought).
Adomwae(Pipturus agenteusleaves Tropical cyclone Leaves of Adomwae trees turn over with the lower part of the leaves visible from a long distance.
The flowering of Raramemea (Erythrina variegate) Normal Dry Season The flowering of Raramemea indicates time for slash and burn.

Source: Fieldwork, January 2018

Figure 6. 2 Flora indicators used for forecasting extreme weather of climate variability and extreme weather events

A bunch of green bananas growing on a tree

Description generated with high confidence

Sources: Photos A& B from Fieldwork, January 2018, C & D from google image

Other plant indicators such as the leaves of the Sileage (Pongamia pinnata) tree turning yellow and falling off the trees are also indicators of a forthcoming tropical cyclone. Other plants are indicators of the onset of drought conditions. As participant ALD1 states:

If I noticed that the dry season continues into the wet season or the wet season does not start as expected, then I go into the jungle and check the leaves of small plants if you see plant leaves start to drop, then this indicates longer dry periods ahead. I use the jungle because most of the living things live there and these are places that withstand many extreme events in the past, so it is the right place to show the extent and adequate strength of the extreme event such as drought (ALD1, 13/01/2018)

Two other flora are commonly used to predict dry weather, moss and Raramemea[10] Erythrina variegate. Participant ALD1 describes how he watches the behaviour of moss to identify if drought is likely:

If I walked in the jungle or bush and discovered that most of the trees are covered in moss and that usually, these trees do not behave in such a way, I knew that there would be long periods of dry weather ahead, which may last for 2-3 months. Moss-grown on the stem or trunk of trees is to thicken the skin so that moisture is maintained the tree during dry periods. During droughts, the moss will dry and fall out including the thin outer skin of the tree, but there is still moisture in the skin to hold the tree during the dry time (drought). The tree will not die or dry up (ALD1, 13/01/2018)

Participant ALD1 further explains how his TK derives from his personal experiences and daily interactions with his local environment. His abilities to notice changes is highly localised and situated, and emerges from his personal, familial and ancestoral connections to place and ecosystems. As mentioned earlier by ALD7, TK is about the relational connections between all aspects of the living environment, with correct natural resource management (and adaptation actions) following on from those inter-relationships.

6.2.4 Atmospheric conditions as indicators of future weather conditions

TK on atmospheric conditions, such as cloud appearances and shapes, wind directions, and temperature were widely used indicators of environmental changes (see Table 6.4). Local people’s TK of the atmosphere is regarded as the best indicator of short-term changes in the environmental conditions at a local level. Most of the interviewees use altocumulus clouds as an indicator of rain; whenever they see altocumulus covering up the sky, then rain is expected within the next day. Interviewees linked cloud movements with the wind directions. The observation of fast-moving, low-level clouds going in the same direction, for instance, was a sign that a tropical cyclone would occur within three days. Interviewee ALD7 described how he used these indicators in the days before tropical cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in March 2015.

Before the Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, I already saw the signs based on these indicators I am talking about, and I remembered telling the people in my community. Before that, there was an El-Niño, followed by hot and humid weather which is also an indicator of rain or storm. When I see that plants and crops damaged by El-Niño and that they are suffering, I knew that there would be another extreme event that will follow which will either be long periods of rain or expecting a powerful cyclone.  The large heaps of clouds that I mentioned earlier appeared again before the onset of severe tropical cyclone Pam. I saw these four heaps of clouds passed, following each other in the same direction, I tell the people that a cyclone is coming our way. Again, if you can read signs and indicators from the natural environment, then you become part of the earth that relates to all living things, and you will quickly adapt to the changing environment (ALD7, 12/01/2018).

Table 6.4  Atmospheric Conditions as Indicators of Short -Term Environmental Change

Type of Indicators Weather Events Descriptions of Indicator Behaviour
Large heaps of Clouds towards the east hill Immediate rain Clouds appearing in large heaps on the hills to the east side of the island indicates next rain.
N, NW, NE Winds direction and clouds movement Expecting rain with few hours Prevailing northerly, north-westerly and north-easterly winds with corresponding low clouds movement.
Altocumulus cloud covering the sky Rain If the altocumulus clouds are covering up the sky, then this indicates that rain is expected during the next day. At night you would see it surround the moon.
Fast moving low clouds, calm seas and surface winds. Approaching cyclone- cyclone within 3-4 days A few days before the cyclone, there are calm seas and winds.  Trees stand still without the effect of winds blowing. If the winds are blowing strong but the clouds do not move faster, then no cyclone is expected.
Southerly winds and clouds lying parallel with the island Fine If there is a long line of high clouds lying parallel with the island, then it indicates beautiful weather.
Hot and humid during the day/night Afternoon or evening/night showers. Sometimes it gets too hot and humid, and towards the late afternoon or night, you will feel fresh cold winds, this will indicate rain immediately.
Clouds appear red on the western horizon (Mera) (sunsets) Fine weather next day The clouds are reddish orange in colour with a thin line of clouds. It indicates that the following day, there will fine or good weather
Clouds appear red on the eastern horizon (Mera singwahelea) (sunrise) Rain If the Mera is seen where the sun rises (Mera singwahelea) it will rain.

Source: Data from Fieldwork, January 2018

Research participants use observations about wind directions as a method to forecast forthcoming weather conditions. When the wind blows from a northerly direction, it brings with it hot and humid weather, which may result in rain occurring at times over the area. Other times, local people know that rain will fall within hours by observing the formation of large heaps of clouds on the hills towards the east side of the island. This again is the result of prevailing east and south-east trade winds that push warm air from the ocean up to the high altitude which result in clouds Forming. This type of weather is typical for a highly volcanic islands in the Pacific. Local people from NP employ their TK to forecast local weather conditions and make decisions about NRM. The line of clouds appearing red and orange in colour to the west (Mera), indicates fine weather is to be expected, but when it appears to the east (Mera singwahelea) then it indicates forthcoming rain. All interviewees report the use of atmospheric indicators to forecast weather conditions.

For extreme weather events, four indicators are identified by participants as key for the prediction of droughts and tropical cyclones. One participant describes his family’s knowledge about cloud formations that they use to predict tropical cyclones, and the ways in which other indicators are used in tandem to forecast and make decisions about anticipatory actions:

From my community here, you see clouds moving very fast in large heaps following each other, during this time the sky is clear. There are four large heaps of clouds following each other but very fast or speedy. These are the indicators that I follow with my families to predict cyclones. To confirm this, I must now go into the bush specifically to places where emerald dove (Mwaragi) are usually found. I usually find them sitting on stones or lower plants near the ground surface. Then this confirms that a cyclone is heading towards my island or region and that I must now prepare my food and houses. (ALD7, 12/01/2018).

The interviewee describes how before cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March 2015, they noticed “large heaps of clouds” and “knew that there would be a powerful cyclone”. Interviewee ALD7 further explained how he prepared for tropical cyclone Pam based on his observations of the environment and the indicators that he used.

When I saw those signs, I told my families and the people in the communities. We collected firewood, collected clean water, prepared our houses by putting coconut leaves, bamboos and banana stem on roofs. Water is saved because immediately after cyclones, all rivers, streams and ocean will be polluted by run-offs from the ground surface. I collected enough food, mainly those that can quickly destroy by strong winds of cyclone so that it can sustain my family and me during the cyclone and after the cyclone before crops could grow again.  Most of the root crops such as wild yam, taro, and manioc were prepared to withstand strong wind. Cassava stems, taro and banana leaves were cut. Only bananas, papaws and other fruits trees were collected and stored away in safe places.  After four days, tropical cyclone Pam came closer to our shore producing strong winds that destroyed most of the fruit trees and houses. (ALD7, 12/01/2018)

Local people use combinations of TK indicators to predict extremes events. For example, participant ALD7 used cloud type and movement, unusual behaviour of an emerald dove and El Nino events to predict tropical cyclone occurrences. ALD7 description of the use of these traditional indicators is supported by participant AUD1. AUD1 describes how land is connected to the atmosphere based on his knowledge and belief of the natural environment:

I believed that formation of rain lies within the land called Matanvanua. This person or spirit lives on the mountain tops. It watches over what happens in the lands including all single living things in the land. The works and behaviour of all living things on the earth (land) is monitored by this spirit. If it sees that nature is improperly treated or has been suffering because of heat, then it speaks to the atmosphere (Muganmahava). Muganmahava speaks to the three main winds that lie within the clouds to drop onto the land as rain to cool off the heat and give life to the living things (AUD1, 09/01/2018).

Atmospheric conditions are considered the best indicator of droughts by a large portion of participants (n=15), with other atmospheric conditions such as colour of clouds, continuous morning dew, and previous extreme weather events are all used to forecast future conditions (see Table 6.5).

Table 6.5 Atmospheric Conditions as Indicators of Long-Term Environmental Change

Type of Indicators Climate Events Descriptions of Indicators Behaviour
Continued reddish Orange or yellow colour reflections of sun during sunset (Mera). Expecting long dry periods (Drought) Observed reddish-orange or yellow colour of sun reflection on the horizon where the sun usually sets. Continuous appearance of this colour indicates the possibility of long dry periods (drought)
Continues morning dew Drought (long dry period) If there is continuous dew in the morning for almost a month, this indicates longer dry periods ahead.
Severe drought earlier (El-Nino) Tropical Cyclone or periods of heavy rain An extreme event such as El Nino may indicate another extreme event to follow.
Hazy (Like smoke) ocean Drought (El-Nino) I get up every morning and when I look at the ocean, if it looks like the ocean is hazy, looks like smoke and during the night the place is cool, this indicates there will be long periods of dry time.
A parallel line of clouds. Drought The line of clouds up high in the sky lying parallel with the islands and remain for a month, indicates
Hot and humid Heavy rain or tropical cyclone hot and humid weather during cyclone season – expect cyclone.

Source: Fieldwork, January 2018

One participant described the scenario of Mera stating that, “the place where the sun usually sets is continually turned reddish yellow whenever the sun sets, and during its setting, it turns more red. We called it Mera. It indicates that there will be long periods of sun or el-Nino is expected” (ADH2, 26/01/2018). However, some of the participants refer to Mera as an indicator of fine weather, but sometimes the fine weather may be prolonged for one or two months.  Similar predictions are made about periods of dry weather. A few participants note that if dry weather extended into the beginning of the wet season, they look for signs of leaves of small plants and moss on trees in the jungle or bush to forecast whether drought was imminent, and preparations needed to be taken.

6.2.5 Other environmental indicators of weather and climate variability and change

Astronnomical features are used as indicators to alert local people of North Pentecost on imminent changes to the environmental conditions. More than half of research participants interviewed (n=16) use astronomical indicators for weather conditions and when to plant crops. The positions of moon phases (waxing and waning phase) are used as indicators for both rain and fine weather. One interviewee described how his community used the moon phases to predict the weather:

Here we follow the moon phase as an indicator of weather. When the moon is in a waning crescent phase, it indicates a good time here in my community. However, when it is in a waxing crescent phase it indicates bad weather, there will be windy and rain over my community not only here but around north Pentecost region. If you closely monitor the moon phase, you will be able to predict the weather over your area (AHD12, 9/01/2018).

Just under half of people interviewed (44%) as part of this study use the different phases of the moon as a predictor of weather conditions in their local environment. Participants not only use the moon phases to predict or tell the weather, but the moon phases also tell them when the best time is to plant their crops. Participants AHD14 and AHD4 argue that waning moon phase is the best time to plant and result in good and productive harvests. Participants argue that planting at the right times contributes to better harvests, which maintains food security.

Participants also observe ocean current and swell waves for signs of the imminent arrival of tropical cyclones. The behaviour of the ocean is seen as the final warning for local people to make last preparations before a cyclone strikes their community (AHD3, 26/01/2018). Two interviewees describe how they observe the behaviour of swells:

The sea behaviour can indicate the approaching cyclone. Once the winds start to blow very strong, we send the kids to watch out for swells on a point called Singoetara, the two large stones called Singbwero, if the swell goes over the two rocks, they ran back and told their parents. The swells over Singbwero indicate approaching cyclones. The message is communicated to the rest of the communities and the last preparations are done ready for the cyclones. If the swell waves do not go over the two stones, no cyclones expected. The other signs are the swell in the open ocean if the swells are crossing each other or encountering each other, this indicates cyclone. However, if the sea is rough and the swells are coming in one direction; there is no cyclone. (AHD7, 08/01/2018)

Table 6.6 Astronomical and marine conditions as indicators of short-term variations in weather conditions

Type of Indicators Weather Event Descriptions of Indicator Behaviour


Fine weather (whole month) A special star called Mahoe usually appears on the eastern horizon at the beginning of each month. When it appears without clouds, then good weather is expected for most of the month ahead.
Ocean current Approaching storm (TC) A large current is visible from the island and large waves approach shorelines.


Moon Phase

Fine/Rain If the moon is in a waning crescent moon phase or the curved part is facing away from the community, it indicates fine weather. However, when the moon is in a waxing crescent moon phase or the curved part is facing towards the community then rain is expected.


Swell (waves)

Approaching cyclones If the swell goes over the two rocks, we ran back and told our parents. The swells over Singbwero rocks indicate approaching cyclones. The other signs are the swell in the open ocean if the swells are crossing each other or encountering each other, this indicates an approaching cyclone.

Source:  Fieldwork, January 2018

The local people of NP use a variety of indicators to anticipate variability and changes in weather and climate conditions. Their TK is based on their experiences and interactions with their local environment, which allows them to adjust their daily activities and prepare for extreme events. The most used indicators relate to extreme weather events (including tropical cyclones and droughts). Indicators are used in combination to confirm predicted weather conditions. However, all participants agree that the use of TK indicators to predict changes in the environmental conditions is slowly declining due to the increased influence of western knowledge, technologies, and modes of living, which will be discussed in regard to food and water management strategies.

6.3 Traditional Natural Management and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Strategies

Local people use a variety of traditional natural resource management practices, chiefly related to food and water, and disaster risk reduction strategies to manage climate variability and extreme events. There is evidence that some of these food and water management practices are no longer practised today, however interviewees are aware of historical methods and indicate a desire to revive traditional practices as a means of adapting to increasingly variable and changing climatic conditions (which is discussed in chapter 7). The participants argue that the reduction in the use of TK practices is largely due to western education and development. I will firstly discuss tropical cyclone shelters, then food and water management strategies.

6.3.1 Built Environment Traditional Tropical Cyclone Shelters

All the villages I visited during the fieldwork have large community halls called Gamali[11] (Fig 6.3) that are used for community events and as tropical cyclone shelters. The halls are made from traditional materials obtained from the forest and are typically 20-30 metres in length, 4-6 metres in width, and 5 metres in height. These community halls, used for community meetings, marriage and other cultural ceremonies as well as cyclone shelters, can withstand the strong winds of tropical cyclones when properly constructed with local materials. Usually, these houses are built in lower or shallow parts of the village away from direct wind impact and purposely sheltered from direct cyclone winds. The roof thatches run from both sides of the house to the ground surface. These techniques are designed to reduce the risk of strong winds lifting the thatches during cyclone events. There are no windows in the halls, only two doors constructed on the front and back of the building. Participants report that their villages’ Gamali has withstood many cyclones in the past.

Figure 6. 3 Traditional Cyclone Shelters (Gamali).

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

Only a few houses are made of western materials, but most of the houses in the study area are made of local materials using traditional techniques. In addition to house designs, interviewees describe the strategies they employ to prepare for tropical cyclones including cutting of green coconut leaves and use of bamboo on roofs of traditional houses (Fig 6.4) (AHD8, 04/01/2018; AHD7, 08/01/2018). One participant describes how:

For cyclones, first, we prepare our houses, putting heavy stuff on the roofs such as woods, green coconut leaves, and banana stems. The bamboos are cut and placed on roofs, tied to hold the roof thatches so that when the winds are blowing very strong, the thatches will not fly out (AHD7, 08/01/2018).

Figure 6. 4 Green coconut leaves place on local houses on Vao Island in Vanuatu during Tropical Cyclone Hola in March 2018

A group of giraffe standing on top of a dirt field

Description generated with high confidence

Source: Vanuatu Daily post Newspaper, 9 March 2018

Some participants also discussed other tropical cyclone shelters such as caves or stone holes and an underground shelter, which are less frequently used. The underground shelter is constructed out of an old damage steel water tank. The steel tank has been laid horizontal on the ground at the base of a steep slope and soil is dug and placed on top.

Previously, caves were important shelters during cyclone events, however they are not commonly used in the present day. Yet, participants report that when a tropical cyclone destroys all the houses in a village people will run to the caves as a last resort to survive. This is what happened on another island in Vanuatu (Matasso Island) during tropical cyclone Pam in March 2015. All the houses on the island were destroyed when the cyclone made landfall, but local people managed to escape to caves and rock holes to shelter from strong winds and rain. I was on the island three months after the cyclone where the local people showed me some of the caves they used during the cyclone (Figure 6.5). They retained their TK about the caves and ensured that access to the caves was kept free of vegetation so that they could use the caves during times of crisis.

Figure 6. 5  Caves and rock holes used by local people of Matasso Island during Tropical Cyclone Pam in March 2015

A large tree in a forest

Description generated with high confidence

Source: Photo from Field survey, July 2015 (Authors own)

6.3.2 Food Management Practices

Participants report knowledge of a variety of food crops that can withstand variable weather conditions and extremes, such as tropical cyclones or droughts. Key disaster resilient crops include wild yam (Dioscorea numularia), domesticated yam (Dioscorea alata)Fiji taro (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), sweet yam (Dioscorea esculenta), Wild Taro (Alocasia macrrhizos),cassava and sweet potatoes. These food crops produced tubes in the soil that are safe from direct impacts of strong winds (associated with tropical cyclones) and the heat of the sun (during droughts) (see Table 6.7).

Local people also employ a variety of traditional food management strategies to prepare for and recover from extreme weather events thereby maintaining their food security. For example, cassava stems are usually cut short to prevent damage by the strong wind of cyclones (Fig 6.6). Banana and taro leaves are also cut to reduce friction by wind strength. Wild yams are considered the main traditional disaster crop. Locals refer to wild yams as ‘money in the bank’. Wild yams can remain for many years in the soil without decomposing and can be harvested any time whenever needed in times of disasters. Participants recommend that all people in NP should be planting wild yams as an anticipatory risk reduction strategy for climate variability and extremes (with practice of planting wild yams declining due to the increased reliance on imported foodstuffs including rice). Another important root crop is wild taro (Alocasia macrrhizos) (Fig 6.7). As participant ALD1 describes:

Wild taro (Alocasia macrrhizos) is another food crop that can last for many years, even survived through extreme weather and climate events. The young middle part of the young leaves of the taro is removed to disturb its growth. All the leaves may fall off leaving the tube alone. The tube part of the taro gets nutrients (water) from the soil through its roots to feed on, and this keeps the taro for more than a year. These techniques have been practised for many years (ALD1,13/01/2018).

Figure 6. 6 A cassava patch prepared for a cyclone in Vanuatu.

Source: Photo from Department of Agriculture-Vanuatu

Table 6.7 Traditional Food and Management Practices for Weather and Climate Extremes.

Type of Food & Management Management Description
Gaironmaho (Oxera vanuatuensis) It indicates the level of food productivity by its flowers. If the flowers appear from the bottom stem near the ground surface to the top, then this is a definite indicator that whatever is planted will produce a good harvest. If it flowers, but the flowers are scattered, then the harvests will not be productive.
Ahea_Namambe fruit. (Inocarpus fagiferae) Namabe fruits (Ahea) are collected and kept in safe place with their pods. This practice is done before the cyclone during the Namabe season. Usually, there is a leftover Namabe fruit which can be stored safely. However, you must keep monitoring the young shoots and make sure to remove them so that the strong part of the pod is safe to eat.
Domesticated Yam (Dioscorea alata)  Yams can be stored in houses for more extended periods of time after they are harvested. New growth of the shoots is monitored and removed to keep the yams for longer periods of time.
Wild Yams (Dioscorea numularia) Wild yam can be preserved for more extended periods before and after cyclones.
Fiji Taro (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) Fijian taro can be preserved for more extended periods before and after cyclones.
Bush Cabbage (Gasigasi (Tectaria latifolia) and Bwatmavoa (Pteris comans) Bush cabbage usually grows near the ground surface, so they are protected from the strong winds of cyclones. People harvest the young leaves immediately after the cyclone has passed, cooked or baked in earth ovens.


Maliudu is a shallow area or small valleys that plants and harvests crops such as leaf lap-lap (Heliconia sp), bananas, wild yams and other root crops. These areas are protected or sheltered from strong winds of cyclones. Areas such as maliudu can be regarded as bank or reserve during hard times especially cyclones or drought
Agroforestry/Inter-cropping Different types of crops/trees grown together in a garden plot. It is a common gardening/farming practice in the study area.
Island Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Taro stems are removed with the tube still left in the ground. This technique is used so that the taro tube does not go bad.
Cassava, and sweet potatoes Things that can be eaten immediately after a cyclone are cassava and kumala (sweet potatoes). Sweet potatoes can last for longer times if there are good amount been planted before the cyclone seasons. Cassava stems are cut shorter, and taro leaves are cut out so that winds do not damage them.
Wild Taro (Alocasia macrrhizos) The middle young leaves are pinched off to slow the growth. The nutrients collected from the soil feeds the consumable part of the plant. This food management technique will make the wild taro last for more than two years without decomposing
Sweet Yam (Dioscorea esculenta) Sweet Yam is planted in large numbers as a bank for food supply during the disastrous time such tropical cyclone.




Before a cyclone, breadfruits are harvested, put in woven baskets made of coconut leaves, tied up and placed in the seas nearshore with large sizeable stones placed on the baskets as a weight to hold the baskets from drifting out by the sea waves. More than two months later, when they are ready (softened up), the inner part is removed, put into bamboo pipes and placed in the kitchen over the fireplace to keep warm and dry.  It is eaten with dry coconut fresh. Natives call it Mara (Breadfruit). They can last for 2 or more years
Vovohe fruits and young leaves (Ficus wassa) This plant can grow very fast after a cyclone. The young leaves at the tops can be eaten. The fruits are harvested and baked in an earth oven or put in bamboos and roasted over open fire. It is then eaten with dry coconut fresh.
Dry Coconuts Dry coconuts are collected and stored in safe places. Usually, dry coconuts run out after cyclones due to damage on coconut trees.
Aragogona (tabu garden and coastal marine area) Areas of land divided among households in the villages by chiefs as “tabu” gardens. These pieces of land are used by villagers to plant food on. Also, at the same time a coastal marine area is placed under restriction (tabu). These two areas remain under restriction for 6 months or over before they were allowed to be used for food by villagers.

Source: Fieldwork, January 2018

Figure 6. 7 Some traditional Food crops and Plants used for Extreme Weather and Climate events.

A close up of a flower

Description generated with high confidence

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

The use of Maliudu forms part of other traditional food management practices used by local people in North Pentecost as a DRR or short-term adaptation strategy to reduce the risks associated with extreme weather events. Maliudu refers to small shallow or small valley areas adjacent to the villages where local people typically grow certain root crops and fruit trees for easy access during and immediately after an extreme event strike (most notably tropical cyclones). Trees and crops planted in Maliudu are a form of agroforestry. One interviewee claims that “…agroforestry or intercropping farm is important because you plant many crops/trees in one garden. Those that can survive during droughts or after cyclones could still be eaten or used” (AHD,26/01/2018). Maliudu are generally sheltered from strong winds associated with tropical cyclones. As one participant describes:

Maliudu are shallow areas or small valleys that plants and food crops such as leaf lap-lap (Heliconia sp), bananas, wild yams and other root crops or trees are planted there and are protected or sheltered from strong winds of cyclones and heat from the sun. Areas such as maliudu are regarded by local people as bank or reserves that can be utilised during hard times especially cyclones or drought, and during times when a visitor arrives, you just get food from the Maliudu. Also, Maliudu is essential for elderly or sick people who can no longer do arduous work and rely on maliudu because it is closer to their villages and homes (AHD10, 07/01/2018).

Figure 6. 8 Typical Agroforestry Farm Plot in Vanuatu

A group of palm trees

Description generated with very high confidence

Sources:Climate Change and Agriculture in Vanuatu, September 2013

Vovohe (Ficus wassa)tree is one of the most frequently used trees as a source of food before and after a tropical cyclone event. This tree was described by interviewee AHD10 as the ‘wisest tree’ because the fruits appear from the stem near the roots up to the branches (Fig 6.9). When the cyclone wind breaks the branches, the fruits remain attached to the stem near the roots which allow for people to collect them as food after the cyclone. Interviewee AHD4 states that the Vovohe tree grows its leaves quickly after a tropical cyclone passes, making it one of the first fresh foods that can be eaten after cyclone events. The young fruits and leaves are collected, wrapped in leaves and baked in an earth oven or cooked in bamboo pipes.

Figure 6. 9 Vovohe (Ficus wassa) tree.

A tree in a forest

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

In preparation for cyclone season, domesticated yam (Dioscorea alata) are also stored in heaps in safe places away from animals. These yams are monitored so that any new sprouts that come out of a yam must be immediately removed. This allows the yam to maintain its freshness and taste when cooked or baked. This practice of yam storage is a critical part of TK management strategies that are passed on from generation to generations. The Mara[12] produced from breadfruits is also a type of food that can last for more than a year, which contributes to community food security in the aftermath of disasters.  Even though it is not commonly practised today by the local people, knowledge of the practice remains and it is one of the most significant disaster foodstuffs used in the past to cope with and reduce the risks associated with extremes weather events. Similar types of food that is produce from breadfruit is also practiced in the Torres and Banks group of the most northern part of Vanuatu. Local people acknowledge that the use of Mara could easily be revived with community-based adaptation strategies that encourage the documentation and revitalisation of TK techniques for managing climate variability and extremes. Traditional Practises of Natural Resource Management

Pentecost Island is well-known for its “tabu” gardens, particularly in North Pentecost. Large hectares of land were equally divided and shared among the villagers to plant food crops, mainly yams. Tabu gardens are a form of food management practice that have been around for many generations and are embedded within the local culture of the rural communities. Another traditional food management practice is the coastal marine conservation area. The initiating of both the traditional tabu gardens and the coastal marine conservation area are carried out in conjunction with cultural ceremonies such as pig killing rituals. For example, in Nakgolum and Lavatmwagemu village, the chiefs have placed Namele leaves after pig killing rituals (see Figure 6.9) as sign of traditional tabu or restrictions on all marine resources for periods of five years but other places are open for villagers to use. One participant claims that:

these tabu on marine resources have with us for many years and have help us to maintain our fisheries supplies. As population increases and more people from other areas come to fish here, we see that the number of fish and other shell fish are decreasing. But for us here if you want to get something from the tabu area, you have to see the chief, he is the only person giving access to go there and only take enough for you (ALD9,15/01/2018).

Figure 6. 10  Present of Namele leaves indicates restrictions to harvesting of Marine Resources.

A close up of a tree

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

Natural resource management in NP has been part of cultural and traditional practices. It clearly demonstrates the strength and capacity of local people in resource conservation and food security. Considering environmental changes, this may bring challenges to the practices. Food Productivity Based on Environmental Indicators

Local people also use the arrival of Palolo worms, the lightning visible from thunder clouds and the flowering of a special tree called Gaironmaho (Oxera vanuatuensis) (Fig 6.8) as predictors of the level of productivity in the forthcoming yam harvest season. For instance, “after the planting of yams when there is lightning visible in the sky, this indicates good growth of yam which will result in good production” (AHD7,08/01/2018). For Gaironmaho, if the tree flowers from the bottom stem to the top and the flowers are packed together, then the yam harvest will be good (high in productivity). Alternatively, less flowers are signs to the local villagers to expect a reduced yam harvest. Most of these trees are planted close to homes in the villages for ease of access and monitoring. One participant states that “…it is believed that this tree can only be found here [Vanuatu] and Africa” (AHD9, 09/01/2018). The use of trees to forecast the productivity of yam harvests is an important component of local people’s TK food security system as it allows villagers the opportunity to prepare other sources of food in advance.

Figure 6. 11 Gaironmaho (Oxera vanuatuensis) with its yellow flowers attached to the stem.

A giraffe standing next to a palm tree

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Photo from Fieldwork, January 2018

In the study area of NP, local people also relate the arrival of Udu (palolo worms) to the level of food productivity and for indicating future extreme weather events. Based on their traditional knowledge and years of observations, local people could identify the behaviour of arrival of palolo worms in three categories that relate to food productivity and extreme weather events. For instance, if the worms arrive as Udu Matala, then people usually associate this with usual or constant food production and the chance of a cyclone for the coming cyclone season will be low, while Udu Malageha is associated with abundance of food and farm or garden products are high in productivity. During these times, cyclones are expected. Udu Rara is associatedwith less food productivity and long periods of dry weather are expected (AUDI,09/01/2018). The accumulated knowledge of the natural environment of local people to the behaviour of palolo worms’ arrival also help them to manage food and to employ appropriate adaptation strategies for extreme weather events.

6.3.3 Water Management

The availability and management of freshwater supplies is an ongoing challenge for local people in the villages of NP that took part in my study due to natural variability in precipitation rates as well as increased variability linked to climate change. The local people from Ahivo and Aute districts (see Table 6.8), who rely on rainwater for their water supplies, employ a variety of traditional water management strategies to manage rainfall variability, as well as western technologies (storage tanks). Communities in the other district of Aligu use streams as their main source of freshwater. Although they report that water levels decreased during El-Nino (drought) periods they are less concerned about water scarcity (both now and under changing climate conditions). The area of Aligu is less populated with most of the natural forest in their natural state.

Table 6. 8 Water sources and Management Practices

Water Sources & Management Management Description

Bamboo (Bamusavulgaris) pipe

Water is stored in bamboo pipes for use during droughts, or bamboo pipes are used to collect water from far away water sources to the village.

Coconut stem

Coconut stems are cut, and the inner part of the stem is drilled to allow water to be stored inside them during rainy days. This technique is done to increase water security in cases of dry periods.


Water tanks (polystyrene & cement) 

The water tank is usually locked and open once a day. The rainwater collected during the rainfall events is only for cooking and drinking. Cement water tanks were built and upgraded to polystyrene water tanks which contribute in managing water during droughts and el-Nino. Almost every household has water tanks.

Coastal spring water (Danu & Wai non Taga) 

Coastal spring water during low tide is used for washing and swimming.  Spring water further up the coast is properly managed by building a reservoir to collect and store water for use by local communities.
Jungle water holes dug in the ground (Waironuhe) Holes are dug in the soil to collect and store water. Usually, the holes are dug in the jungle or bushes. Water collected and stored here are used during long dry periods.
Streams/Rivers Uses of rivers and streams for washing and swimming.
Water in large tree roots /potholes on rocks (Tumun Gai & vatu) Water is stored in large coiled tree roots. The water found is carefully drained into long bamboo pipes and brought home for drinking and cooking.

Source: Data from Fieldwork, January 2018

Previously, water security was a persistent problem for local people because there were limited ways of storing rainwater during drought events. One participant recounts how, “in the past, it is quite hard or difficult to find water” during droughts (AHD12, 2018). The “only source of water [at dry times was the] coiled roots of larger older trees that hold water (Tumu)”.  Local people traditionally used a variety of methods to store water, which continue to be utilised to a greater or lesser degree in different communities. These include coiled roots of large trees, coconut stems, and dug ground wells. One participant recalls the TK water storage practice whereby “coconut trees are cut, and the bottom cut-stem standing are drilled using knives and sticks so that when it rains, it can hold water and this water can last longer”. In addition, he goes onto state, “there is a ground well where water is stored”. Similarly, another interviewee state:

In the past water could be preserved in large tree roots that could hold water. This water was safe, and we went into the jungle to cool off and look for water. The water found was carefully drained into long bamboo pipes and brought home for drinking. This water could be found in tree roots such as Namabe (Inocarpus fagiferae) and Dao (Pometiia pinnata) tree. Sometimes, we cut the coconut and palm tree trunk, drill and remove the flesh of the inside of the stem and leave open to collect water when it rains. Many trees were cut to collect enough water so that it can be used for drinking and cooking during drought (AHD9, 09/01/2018).

However, the introduction of western knowledge regarding health and hygiene and the construction of cement and poly water tanks is contributing to “erased all these things”. These new technologies “help a lot to manage water during droughts. Almost every household [now have] water tanks” (AHD12, 09/01/2018).


Most interviewees state that today water is more freely available due to the introduction of western-style portable water tanks and containers. However, they insist that even though western water storage is employed, they still use traditional methods of water management to supplement their use of western water storage and management techniques during drought. For example, they dig ground wells in the bush and wash and swim in coastal spring waters.

Figure 6. 12  Sources of water used during droughts

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

Water is now stored in plastic and concrete tanks, which is used for drinking and cooking. A water storage tank can hold 6,000 to 10, 000 litres of water. The interviewees state that with proper management of water usage, it could last throughout the dry season. Some of the interviewees explain how they manage water during dry periods associated with natural variability linked to El-Nino conditions. This includes a mixture of western technologies (water storage) and traditional water management practices, with emphasis on community health and wellbeing. Rather than emphasize individual water rights and usage, water is managed collectively and strictly monitored.  One interviewee reports that in in his community, the water tank is usually locked up and open once a day. The water collected during [dry conditions] is only for cooking and drinking, with people going to the coast to use the spring water at “low tide for washing and swimming” (AHD8, 04/01/2018). Similarly, another participant report on the usefulness of water tanks during long dry periods associated with El-Nino to store freshwater, which is “saved for drinking and cooking”. People rely on coastal spring water for washing, and for saving water. During these times, food is cooked using earth ovens or roasted on open fires rather than boiled or steamed (AHD5, 27/01/2018). In addition, gardening activities are altered during dry periods:

We encourage people to reduce weeding activities in their gardens, or if weeding is done, all weeds are kept over the soil to reduce moisture or water evaporating away.  Bushes [are] not cleared. (AHD2, 26/01/2018).

Figure 6. 13 Tanks used for water storage

A close up of a green yard

Description generated with high confidence

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

For the local people of Aligu district, water is reportedly less of an issue during droughts as they use streams and small rivers as their main source of freshwater rather than only rainfall. One participant from the area states that their “streams or small rivers do not get dry even during long periods of dry weather such as droughts, but you could notice the decrease in the flow and level of water. Now, we have water tanks that collect rainwater and stored for times like that, so we do not have to walk long distances to fetch water for cooking and drinking. Washing is done in streams that run down to the beaches” (ALD1,13/01/2018).

Figure 6. 14 Streams and small rivers as source of water for Villages in Aligu District

A river surrounded by trees

Description generated with very high confidence

Source: Photos from Fieldwork, January 2018

Participants all concur that the introduction of western technologies to store freshwater has greatly enhanced their capacities to adapt to rainfall variability. The participants report that people who can build houses with iron roofing collect rainwater and store them in large water tanks (see Figure 6.11). Also, people who are educated and have jobs in cities and towns of Port Vila and Luganville are able to purchase water storage tanks and send them back to their home villages. Still, participants voice concerns about long term water security and report that during long, dry periods the availability of freshwater remains a source of worry amongst villagers. During times of water scarcity, most of the participants strongly argue that local communities cannot just rely on western technological solutions and need to remember and employ traditional water management strategies. This point is particularly pressing in the context of increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns linked to climate change.

6.4 Decreased used of TK and need to incorporate TK in Climate Change Adaptation

Local people express support for incorporating TK into community-based climate adaptation strategies, which would serve to enhance the capacities to adapt to changing environmental conditions and address local people’s concerns about the loss of TK. Participants argue that traditional management strategies are particularly useful for reducing the risks associated with tropical cyclones. All the interviewees report that local people are increasingly reliant on scientific information (chiefly from the Vanuatu weather office). However, often the information supplied by the weather office did not meet the requirements of the local people in NP and they reported confusion as to what weather conditions they were to expect and what actions they should take to prepare.  This confusion increases their vulnerability to extreme weather events. Most of the interviewees argue that young people in the area do not follow TK or seek out elders to teach them about weather conditions, indicators, and resource management and DRR strategies. However, they all agree that some process of formally recording and incorporating TK into the design and planning of community-based adaptation, integrated in sustainable development efforts, would provide multiple benefits for communities. Such a community-led process to co-produced community-based climate adaptation strategies based on TK, augmented by Western scientific knowledge and technologies where appropriate, would maintain and enhance intergenerational transmission of TK as well as consider local people’s values, priorities, and adaptation preferences.

Participants argue that there is some sort of formal process of allowing for TK to be incorporated in or to provide the foundations of community development strategies. Participants maintain this is required because of the increasing emphasis within government, scientific, NGO, and religious discourses on Western development as the solutions to the litany of problems (poverty, corruption, climate change, natural hazards, gender violence) faced by Pacific communities. In the context of extreme weather events, one participant notes how “western development” means that many people’s now “use of mobile phone” to easily “access scientific information from weather office” and consequently TK “things are starting to disappear”. However, he argues that TK remains “very important because it is with you and you see change” and can take actions in response, and “you can still later verify information with other sources such as scientific information” (ALD6, 12/01/2018).

Similarly, an interviewee explains the shift away from planting disaster resilient crops with yams not being grown in higher amounts as occurred in the past “because of money”. Subsistence farming practices are being replaced by market-based activities, and people are not investing the time or resources into yam farming. Local people are taking temporary jobs overseas (namely in New Zealand as seasonal workers in the horticulture industry) to earn money rather than staying home and planting crops. One participant reports that “money speaks for everything now” with many local people from villages in NP moving from villages to live in the townships of Port Vila and Santo. The money people earn in the market-economy is used to buy rice, tinned fish and meat, which serves to replace many traditional food crops. The imported foodstuff, moreover, can “hold you for long periods of time” and serve as a disincentive to plant disaster resilient crops in preparation for the potential for drought or tropical cyclone events (AHD7, 08/01/2018).

There is a shift in the values of many local people with the influence of western knowledge and development, with western technologies for food and water management and housing design increasingly being implemented. For example, there is a shift from traditional houses to building modern concrete houses. Local people describe how iron roof houses can now collect rainwater to be stored in tanks that last through El-Nino (which often brings drought conditions), which they consider a positive change. The introduction of iron roofs and storage tanks represents a new adaptation that allows individuals, households, and communities to manage rainfall variability better. Other changes as well are slowing emerges such as the use of cash to purchase imported goods and the reliance on foods donated by an external organization or the government in the aftermath of tropical cyclones rather than traditional food management techniques. The use of such strategies (reliance on imported foodstuffs and external sources of support) are not necessarily sustainable and involves the loss of traditional DRR strategies. According to interviewee AHD7, many traditional food crops such as yams, Mara (breadfruit) are not produced at higher production rates like before because of imported foods such as rice and biscuits that make people lose interest in the traditional way of survival which is consistently available to them (AHD7, 08/01/2018).

There was consensus amongst the interviewees that national and provincial governments must support initiatives to employ TK in climate adaptation strategies. Some participants argue that it is critical that some elements (but not all) of traditional modes of living are revitalised, to ensure communities are best equipped to manage current and future impacts of climate change. Many interviewees report that at present the national government and its departments do not adequately recongise that TK can inform the development of community-based adapation strategies. Instead, emphasis is placed on top-down expert driven western scientific-informed climate adaptation planning and practices.  Participants hope that participation in this research project, and other similar studies undertaken throughout Vanuatu and the Pacific, will highlight the importance of TK and encourage the national government to incorporate TK projects into climate adaptation efforts. Some local people suggest that rather than “western concept[s] of living … pushing aside” traditional modes of living, the government could encourage community development strategies based “on the traditional way of living”. One participant forcefully argues that” we need to recover and follow [traditional knowledge] or incorporate [western] knowledge … to work alongside with traditional knowledge” (AHD4, 07/01/2018) as a method to adapt to shocks, disruptions and changes in social, cultural, economic, and environmental conditions.

How to develop and incorporate [TK into] adaptation strategies:  We can revive and encourage young people on the importance of traditional knowledge in this area, weather and climate.  We start off by identifying young people who are interested in this area (AHD5, 27/01/2018)

We can revive these things only if the different communities come together and agree on things together. What to do and what not to do. Every society must agree on these things. These are important because respect is honoured, and rules are followed. We can work with the chiefs to revive these things (AHD7, 08/01/2018)

My community here is based on traditional knowledge. Today, many people do not follow the traditional or indigenous knowledge of the natural environment or how nature behaviours. It makes it difficult for people to prepare or adapt to changes that are affecting us now or will affect us in the future.  If we enforce and revive these things, then it is good that we incorporate into community development through projects like this (ALD5, 13/01/2018)

Participants argue that community-based adaptation needs to go beyond simply focusing on the impacts of climate change, and include efforts to address community aspirations for sustainable development (for instance improved livelihood and education options) and concerns about the loss of TK.

6.5 Conclusion

This chapter presents the first part of the results. It identifies and highlights significant indicators used by the local people to adjust to changes in the environment. Moreover, the adaptive practices used to cope with these changes mainly with traditional management of food, water and shelter. This chapter also provides insight into the participant’s willingness to incorporate traditional knowledge into the development of community-based adaptation strategies. The next chapter will present the next part of the results focusing on TK (worldviews) and documents on how local people’s perceptions of changes are closely tied to their overarching worldview and ontological understandings of the world around them.


7.1 Introduction

This chapter presents the next component of TK which are the worldviews systems and local people’s perception of change, both climatic and social change. I demonstrate how local people’s perception of change are closely tied to their overarching worldview and ontological understanding of the world around them. I also present in this chapter the governing structure based on secondary data from government and NGO documents. The information obtained from these documents will help in developing strategies that TK could be incorporated in the development of community-based climate change adaptation.

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