What features and which occupants will endure?

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Victor Hwang referred to an “ecological systems” point of view in his article recently published in ‘Evonomics.’[1] But he was referring to ‘organizational management’ as it relates to business and the economy.  The phrase however is intuitively engrossing and has convinced me to revert to my earlier post, Reefs’ names reveal either prominent features or star occupants. The idea is to apply this ‘point of view’ as a basis for discussions and see how it pans out with an eye on the future and its environmental probabilities, especially as it relates to its outcomes on epistemology and nomenclature.  This post proposes to limit the discussions to only as far as ‘star occupants’ are concerned.

The naming of reefs, qoliqoli, by our ancestors was indeed an outcome based on an ecological system point of view. The principal players in this system were: Dravuni fishermen and fisherwomen, the reefs and all the fish that source their shelter and nutrients from these reefs; and the surrounding marine environment. These players’ interactions over time are an intrinsic element of this system resulting in the eventual conceptualization and development of relevant knowledge to use as basis for naming the reefs or qoliqoli.

Let’s focus on qoliqoli, Wainiqio or ‘Water of Sharks.’ The sighting of sharks in this qoliqoli was perhaps by one person initially. Then by two, three persons, by a group, etc, over time. The sightings were perhaps consolidated by the realization that the reefs and their immediate environs contain marine life that sharks love to feed on. The sightings became regular. Corresponding observations and assessments subsequently acquired high levels of confidence to the point that expectations were raised: that there would always be sharks there during any visit. Overtime, these associations and expectations proved consistent. This then created the grounds of knowledge upon which the naming of the reefs was anchored.

This line of deduction can also apply to names of other qoliqoli of the same ilk, like Koro ni Kawago, Yamotu ni Bo and Daveta ni Luve. All these are named after their main occupants.

The ecological system discussed above achieved the stated outcomes over time. It did this because the system itself and its various components spawned and facilitated such outcomes. It can be imagined that if the outcomes were spawned and facilitated, the system and its components had to be somewhat stable and conducive to observation. It goes without saying therefore that if the system and its components were constantly changing, it would have been extremely difficult for any long-term deduction and rationale to be drawn and concluded. This would not have been conducive for development of concepts and knowledge, let alone the ability to name things.

Today’s ecological systems have become less stable due to the impacts of climate change and associated factors. The system discussed above is no exception. All the principal players within the system are changing in one way or another. Humanity, however, remains the principal culprit.

The Dravuni fishermen and fisherwomen, for example, are changing in many ways – the way they fish, the tools of their trade, their frequency of fishing, the size of their catch they take home etc. Their interactions with the reefs and the reefs’ marine life and population have tended therefore to be somewhat less collaborative and more extractive. This has thus contributed to overfishing.

Fish and other marine life in these reefs, on the other hand, are also reacting less collaboratively to humans’ approaches. You can imagine the range of avoidance tactics that they would adopt. Migration to other homes is always a last resort.

The changes to the total marine environment, however, is that which is of critical significance, not only from an ecological perspective but more so from an existential perspective. Fiji’s population at large, abetted by the global community: their extractive tendencies and top-down policies; their disjointed sectoral development policies; their preferences for non-sustainable modalities of production, transportation, consumerism, etc, etc, are to be blamed for the pollution and degradation of our environment. These have brought about climate change, sea level rise and ocean acidification. The life of the ocean, its reefs and its multiplicity of oceanic population is at stake, notwithstanding some of the positive features these changes may bring.

In Dravuni, it can be envisaged that the ecological system that this present generation is facing is somewhat different from that experienced by our ancestors as a result of the changes that have taken place and are continuing to take place. I would like to believe however that these changes have yet to bring about permanent and non-reversible degradation of the reefs and their myriad of marine life. I would like to believe that my ancestors’ system of nomenclature is still as consistent and meaningful today as it had been in generations past.

However, for the future of our grand-children and for posterity, one can only be pessimistic given the behavioural rigidities and myopia of the present generation. One can imagine a scenario whereby the ecological system I discuss above has undergone irreversible changes. Its principal players have changed. Their interactions between and amongst themselves have demonstrably changed. These can only bring about new concepts, new knowledge, new behaviours and new paradigms. If there are still reefs around, would future Dravuni fishermen and fisherwomen be inclined to rename these reefs, qoliqoli, differently from their ancestors? I wonder! 

[1] See “The Future of Organizational Management: Ecological Systems Thinking….”

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