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Traditional Knowledge Important for Survival: Dr Lagi

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Dr Rosiana Lagi, USP Tuvalu Campus Director stresses a point during her presentation.

The significance of the use of Traditional Knowledge (TK) for Weather Forecast and Traditional Mitigation and Adaptation Approaches to Climate Change in Tuvalu and the Pacific region was highlighted at a workshop hosted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) on January 24, 2020.

Titled, Resilience in the Face of Rising Sea Level: Harnessing Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in The Pacific Island of Tuvalu, the workshop was supported by Global Environmental Facilities-Small Grant Programme (GEF-SGP).

Dr. Rosiana Lagi, USP Tuvalu Campus Director, attended the workshop and delivered a keynote presentation funded by the Foundation for Youth Development, a global Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in New Jersey, the USA.

Dr. Lagi referred to nature as important indicators for forecasting cyclone, droughts, fine and rainy weather.  For instance, she highlighted the sighting of whales, dolphins and Manta Rays near the coast as indicators for strong winds and bad weather conditions and breadfruit fruiting in three or more in a branch as an indicator for cyclones. 

She emphasised it is paramount that people know and practice this knowledge as it helps them prepare before a natural disaster happens.  She highlighted that in Tuvalu when these indicators are sighted, people would prepare for strong winds or cyclone using traditional shelters of coconut leaves around the house and would bury root crops like swamp taro and coconut to be consumed during and after the adverse weather conditions. 

However, she stated that the biggest threat comes from losing the knowledge because it has not been well recognised and passed down to the new generation.

Dr. Charles, Ugo Amadioha, Dr. Lagi and Dr. Zhang.

“Part of the reasons for the knowledge loss is that modern scientific knowledge dominates the knowledge in schools, whereas sharing traditional knowledge by elder people seem to face many communication barriers,” she explained. 

During the recent Cyclone Tino, she found that only two families in Funafuti put up traditional shelters before the cyclone and their homes were not affected.  However, many homes near the coast did not put up the traditional shelters consequently, some homes were damaged.

Dr. Lagi also elaborated on the role of USP’s Tuvalu Campus on awareness, teaching, research and community engagement in ensuring this knowledge is passed on to the younger generation for a resilient Tuvalu. Some of the activities USP students and staff are involved in are planting mangroves to help absorb carbon in the atmosphere and help the world maintain the temperature below 1.5 degrees, publishing children’s books on these traditional knowledge and skills and working with community members on community projects like conservation and researching to improve practices.

“The workshop at the NJIT was successful in that at its conclusion, UNDP recognised the work done in Tuvalu and has offered to fund work on TEK in Tuvalu,” she confirmed. 

Dr. Lagi presented to about 40 civil and environment engineering undergraduate students at NJIT, with other participants such as NJIT’s faculty, graduate students, and Dr. Charles Nyandiga, a representative the GEF-SGP. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Wen Zhang, Associate Professor at NJIT’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Dr. Lagi stated that it is important that TK is woven with scientific knowledge so that natural disasters can be predicted more accurately and people be informed well beforehand so that they can be better prepared before any natural disaster. 

She mentioned that TK is readily available, relevant and context specific, adding that it is cheaper to use this knowledge to prevent costly damages that will be incurred from a lack of preparation.  Finally, she stated that starting small by using this important knowledge can help save Tuvalu, save Oceania, and consequently, save the world.

Following Dr. Lagi’s talk, Mr. Ugo Amadioha, the FYD New Jersey Coordinator, presented key outcomes from FYD’s community-based project in Tuvalu, Tonga and Nauru.  According to Dr. Nyandiga, he found the presentation very useful and hoped that such educational workshops could be organised in Tuvalu soon.

During the Q&A session, Mr. Amadioha stated that the TEK exercise in Tuvalu provides a baseline and a window into past knowledge on community level adaptation strategies that have been preserved over centuries through oral history. This knowledge can now be documented and passed on to the next generation within academic and non-academic setting, while providing a yardstick for comparative analysis on changing weather patterns.

Following this successful workshop, FYD has expressed interest in entering a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with USP Tuvalu Campus, to expand the scope of the current capacity building effort on TK in Tuvalu.

“Such an agreement will advance GEF-SGP’s desire to develop our ongoing work in Tuvalu into a case study on Traditional Knowledge to be published and shared at a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Consultation meeting organised in the margins GEF Council meeting in June 2020,” she added.

This news item was published on 24 Feb 2020 10:10:00 am. For more information or any High-Res Images, please contact us on email

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