The Role of Traditional Knowledge in Building Adaptive Capacity for Climate Change: Perspectives from Vanuatu
There is increasing recognition of traditional knowledge as an important store of information and practices for
building adaptive capacity for climate change in the Pacific. However, empirical research and documentation of
how Pacific Islanders experience climate change, identify relevant adaptation options, and mobilize their
adaptive capacity, including traditional knowledge, remains limited. Given this context, indigenous islander
perspectives on traditional knowledge and its role in building their adaptive capacity are examined in this article.
The author draws on research with the Nakanamanga-speaking peoples of Tongoa Island, Vanuatu. This research
documents traditional knowledge relating to weather and climate observations; resource use and management;
social networks; local leadership; and values and beliefs in these indigenous communities and reveals
differing perspectives about its potential to enhance local adaptive capacity. It highlights indigenous concerns
about self-reliance, cultural continuity, and how the transition to a cash economy, the valorization of Western
education and lifestyles, and rural–urbanmigration have had adverse implications for traditional knowledge and
its retention. It further reveals potential trade-offs for indigenous communities on Tongoa Island, where traditional
governance, tenure systems, and values enable flexibility and collective action that build adaptive capacity
but can also promote conservative attitudes and limit uptake of new information and practices.
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