A version of this post first appeared in the Fiji Times
Our Pacific Voyagers carry a tremendous burden. They carry the weight of our history and who we are as Pacific Islanders. They are risk takers who defy western conventions to prove that our traditional knowledge has a place in the world. They are revolutionaries who defy international conventions after decades of colonial education that have sought only to diminish our customary knowledge and technologies. As heroes of the Pacific, they have also become metaphors for struggle, for faith, for diligence and resilience.
As Pacific Islanders, we hold our traditional navigators high because they represent the value of who we most identify with in the world. Culturally, we move through the world with the regality of ambassadors. When we speak, our voices are heard and our music and dance brings joy.
But what is the future that we want? Is it not to remain in our island homes, to enhance our well being, and steward our environment with our own resilient technologies? While this requires investment and capital, is there anyone who is really saying that the Pacific cannot assert an economic-ecological scheme independent of the post colonial privatization agenda? Why do we suddenly become weak, dependent and beggarly, our hands wide, arms stretched across the ocean as if we have lost our way home. How do we not know our own value?
What motivates our liberation in the Pacific must be more than cultural, it also has to be economic, for if it is not, we will not be able to adequately address climate change on our terms, nor will we be able to remain in our homes. As part of the global economy, we have the ability to interact with the world as equals– with mutual cooperation and exchange. Our ecological assets are immense, yet for some reason, we do not believe in the value of our ecological assets. Our regional economic well-being is a rational accounting framework that reflects who we are and measures our engagement in the global economy.
What motivates our liberation in the Pacific must be more than cultural, it also has to be economic, for if it is not, we will not be able to adequately address climate change on our terms, nor will we be able to remain in our homes.
The Pacific Theological College has just published a new book that addresses how we accomplish this – Ecological-Economic Accounts: Towards Intemerate Values. And the Pacific Conference of Churches is leading a campaign to see this as a way for us to navigate towards our own Pacific future.
A Pacific economy should not simply be a dream or something one hopes for. What is Just, Fair, and Equitable is something tangible that we hold in our hands, that we bury or cast out to sea. It is an idea that we walk with and sit with, an idea we pay attention to when we move through our home that is our neighborhood that is our state that is our region that is our world, it is how we engage with people and our environments, with dignity, respect, and mutual aid. This idea is how we measure our interactions not only with our immediate surroundings, but with our extended connections that reach everyone of us. Just as we are all connected to the water that ebbs and flows, that sinks and rises for all time, we are connected to this idea.
But what is the cost of this Just, Fair and Equitable society? What does this idea cost? Is there a value of the dream? Can we discount hope? These transactional concepts are also ideas. But these are not ideas that one breathes, for if we did, our lungs would become heavy and our blood dirty with bile. We would continually require dialysis. The idea alone is dread.
if the few who expend capital enforce the commodification of the world, then it is the world that has to change how things are valued.
What is this Just, Fair and Equitable idea that we hold in our hand? It is that we count.
We count! How novel! It is interaction with the world.
There is a formula for giving value to what we extract, and in that formula we account for the labor of the worker, the cost of the tools, the implementation of a road system and infrastructure, but what of the cost of healing for a sick or injured planet? Is there a cost of our loss of biodiversity? A cost for our food and water security? What is the cost of our well being? We know that all of these things have value, but what are the costs?
Value and costs are tricky because they are terms that can slip in and out from being measured with money. Not everything that one buys is valuable, while what has the most value can often not be monetized no matter how much investment markets try to assign a monetary value on our public and existential goods.
There is a maxim here: If we approach the world as a commodity, then it is only the few who expend capital that are setting the costs by placing its value in the marketplace. And with every maxim, there is an arrow: if the few who expend capital enforce the commodification of the world, then it is the world that has to change how things are valued.
There is a constellation that our Pacific Navigators have traditionally followed. In Hawaiian it is called Hanaiakamalama (“cared for by the moon” otherwise called the Southern Cross) and its alignment with the navigational starline to Ka Iwikuamo’o was a backbone for our Pacific Voyagers to traverse our Liquid Continent.
Our ecological way forward is in view, and just as our Pacific Voyagers can stand on the shore and look towards the heavens to know when it is time to voyage, it is time for our leaders to move us forward now, rather than hold us back by signing legally binding investment and trade agreements that will only further tether us to the post-colonial ambitions of our so-called big brother countries.