Traditional Pacific know-how in building design could become one of the most effective ways for Pacific Islanders to withstand the impacts of climate change. That’s the fervent belief and mission of one of the winners of the 2009 Development Marketplace – Tafaoimalo (Loudeen) Parsons from the Samoa-based Afeafe o Vaetoefaga Pacific Academy of Cultural Restoration, Research and Development.
Loudeen, who recently witnessed first-hand the aftermath of a tsunami which hit Samoa, says traditional Samoan houses survived the wave’s impacts where western housing did not.
“Driving around in the most affected areas, what’s really noticeable rising out of the destruction are the traditional Samoan houses and buildings – still standing beside some of the western housing that was completely demolished.”
The Samoan fale (pronounced farl-eh) is round in construction and lashed and tied together with afa - an organic sennit rope. Afa is made by twisting together the fibers of dry coconut husks. The lashing work is traditionally done by elderly men while women make the thatch for the domed roof of the fale – either from coconut palm leaves or sugar cane.
In 2003, when Loudeen’s organization wanted to renovate an old surviving fale in the capital Apia for its headquarters, it was very hard to find people with knowledge about lashing, thatch-making and traditional construction. A New Zealand-based Tongan specialist in lashing was brought to Samoa to work with a number of elders who then passed the revived techniques onto their sons and daughters.
Now, fales and traditional building techniques are becoming more sought after. “These houses are important culturally and ceremonially,” says Loudeen. “They’re also better to look at and much cooler in our climate.”
With climate risks increasing in the Pacific and cyclones expected to become more intense and frequent, there is growing interest in returning to the housing of old – not least because they are less dangerous in a cyclone. “In the cyclones we’ve seen in the past few years, people have been injured or killed by falling concrete blocks that are reinforced with steel or by flying sheets of corrugated iron,” says Loudeen.
Through the Development Marketplace award, three communities across two islands will be engaged in a program to build three model houses using traditional techniques.
“They will be places where people can learn and try out the construction methods and just be involved in the process of building. It becomes a practical place of learning and gathering – young women can re-learn how to do the thatching and how to make woven blinds and young men can learn about sennit lashing. They will be like hubs of learning.”
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