A Pacific theorist once stated that the Pacific Ocean and its tiny island nations were seen to be joined by the ocean rather than separated by it. The cultures and lifestyles of the people of these small Pacific nations are without doubt shaped by the ocean in both a physical and metaphysical sense. The animated Disney film Moana provided the world with an insight into what island life in the Pacific was like before European contact. It illustrated how the role of the ocean was critically important to all physical, psychological, spiritual and cultural aspects of its indigenous people.
Vulnerable transition of social, political and cultural identity
Today, the people of the Pacific Islands are facing exciting social, political and cultural transitions as a result of the huge influence that comes along with the international aid pouring into the area from countries such as China, USA, Japan and Germany, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand. However, these transitions also leave them vulnerable. Interpretation and appropriation of Pacific identity is critical: through processes of colonisation and diaspora their intrinsic development has depended on mixing with other cultures.
The main export for many Pacific Islands is tourism, with physical exports including local produce such as copra, yam, taro and coconut. Presently, international aid to the islands is generally in the form of infrastructure and construction, which also provide employment for local businesses. Many expatriates who have received education abroad have returned to their ancestral Pacific homelands and are working in prominent roles within government departments and/or establishing businesses.
Rising sea levels and the COVID-19 pandemic
Although these islands may have recovered somewhat from the recent global financial crisis, there is another catastrophe lurking: the environmental crisis of rising sea levels. As well as revising design, construction materials and processes, a top priority is to create greater awareness of global warming and its effects on these tiny islands. And in the last two years the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on the tiny island nations of the Pacific with limited resources, has taken a toll on the population. As history is a great reminder, we remember the influenza carried onboard a steam ship from New Zealand in 2019 to Samoa, which wiped out a third of its population at the time.
Teaching the next generation about sustainability
My voice has no value to the politicians and the bureaucrats that are making decisions about the impacts of climate change in the Pacific region and how they affect the natural and built environments.
My voice as a person of Pacific heritage, an educator, a community person, a family chief and leader, a father and a son, is critically important in teaching the next generation about culture and heritage. Cultural values within a person define a heightened sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of pride. As an architect and lecturer, teaching the next generation of architects, whether they are from the Pacific island nations or not, about the methodologies, design concepts and sustainability issues impacting the Pacific is one way to challenge the status quo and to tackle some of the negative consequences of globalisation and capitalism.