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What Polynesian Culture Has to Teach Us About Sustainability

By: Lola Frailey Tuesday May 24, 2016 comments Tags: polynesians, sustainable farming, sustainable energy


Today we want to draw your attention to a group that’s doing some really amazing work to spread the word about sustainability, world peace, and Polynesian culture: The Hokulea Polynesian Voyaging Society. This organization is midway through a worldwide voyage across the world’s oceans.

The catch? They’re making the voyage in traditional-style Polynesian voyaging canoes, and are navigating using only traditional Polynesian wayfinding methods. That means no GPS — not even compasses! So far they’re right on track. You can check out their route by clicking here. They’ve travelled from Hawaii, between Australia and Indonesia, around the coast of Africa, up South America, and are currently making their way up the North American coast. They plan to reach New York by the first week of June, in time for UN World Oceans Day.

We have long been inspired by the tremendous wisdom behind this group’s sustainability ethic, as well as by what we’ve learned of Polynesian society from the ethnobotanists who have come to talk to us about the traditional uses of noni. We’d love to share some of this knowledge with you, in the hopes that it inspires you to live just a little bit more with Planet Earth in mind!

Live With an Island Mindset

A big part of the intent of the Worldwide Voyage is collecting, sharing, and spreading wisdom about our planet, particularly with regards to sustainability. According to their website, “Living on an island chain teaches us that our natural world is a gift with limits and that we must carefully steward this gift if we are to survive together.”

This is very similar to the ethic of organic agriculture, which is obviously very important to us as certified organic farmers. We’ve seen it proven season after season how critical it is to protect and replenish the earth’s fertility and resources, which we do using mulch, compost, vermiculture, and our no-till system.

Earth is not a closed system, and there are many renewable resources available to us, but only if we respect their limits. We must replenish what we use and conserve where we can. Polynesian islanders understood this, simply because their world was literally an island. Polluting their resources or depleting the soil simply wasn’t an option.

It’s Possible to Modify the Land Responsibly

Many environmentalists today get so caught up in conservation that they see any modification to the land as a negative. But it’s possible to modify the land so it’s productive, diverse, and self-sustaining, while still reaping some benefits for us as humans.

This is the goal of real organic farming. We want to develop systems that are good for humans, but which also benefit the land. The Polynesian settlers brought noni saplings and seeds with them when they came to Hawaii, and the hardy tree has happily taken up residence here, providing habitat for many animals and a good food source for others.

Let Your Foods Keep You Healthy

When we get sick or injured today, our default reaction is to go to the doctor and look for a way to medicate the problem away. Doctors are of course extremely important and knowledgeable, but the problem is with our reliance on these synthetic chemicals to heal us.

Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics have their place and it’s irresponsible not to use them when it’s necessary. So do painkillers, and every other medication out there. But so often we default to using these drugs, many of which have harmful side effects, put us at risk for addiction, and do damage to our bodies.

I wouldn’t trade the state of medicine today for the state of medicine for ancient Polynesians, but I believe they understood some things we’ve forgotten. They knew how to look to nature for their health and medicine, including watching what animals used to heal themselves.

As we’ve written about before, animals know what’s good for them. Ancient Polynesians observed animals eating the noni fruit and the benefits it had on their health. They decided to see if it worked for humans as well, first applying the fruit topically for pain and skin irritations and then learning of its benefits when ingested daily as a raw food to promote overall good health and energy. You can learn more about how noni was “discovered” by clicking here!

In general, if more of us tried to promote good health using our food rather than turning immediately to pharmaceuticals, we might be able to better get in touch with the natural world. That includes the fight to protect and preserve it!

In what ways do you try to “live like an islander” in terms of sustainability? Let us know in the comments!

Lola Frailey

About the Author: Lola Frailey