Heroes of the Pacific

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Cover page of Arnie Saiki’s book. Picture: SUPPLIED

Our Pacific Voyagers carry a tremendous burden. They bear 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.

They defy international conventions and decades of colonial education. Education that has sought only to diminish our customary knowledge and technologies.

As heroes of the Pacific, they have also become metaphors for struggle, for faith, diligence and resilience. As Pacific Islanders, we hold our traditional navigators high. 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 command and our music and dance bring joy.

Yet, what motivates our liberation in the Pacific must be more than cultural. It also has to be an economic one.

For if it is not, we will not be able to fight climate change on our terms, nor will we be able to remain in our homes. But what is the future that we want? Is it not to remain in our island homes?

Heighten our wellbeing and steward our environment with our resilient technologies? But, these demand investment and capital.

And how about an economicecological scheme? Can we have one independent of the post-colonial privatisation agenda? Why are we weak? Why are we dependent? Why do we beg?

Our hands wide, arms stretched across the ocean as if we have lost our way home. How do we not know our value? Our ecological assets are immense! Yet for some reason, we do not believe in their value.

We have the power to interact with the world as equals with co-operation and exchange. An ecological accounting framework can maintain our regional economic wellbeing.

The framework reflects who we are, and measures our engagement in the global economy. The Pacific Theological College published a new book, Ecological-Economic Accounts: Towards Intemerate Values.

The book speaks to this wellbeing. A Pacific economy may sound like a dream or mere hope. But it shouldn’t be!

What is just, fair and equitable is something tangible that we can hold in our hands or we bury and cast it out to sea. It is an idea that we walk and work with. It is an idea we pay attention to when we move through our home, our neighbourhood, our state, 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 with everyone.

As connected to water that ebbs, flows, sinks and rises for all time, we are bound to this idea. But what is the cost of this just, fair and equitable society?

What does this idea cost? Is there a value to 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 need dialysis. The thought alone is dread. 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. In that formula, we account for the labour of the worker.

The cost of the tools and the implementation of a road system and infrastructure. But what about the cost of healing a sick or injured planet? Is there a cost to biodiversity loss? A price to our food and water security? What is the cost of our well being? We know all these things have value, but what are their values and if lost, how about their worth?

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. And some things are so valuable like our public and existential goods. Money cannot count them. No matter how hard the market place tries to assign a dollar to them.

If we approach the world as a commodity, then it is only the few who spend capital, set the costs, by placing its value in the marketplace. And if the few who spend capital command the commodification of the world, then the rest of us must change the value of things. There is a constellation that our Pacific navigators followed.

Hawaiians call it Hanaiakamalama which means “cared for by the moon”. It is otherwise called the Southern Cross). Its alignment with the nautical star line Ka Iwikuamo’o was essential to our voyaging ancestors.

They used these stars to sail our liquid continent. Our ecological way is here. We can see it. Aligned, the stars through our hurt planet, tell us it is time to make a change in the way we value things.

Like our voyaging ancestors who stood on the shores to hear the stars speak, it is our time now to listen!

Time for our leaders to move us forward now! Please don’t hold us back or bind us anymore to investment and trade agreements. These tie us to the postcolonial ambitions of our so-called big brother countries.

National accounting should mirror our economy, our society, our interactions. If gross domestic product is the standard by which we measure our economy, it is obvious we have no place in it.

If we do not manufacture, if our populations are too small to have a viable wellrounded labour source; if our production capacity is limited to a few resources; then we are not looking at ourselves in a mirror.

If the transport of our goods across borders cost too much; if we do not have an aircraft carrier; we are not seeing who we are, that we are all Pacific voyagers.

Arnie Saiki authored the Ecological-Economic Accounts: Towards Intemerate Values and is contributing author to Reweaving an Ecological Framework for Development. Both books were published by the Reweaving the Ecological Mat Framework coordinated by the Institute for Mission and Research of the Pacifi c Theological College. The views expressed in this article are his and not necessarily shared by this newspaper.