Message From The Pacific

Rather Than Adapting To His Environment, Man Is Adapting His Environment To Himself Today. The Culture Created In This Way Eventually Clashes With Nature, Whereas In Primitive Cultures There Is A Balance.

If you look at the etymology of the words nature and culture, you might get the idea that they are contradictory concepts. The word culture is derived from the Latin root ‘colō’ meaning to grow, cultivate or train, in other words, all the connotations of culture today. Nature on the other hand comes from the Latin root ‘natura’, meaning birth or to be born. Among humans, however, the border between nature and culture, which is of their own making, is blurred.

The transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian society was the next step in man’s struggle with nature, and his way of manipulating his environment to suit his needs perhaps his first step towards the beginning of his own end. Man’s production of ‘culture’, which is actually an agricultural term, began in any case with the transition to agrarian society.  If we acknowledge that culture is destructive and nature constructive, it may prove more useful to try to strike a balance between the two. First of all, society needs to ask itself this question: “How can a culture that is in harmony with nature be produced?”

It may be easier for us to answer this question in places where there are no big cities and no industrialization, where nature, in other words, still rules supreme. Taking a look at the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands, who live at peace with nature yet cheek by jowl with a ‘developed’ continent like Australia, may help us to reestablish the balance between nature and culture. Because the islanders have lived in harmony with nature ever since they first set foot here, it is inevitable that nature has been part and parcel of their cultures. In every area of life, from traditional medicine and everyday tools to navigation and the arts, the islanders have benefited, and taken inspiration, from nature. They believe that nature is closely bound up with their cultures, and they express that bond in traditional dances and personification of the natural environment. Convinced that globalization has severed the bond between nature and culture, the islanders are so attached to their nature, in other words, their cultures, that they believe global warming and natural disasters to be expressions of ‘Mother Nature’s Wrath’.

At the same time, the European discovery of the Pacific Islands has had enormous impact on the lives of the island natives. While the natives of the Solomon Islands, for example, used to worship their ancestors, today the majority of the population is Christian. What’s more, you can generally communicate with people on the islands using English. Nevertheless, the islanders have not lost touch with their roots but continue to uphold many of their social traditions.

Preserving their ties with nature on the one hand, the islanders have also kept pace with civilization on the other. For example, although the islanders maintain their tribal way of life, the Solomon Islands are at the same time a leading destination, especially for surfers, as both a modern and a more authentic tourist destination. To us urban dwellers, who regard civilization and ‘primitive’ cultures as mutually contradictory, and who destroy the nature and environment that provide our own living space, the adaptability of these island natives can teach respect for nature and how to incorporate that harmony into our own way of life.

The 11th Pacific Arts Festival is taking place in the Solomon Islands July 1 to 14 based on the theme, ‘Culture in Harmony with Nature’. Held every four years, the festival aims to draw attention to culture and nature as integral aspects of existence and to the necessity of keeping that bond intact.

The Solomon Islands where the festival is being held consist of 900 islands, 350 of which are inhabited. Eighty-seven different languages are spoken on these islands, which boast a culture estimated to go back some 5,000 years. The island where Europeans first set foot in the 16th century is named for King Solomon, who is believed to have lived here.

Made of bamboo tubes, pan pipes come in different lengths and widths. The instrument is commonly found in the Malaita region, where pan pipe bands are popular with tourists.

Seashells, the traditional currency, are still used on the islands. The ‘bride price’ that is part of local marriage customs is still paid in seashells.

Formed over many years, artificial islands have been created on reefs near the mainland by the buildup of large stony corals over time.  The natives of these islands generally make their living from fishing.

Since many different languages are spoken on the islands, families and communities that speak the same language are called Wantok (from ‘one talk’).