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Commendation on article about Rabi High School incorporating traditional knowledge learning into their academic curriculum

With persuasion from Stacey King and the importance of the current practice that Rabi High School is implementing in incorporating traditional values learning into their curriculum, I thought it would be a great idea to start a discussion on how some of us can assist on this model of learning.

As highlighted by Koro O'Brien, I belong to NOPE (Network of Pacific Educators) and subsequent posting of the same article to this network, has generated a lot of commendation on the 'model'.

Here are a few of them;

From Donald Raka, CAP Manager, Save the Children Australia, Solomon Islands

- "Very interesting story to learn from. A job well done"

From Tili Afamasaga, National Univeristy of Western Samoa, Samoa

-"That is what RPEIPP is all about. Great model Rabi High School."

From Dr Kabini Sanga, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


The recent circulation about Rabi High school and its education experience seemed to have resulted in a sense of uplift for a good number of NOPERs who have recently commented. As Tili had pointed out, the Rabi story is exactly the kind of educational experience that the Rethinking Pacific Education Initiative (RPEI) is advocating for. More so, over the last 8-9 years, the RPEI has been calling for the “rethinking” of the ideals, ideas, frameworks and practices of economic systems, leadership and governance, justice, science, research and more. Our central message has been for Pacific Islanders to start with their contexts first, rather than with the external idea, the international framework, the global model of best practice or the outside expert.

In the RPEI, we had argued that a firmer and more rooted contextual grounding first, is likely to pay off better in the longer term, as a strategy for dealing with a dynamic world. Not the other way round, we say. The starting and primary assumptions, in our view, are essential because they influence which routes you subsequently follow. Unfortunately, many of our educational development journeys in Pacific contexts had started on inappropriate, dated or unclear starting points. In some instances, we seem to remain on the starting plates when we should have moved on. Subsequently, Pacific education systems are having to tidy up, as a predominant role.

As one of the advocates of the RPEI philosophy, I have missed the learning engagement with donors and some Pacific education officials. It would seem that the up-take by donors and some Pacific educational officials in the discussions on the RPEI message or its emerging “evidences” have not been forthcoming. Even NZAID as a partner with the Pacific educators of the RPEI has not kept up with its engagement and learning. My hope is for Pacific education donors to engage with us, Pacific educators, beyond just the politics of aid.

I see that the challenge for us as ‘The educators of the Pacific’ is to repeat and sustain Rabi High-like schools and experiences in all our countries. As earlier stated, the need to provide ‘uplifting educational experiences’ is in all areas of Pacific development; not just in education. The arena of policy-good governance in Pacific countries is one such area, where there seems to be many well-intentioned, donor-supported initiatives which continue to ignore the RPEI philosophy of Pacific development. My invitation: Let us talk, shall we? After all, the communities you’re wanting to ‘develop’ are ours. The people are our kainga, aiga and wantoks."

I would be very interested in your views relevant to this topic.

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Mauri Marlie, I have attached some excerpts from the closing paragraphs of one of the papers we presented at ISISA Conference, Taiwan back in 2004. We focused the conclusion of the paper from a history of cultural law through to incorporating indigenous and western education. As Ken says, it is important to find the right BALANCE that will still maintain Banaban identity and traditions in the years ahead.

Essentially Being Banaban in Today’s World: The Role of Banaban Law “TE RII NI BANABA” (Backbone of Banaba) In A Changing World by Ken Raobeia Sigrah and Stacey King

Paper presented at:
ISLANDS of the WORLD VIII International Conference “Changing Islands – Changing Worlds” 1-7 November 2004, Kinmen Island (Quemoy), Taiwan

...Now as more of the first and second generations of Rabi born Banabans are being educated under the Fiji system they find themselves bonded or working within the Fiji government system. With no development or future to offer them back on Rabi, their skills are not being fully utilised where they are most needed, within their own community. Another quandary is emerging as Banabans realise that education is essential for bettering the lives of their future generations, yet at the same time, this aim can also add to the permanent alienation and removal of some of the community’s most gifted people. Now more than ever, Banabans are realising that the establishment of programmes must be implemented to address this growing trend.

…Between 1987 and 1989 Banaban Council of Elders on Rabi and members of all Banaban clans held meetings on Rabi to confirm genealogy, and inherited rights within the Tabwewa district. Meetings were also conducted to settle land disputes at clan level. This way many of these issues never reached the court system but could be settled within the clans and immediate families. Now, through the influence of western education many younger Banabans have begun to question their elders’ decisions on subjects that would usually be considered taboo under custom. The role of education within Banaban society has changed with educated Banabans moving away from their traditional lifestyle where customs and culture were part of daily life. Many of their young generation are now relying on books written by scholars outside of Banaban society to provide them with the vital knowledge of where they come from. Today there is an ‘education gap’ where the community looks to their educated generation to provide leadership and knowledge, and to converse and understand seemingly complex western systems of governance, finance and development. While these are qualities that are much needed within society to ensure future survival for the community, these ideals soon become clouded and unworkable. While some of this educated group have the knowledge and understanding of the western system of governance, the majority of Banabans who still live within traditional society find it difficult and near impossible to converse at this level. How then can this gap be bridged?

…In 1991 the Interim Administrators were appointed by the Fiji Government to look after Banaban affairs when the Banabans rejected their encumbered Rabi Council of Leaders leading to a major dispute within the community. Over the next five year period, the Interim Administrators, who were Fiji Government officials of non Banaban background, worked together with the Rabi Elders in harmony to administer Banaban affairs. This episode would prove that a workable system can be found utilising the expertise and skills of the people needed to successfully administer the community, while at the same time acknowledging and accepting guidance and wisdom offered by Banaban elders.

Conclusion and recommendations

With the call for globalisation and increased pressure to promote and protect human rights in the Pacific, the value of cultural diversity, the importance of recognising cultural context, and the protection of indigenous rights and freedoms also play an essential role. In the case of the Banabans, the basic human rights that are usually intrinsic in democratic societies have never applied or assisted them in the past. Today, in a changing environment Banabans must use these international laws and protocols with the assistance of the appropriate NGO’s and international bodies to demand the basic human rights that they are surely entitled, such as: the fulfillment of economic, social, and cultural rights, including access to basic services, food security, shelter, and the right of sustainable livelihoods, while calling for environment rehabilitation and preservation of the Banaban homeland.

Banaban culture and traditions should be preserved by officially endorsing the importance of Clan or Cultural advisors within modern Banaban society. The position of a cultural advisor could be set up within the legal framework of the local governing body, the Rabi Council of Leaders. This role would liaise between the Elders and members of the Council to ensure that as new systems evolve, Elders and traditional practices would also be included in the process and provide a valuable link between the varying levels of Banaban society.

While it is essential for the Banabans to continue in educating their community, the current trend of an increasing ‘education gap’ has to be addressed as soon as possible. At the current rate of Banaban social development, education will not protect ethnic identity or the community’s survival unless active programmes and the development of Rabi are realised. Unless the Banabans can offer a future on Rabi or Banaba for their young generation, the wealth of skills currently available from within their own society will be of no benefit to the community. Another viable option is to implement programmes for those skilled Banabans who are living and working away from their community that maybe able to assist their community back home. These include public awareness programmes and seeking options at an international level, and urging participation that may be of future benefit to the broader community. At a local level, cultural and tradition learning should also be included in formal education’s curriculum.

Above all it is imperative that in a changing world Banaban traditions are not forgotten. Even though the majority of Banabans are born on Rabi today their cultural and spiritual identity is indelibly linked back in time to a place many have never seen. For Banabans their land is their mother and their teacher. Over the ages, Banabans learned that while their land could do without them, they could not do without their land. They also learned that the respect they have for their land which provides their identity also will determine the way to treat and care for one another in the years that lay ahead.

A download of the full paper is available at:
Dear Stacey,

It is wonderful to know that we 'Banabans' have come to an understanding as to the importance of keeping our way of life while learning other ways of life. I must commend you for incorporating this into your presentation in 2004.

I firmly believe that it is in our best interest to maintain this BALANCE (as Uncle Ken rigtfully said) that will allow us to keep our unique Banaban identity and traditions. Take me for example....I am first and foremost a Banaban, then a French/Tahitian and a Fijian, because of the multi-cultural background that I was born into. The same applies to my children whose Banaban connection are maternal, yet I took the initiative to send them back to the island for education because of my desire to instill in them Banaban traditional values and ethics (very much the same way it was instilled in me by my father) and not lose sight of it all because of the inter-racial marriages or the western infuence on the current Fijian educational system.

It will be interesting to note how others feel about this. Thanks so much Stacey!!



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