Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Practicing my culture

Sometime in the last 20 years, locals in the CNMI came to understand conservation as a bunch of haoles telling indigenous people not to fish, not to feed their families, and not to practice their culture. They are mistaken. Conservation has always been an integral part of Micronesian culture.

I learned it from my father and I know these guys learned it from theirs.

Even so, times have changed. The definition of conservation has changed along with it.

Old habits and old technologies result in expected outcomes.

1000 years ago when a Chamorro went out to catch fish using the technology available to him at the time, he could safely assume that he wasn't destroying his resource. No new technology was going to be introduced to help him catch more fish and no huge influx of off-islanders would be coming to his home anytime soon (at least for another 500 years).

The only thing he needed to navigate his world were the stars, the waves, and the wind. He lived the way his grandparents lived and he could expect his grandchildren to live the same way.

Like I said, times have changed. We now have more people and new technologies.

When people use old habits combined with new technologies, unexpected outcomes occur.

Fish & Wildlife admits that SCUBA spearfishing nearly decimated our Napolean Wrasse population. I've also heard that gill nets in the 1990's wiped out the turtle population in the lagoon [unconfirmed, just hearsay, so don't jump down my throat, I was in Florida].

When these new technologies were introduced, they weren't introduced with the intent of destroying our resources. People just wanted to catch more fish, feed their families, and practice their culture.

In a previous post I told the story of my father eating one of the last mariana mallards.

I don't think he was purposely eating the last mallard. He was just practicing his culture, right? If you had asked him about the bird on the day he shot it, he would probably have told you that he knew where to find more.

I don't recount that story to try to paint my father in a bad light, I'm just using it to highlight my point. He had spent his whole life shooting and eating that bird and probably expected to spend the remainder of his whole life shooting and eating that bird.

Old habits (hunting every bird you see) combined with new technologies (better rifles than centuries past) led to extinction (the shelling of Saipan during World War II didn't help either).

Am I less Chamorro because I will never see a mariana mallard? Am I less Chamorro because I will never taste one? And is Saipan less Saipan because we no longer have bats and barely any coconut crabs? Do you see where I'm going with this?

If eating certain foods is part of our culture, then what does it say about our culture when we allow that food to go extinct?

Speaking of forming new habits, I came across this news item as I was surfing the Internet:
The tiny Pacific islands nation of Kiribati declared the world's largest marine protected area Thursday - a California-sized ocean wilderness that includes pristine reefs and eight coral atolls teeming with fish and birds.
Kiribati isn't even one of the Micronesian nations to sign the Micronesia Challenge, yet look what they just did. I highly recommend reading the whole article, but this is part of the article that I found to be of the most importance:
The plan does not come without costs. Some commercial fishing in the area will be restricted, meaning the Kiribati government will forego some revenue from foreign commercial fishing licenses.

Kiribati earned $33 million in 2001 from fishing licenses - the latest available figure.

The government stands to lose about $3 million of this revenue with the creation of the reserve, but is hoping to recoup some of the losses by boosting tourism, which now accounts for 20 percent of the gross domestic product. It has already applied to have the marine reserve listed as a World Heritage Site. [emphasis added]
The CNMI should start thinking like our brothers in Kiribati.


Saipan Writer said...

great post.

Marianas Eye said...

Another one to add to "Best of Saipan Blog".

tetricus said...

Good post!

The technology reference sounds like something I've heard before... am I making that up or would you happen to have something to reference?

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Ozone Man used it in the little movie that made him a Nobel Laureate.

...but discussions about technology are common in environmental circles, especially appropriate technology.

saipanboonieman said...

excellent post angelo!

this has to somehow get listed as a MUST READ for every "indigenous" person on island who still cant see past the present to the future well being of our islands! submit to the local papers, maybe?

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I don't think it is ready for publication. It is still kind of "bloggy."

Jon said...

Awesome bro... very informative. =)

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

An Igitol in Ormond Beach? Do you know that my brother, Alex Villagomez, and our cousin, Joe Seman, both live in Orlando?

You should hook up with the Chamorros in your neighborhood.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Alex's blog is:


Leave him a message.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

The whole point of cultural taboos, chiefly territoriality and seemingly superstitious restrictions was conservation. Large populations on small islands without conservation systems is a recipe for Malthusian disaster.

I think Angelo's apartment should be designated a 'no take' zone and be listed as part of our Micronesian Challenge area.

Ron Hodges said...

This is a fine post Angelo. If you could convince our long befuddled lawmakers to outlaw commercial fishing, spear fishing, and all fishing within the reef, it would be a positive step toward preserving the marine environment and one that scuba divers would hear about and appreciate far and wide.

Having lived in Florida, you would know the tragic impact commercial hunters have on a fragile envirnment.

I think this issue is more pressing than our power crisis.

Perhaps Al Gore or Obama could chime in with some needed support in this area.

Barrack rules.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I disagree with you on banning fishing.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Most SCUBA divers would probably love to have some fresh fish, poke, or octopus kelaguen after a long day of diving.

Saipan Kat said...

Love the post! Very informative I'll have to read this to my class tomorrow. One of my student's dad told me "just because they saw one sea turtle that day, doesnt mean they're going extinct."

Saipan Kat said...

Love the post! Very informative I'll have to read this to my class tomorrow. One of my student's dad told me "just because they saw one sea turtle that day, doesnt mean they're going extinct."

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Ron, you are way overboard in your desire to stop all commercial fishing and all spearfishing and fishing inside the reef.

Only tuna in a can for you...no, someone had to catch that tuna and sell it. Sorry, only cauliflower for you...no those little buggers scream out in pain when cut from the plant. Better just fast, Ron.

More sashimi for me, and for others who would use resources wisely and sustainably, but use them nonetheless.

saipanboonieman said...

i think ron was just being "sarcastic"! ;-)

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

No, Ron was just being Ron.

He just sees the world differently and he lets us know how.

Jeff said...

Kind of like Bruce.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I am sure that Ron and Bruce would be overjoyed to know that you are lumping them into the same category.

Jeff said...

Does Bruce not see the world differently and let us know how?

Mike said...

I suppose the time one doesn't spend fishing is better spent spraypainting... oh, nevermind.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

He does...usually in prose, too.

Bruce can come up with some funny rhymes for being a bat shit crazy haole...our bat shit crazy haole.