Intro Lesson About

Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5

Lesson 6

Lesson 7

Lesson 8


Lesson 4: The Land

Lesson at a glance

You will learn about the natural environment using indigenous terms, and in some places comparing these with modern interpretations.

Key Concepts: Indigenous divisions of the land by altitude and forest cover; variations in vegetation zones across Pacific Islands; contemporary environmental issues including introduced and endangered species; basic climatology.

The amount and quality of land available in different Pacific Island locations varies a great deal, from high islands to coral atolls. Modern geography looks at such common things as control of land, descriptions of land areas, vegetation, wind, rain, water, and agriculture. But often this sort of approach does not do justice to the subtlety and richness of Pacific Islanders’ perspectives.

Your own knowledge and the knowledge of your family and friends comes from centuries or millennia of careful observation and interpretation. Your knowledge is invaluable and irreplaceable.

Lesson Outcomes: You will:

  • gain a sense of how Pacific Islanders distinguished environmental zones
  • learn about the natural environment in their area, and how it compares to other Pacific Island areas

For these exercises you will want:

  • An atlas or maps that show environmental themes for your region
  • Topographic map for your area
  • Otherwise, climatic data for as close to your area as possible
  • Any historical maps or material on your area
  • Internet access

Endangered Species of Hawai‘i is an excellent site:
Endangered Species of Hawaii: A Webliography also has extensive links:
Hawaiian Streams: The Mauka to Makai Connection:


This lesson explores aspects of climate and terrestrial ecosystems. As with other topics in this project, these issues may be considered from both “Western” scientific and indigenous scientific approaches. Pacific Worlds focuses on values and on world-view: how to island people understand and classify the systems and zones of their ecosystem?

The preservation of indigenous environmental knowledge is important for the good of humanity, and for engaging in locally appropriate environmental action. This is one area where modern and traditional approaches should work together hand in hand, drawing on the strengths of each.




Exercise 1: Areas
Website: The Land >Areas

“Areas” can mean different things in different parts of the Pacific. In some cultures, there are specific terms for elevation zones, regardless of where they're found. In other cases, “areas” is a matter of specific place names for portions of the land division.

Decide which one of the above is the case in your area.

Identify the names for these different areas. List them and mark them on a map of your land division.

What do these names mean? What do they reveal about cultural perspectives on the environment?

Compare your classification of “areas” to other places on the Pacific Worlds website. How do different cultures define their “areas”? What types of ecosystems correspond to these areas, and why do they differ? You might consider the role of elevation.

Exercise 2: Winds & Rain
Website: The Land > Winds & The Land > Rains

What are the seasons in your location? Identify them using both modern and indigenous ways of understanding.

Where is your land division located in terms of “Windward” and “Leeward”. How is your land division affected by other major climatic forces, such as the path of typhoons? How does your culture describe winds and wind directions? What proverbs or sayings do you have regarding wind?

Obtain and use climatic data to estimate the annual rainfall in your area. Does it change significantly going inland from the coast? From one time of year to another? Compare the rainfall data to the names of months in your calendrical system: is your calendar based on wind or rain, or what?

Compare your seasons to those in other Pacific Island locations. How or why do they vary? Search for information on the web or in books that explains the rainfall pattern in your island entity.

Sometimes Winds and Rainshave personal names, and often there are stories, proverbs or poems associated with those names, or with different types of rain in general. Are there any for your area, or for your culture in general?

On this note, compare your culture’s attitudes towards rain with the other cultures presented on the Pacific Worlds website. Are there differences? If so, how do you explain them?

Exercise 3: The Forest
Website: The Land >Forest

Depending on how much change of elevation there is in your area, there will be a range of vegetation zones, starting with the shoreline and going inward (or vice versa)

What are the local terms for these areas? Or, look for local terms for certain kinds of vegetation groups (similar to “forest,” “grassland,” “jungle,” etc.

Are there particular traditions regarding these areas, such as how one should behave while in the forest? What kinds of attitudes and practices regarding the Forest are found in other cultures within Pacific Worlds? How might learning about these influence your own attitude towards the Forest?

Identify the plants are most important to the indigenous practices of your area. Distinguish between native and introduced plants. Are these the same plants or different plants from those discussed in other Pacific Worlds communities? If they are the same, how do the practices and traditions of other cultures compare to your own?

Identify native birds or other animals about which there are traditions, proverbs, or sayings, or which have important cultural value (including as food). Again, compare your community to other sites in Pacific Worlds.

Using internet resources, try to identify some endangered species and invasive species in your area, and discuss any policies regarding them.


Exercise 4: Water Resources
Website:The Land >Water

Identify the stream(s) or fresh-water sources in your area. What are their names? What do these names mean?

Are your streams perennial (flow all year round) or intermittent (seasonal)? Why do some islands have streams and others do not?

In your culture, are there any freshwater plants or animals that are used for food or medicine? Gather any stories or sayings regarding these, and compare to other communities in the Pacific.

Because Pacific Islands are small, finite environments, fresh water is a critical resource that is often carefully controlled and respected. Consider traditional cultural attitudes, beliefs or practices concerning use of water in your community, and compare to other places in the Pacific.

Where does your fresh water come from today? Is it treated with respect? Should it be?

Exercise 5: Planting
Website:The Land >Planting

Different islands of the Pacific focus on different crops. And even though the same crops appear in many locations, the emphasis can differ, with taro being very important in some places, breadfruit being more important in others.

What are the major crop plants associated with the indigenous culture of your area? Where are they grown? Who tends to them? What practices and traditions are there concerning both the plants, and the places where they are grown?

Who tends to them? What practices and traditions are there concerning both the plants, and the places where they are grown? Compare to other Pacific Island locations.

If you have a historical map available that shows agricultural areas, compare it to what you see today. Are the traditional foods still important? What do you prefer to eat?

Exercise 6: Language
Website: The Land > Language

Pacific Island languages discuss land and climate in terms that reflect their physical geography and their cultural practices. Hence these terms tell us about the combination of environment and culture.

Go to the Language page of any The Land chapter and compare terms on the different topics:

Zones: different types of areas, which may be defined by vegetation, or type of soil (sand, rock, gravel) or cultural uses;

Landscape features, such as hills, valleys, roads, volcanic calderas;

Terms for winds and rains, also trees, plants, rocks, and other environmental features;

Names and types of crops, methods of farming, and other terms related to agriculture.

These terms are best understood within the context of the individual cultures. But at the same time, you can compare this terms across different places to learn more about commonalities and differences in the region.




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