Intro Lesson About
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6 Lesson 7 Lesson 8 Lesson 9 Lesson 10

Lesson 4: Sustenance

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.





palmExercise 1: Food
Website: Sustenance > Food

Food is an essential component of human life, and a central aspect of each culture. For each of the questions below, explore how the different communities of Pacific Worlds would answer these.

hook What are the traditional foods of your culture? How much of them do you eat today? If your community's diet has changed a lot, how and why?

hookWhat does a meal consist of? What are it's different parts?

hookWhat are the protocols and traditions regarding eating a meal? Where is it done? how is one supposed to behave at mealtimes?

hookWho cooks, and who cleans up?

hookWhat are the most common techniques for cooking/preparing food in your culture?

Exercise 2: Water Resources
Website: Sustenanec > 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 3: Planting
Website: Sustenance > 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 4: Hunting and Gathering
Website: Sustenance > Gathering

Different islands of the Pacific present somewhat different plants and animals, including animals that were introduced since colonial times. Hunting and gathering sometimes play important roles in the local food supply. Gathering also includes medicinal plants (discussed in Lesson 5) and plants gathered for non-consumption uses.

What plants are traditionally (or, currently) gathered in your area? Where do they grow? What are they used for? What practices and traditions are there concerning both the plants, and the places where they are grown?

hookIdentify on your map any gathering sites and their names. Try to find the story or explanation that goes with each name, whether they are old or new names. Discuss use and gathering practices, and compare to other places on the Pacific Worlds website.

What animals are hunted or gathered from the land in your area? What practices and traditions are there concerning these the animals?

Who performs the gathering, and who performs the hunting?

How are the products of hunting and gathering prepared for consumption?

Exercise 5: The Reef
Website: Sustenance > On the Reef

What types of reef fishes or aquatic animals are common offshore your land division? List their local names. What are the traditions concerning these fish and their characteristics

Compare your findings with the other cultures found on Pacific Worlds. Where do you see similarities, and where do you see differences?

Exercise 6: Fishing
Website: Sustenance > Fishing

Pacific Island cultures engage in a number of fishing techniques, and have wide ranges of lore and customs concerning fishing. Some of these are culturally based, but others have to do with the nature of the sea offshore — for example, whether there is a protective reef or lagoon, or just open ocean.

In most places, there are particular fish, often at particular seasons, that are of special importance. Identify these fish. Then, identify the traditions or lore associated with them.

Are these the same fish, or different fish, from those discussed in other Pacific Worlds locations? If they are the same fish, how do other Pacific cultures perceive them?

The Fishing pages on the Pacific Worlds websites discuss particular fishing techniques, methods, and lures. What are the techniques specific to your culture? Are they the same or different from those presented elsewhere?

Identify names or terms for different kinds of (or locations of) fishing grounds.

Exercise 6: Language
Website: Sustenance > Language

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

hook Names and types of cooking methods.

hook In some languages, a plant has one name when it is growing, and another name after it has been cooked. Is this true of your culture?

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

bhookTerms related to gathering, or to hunting, and any types of weapons used.

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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