Today in Solomon Islands, we are depending on modern technologies to predict the weather outlook before going to gardens and doing other activities outdoors.
We depend on Thermometer, Barometer and Hygrometer to predict the weather pattern for the day.These instruments were discovered by scientists and introduced globally many years ago. Not long after, some of these instruments reached our shores and we are now using them to predict weather situations to inform the farmers, fishermen and other ordinary people who want to do outdoor activities away from their homes and along the beautiful beaches of Solomon Islands.
In a much more modern way, weather updates always come through text messages.
But for our rural dwellers who don’t have radios, newspapers and mobile phones to access weather information, they turn to use nature to predict the weather forecast every day, just like predicting trade wind.
Trade wind is one of the winds that always destroy our people’s houses, important belongings and properties in the mountainous areas. It is a permanent east to west prevailing wind that flow in the earth’s equatorial region between 30˙N and 30˙S latitudes.
According to the 98 years old Tome Tuki of Mamulele Village in east Kwara’ae, the trade winds always occur in July or August every year. Mr Tuki said that this Trade wind is called Ara in Kwara’ae dialect.
“Yes we have our traditional ways or methods of forecasting it,” Mr Tuki said. He explained that he grew up in a mountainous area where his father, a heathen priest, used to pray to his ancestral spirits.
During my time with him, I learned a lot of things including how to read and predict the coming of Ara.
"We used the sight of frigate birds (Gaula) to tell us that Ara is coming.” Gaula is a bird that can be found along the sea coast and not in the mountains. “When we see flocks of Gaula flying above our mountainous areas, we can certainly tell that Ara is coming. We then go out to cut and collect small woods, mature bamboos and coconut fronds to throw them over the roofs of our houses to prevent them from being blown away.”
He added that while this happen, his parents would run to their food gardens to pick enough foods to sustain them as they wait for the wind to pass by.
“If the flocks of Gaula fly back to the sea, it indicates the wind has pass away. But if the flocks of Gaula continue to remain up there in the sky, it means the wind is still blowing. Gaula to us is an important bird because it helps us understand the coming and the movement of Ara,” Mr Tuki concluded.
Another elderly man Nelson Konai from Gwa’irufa village not far from Mamulele in east Kwara’ae said another thing they use to predict wind are through wild Palm trees (Niuniu- in Kwara’ae dialect) that grow on mountainous areas. These palm trees are special because they keep growing until they tower over other trees.
“We look at the fronds of the palm trees to know the direction and speed of the wind. If their fronds are flowing westward (Su Lan Sina –in Kwara’ae dialect), then we can tell that this is Ara. But if their fronds are flowing eastward (Ra’e lan Sina) then we can tell that this is a cyclone which is call Kauburu-in Kwara’ae.”
Furthermore the speed of the wind can be determined by the movement of the tops of the palms against the wind.
“If they sway wildly back and forth against the wind, then we can tell that it is a strong wind and we have to take extra precautions to avoid any thing that can be caused to us by its effects.”
So, Niuniu is another important thing that we can use to tell if there is Ara. “For this reason, we have to protect and conserve our environment which include palm trees. We must protect our trees because they are our source of medicines, our birds like Gaula because they help us to tell winds and seasons and other living things because they are our friends. All these things are connected to us in our natural settings.”
Today everything has changed due to the influence of western world through education, developments and the power of money that caused our people to destroy our environment.
For east Malaita particularly, large part of our coastal environment was destroyed when cattle raising, coconut farming and road infrastructure were introduced. When this idea came to east Malaita, our people were excited to accept it and began destroying our environment. They cut down trees, cleared big land areas, planted coconut plantations and raised cattle farms. One of my grandfather late Joshua Niutoto admitted that he was one of the men who contributed to this destruction of the environment.
He told me during our discussion in 2015 that he regretted his act so much.“We were excited by the news that cattle raising can give good money so we turned to destroy our forest during that time to clear the way for this cattle farming. After many years have passed by, when the price of copra and cattle drops, I started to reflect on what I did and regret my actions to destroy the environment in those days. To make it worst, I have to walk long distances to reach bush areas where I can collect herbal medicines I need when I or others were sick.”
In his last words to me in our discussion, he wished that the present generation of people could reforest those areas with trees again.
“Our trees are very important because we use them for many things. We use them for firewood, herbal medicines and as building materials for houses.”
Niutoto passed away in 2017.
Sadly this kind of teaching is not actively maintained and upheld except by few families in the rural areas. This means that this knowledge can completely disappear if this trend continue on for the next 30 to 50 years.
The challenge for my people of east Malaita now is to make sure that this does not happen. This challenge can be better addressed when all stakeholders including our governments work together with my rural people.