East Kwaio chief and Atoifi Health Research Group member, Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata is currently being hosted by James Cook University (JCU) and the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns, Australia.
On behalf of fellow chiefs, John Laete’esafi and Jackson Waneagea, Esau and the JCU team are working to collect, preserve and identify rainforest plants that are traditionally used for food and medicine in East Kwaio.
The project aims to improve conservation management with local communities in East Kwaio and is funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).
Esau is visiting the Australian Tropical Herbarium for three weeks to develop scientific plant collection and preservation skills.
He is working closely with Dr David MacLaren from the College of Medicine and Dentistry at JCU and Mr Frank Zich (Curator) and Professor Darren Crayn (Director) of the Australian Tropical Herbarium.
This project has been a long time coming.
Esau greatly values the knowledge his elders shared with him when he was a young man, about the medicinal use of plants.
But, for many years Esau has been concerned that the next generation of young people will not have the same opportunities to learn.
Many young people have sought an education outside of their traditional place and have not had the chance to acquire traditional knowledge, including knowledge about how to look after and use rainforest plants. Esau explains, “Lan hem laif blong mifala, bus hem laif blong mifala.” (our land is our life, our forest is our life).
Using a learn-by-doing approach, this project delivers hands-on training in documenting and recording traditional knowledge about medicinal and food plants in the mountains of East Kwaio.
The project is providing training in practical management skills, organisational governance and financial management.
Both facets are essential to protect local biodiversity against outside pressures, including logging and mining.