How I Found An Ancient Survival Community

(And why you need to build a survival community, too)

I'm taking a little bit of a detour in this installment of my of 'survival garden' series, to talk about how I found out about an example of a very successful, low tech survival community. But the focus remains the same, getting through 'hard times', with enough food and the wherewithal for survival.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited (thanks, Professor Mary!) to work with the University of Hawai'i on Oahu to help with their plans for creating a 2.5 acre sustainable 'teaching farm', organized on Community Supported Agriculture principles.

Professor Mary found my website, bought my books and subsequently invited me down. Bless you, Internet! And I'll come back to this point a little later on, after the 'survival community' stuff.

Anyway, there is no denying that Hawai'i is absolutely beautiful, with a year-round growing season and adequate precipitation to grow almost anything. But for a variety of reasons, Hawai'i imports 85% of its food.

And if my experience is anything to go by, that food is expensive. For example, a week's worth of produce for a family of four (according to USDA standards) purchased at Whole Foods cost more than $160! Ordinary grocery-store items I found to be anywhere from 30% to 50% more expensive than here in Ontario.

Of course, any challenge also presents an opportunity. If some of the imported food can be replaced with locally-grown, this represents a big opportunity for small farmers. It also represents one way to help assure food security when those imports are no longer so easy to obtain. Small farms can be the foundation of a survival community when the going gets tough.

My part to help this 're-localization' consisted of conducting a series of workshops for a mixed class of university and high school kids and their instructors, on the topics of starting-up, marketing, and managing a small mixed organic farm, both profitably and sustainably. The teaching farm will be used to provide hands-on experience and practical proof of these ideas.

The workshops were a lot of fun to do, lots of highly-motivated and engaged participants with a real interest in securing a local, sustainable food supply, and perhaps providing opportunities for youth to become engaged in agriculture on a 'human' scale.

By the way, there's nothing contradictory about learning about farming and market gardening, while maintaining a belief that 'business as usual' has an expiry date not too many years in the future. No matter what, people will still need to eat!

Then we 'discover' an ancient Hawai'ian Survival Community

Suzie and I spent two weeks on Oahu, and besides the workshops we had the opportunity see and learn about Polynesian culture and history; which brings me to one of the main points of this article (at last)!

Pre-contact Hawai'i – i.e. prior to Captain James Cook's arrival in the Islands in 1778 - had a rich culture that had evolved over centuries. Ancient Hawai'ians had developed a sophisticated system of stewardship and high levels of culture and artistry, in concert with their natural environment.

This was epitomized by the ahupua`a. The ahupua`a was a narrow wedge-shaped land section that ran from the mountains to the sea. The size of the ahupua`a depended on the resources of the area, with poorer agricultural regions split into larger ahupua`a to compensate for the relative lack of natural abundance.

Each ahupua`a was ruled by a local chief, and contained the resources the human community needed, from fish and salt, to fertile land for farming taro or sweet potato, to koa and other trees growing in upslope areas.

Villagers from the coastal area traded fish for other foods or for wood to build canoes and houses. Specialized knowledge and resources peculiar to a small area were also shared among ahupua`a. You can check out a great poster of an ahupua`a here I bought a full-size one in Oahu, it's gorgeous.

Through a system of kapu (taboo) they also placed restrictions on fishing certain species during specific seasons, and on gathering and replacing certain plants. In this way, the community maintained a rich and sustainable lifestyle, with plenty of time for artistic expression through crafts, dance and chant as well as competitive sport and martial arts.

This is an example of an amazingly successful 'low-tech' survival community; and this was achieved by a people that did not use the wheel! Note also that smelting metal was unknown; tools were wood or stone or bone, yet they were healthy and (apparently) happy for many centuries.

So (to drag it back to the topic of OUR survival) it strikes me that this is a model that can be adapted for modern times and modern needs. Survival is much easier in a group of like-minded individuals; it's tough to do every single thing and provide every single article or item that is needed as a 'lone ranger'.

I've talked about the need for this before e.g. here and here but I think we need to go beyond this to actively create a network or 'virtual village' of people with complementary skills and resources, to give everyone a better shot at long-term survival - i.e. a modern survival community. I'm pursuing this very thing with some friends and neighbours.

If ancient Hawai'ians could do it (and they probably didn't even have Twitter!) I suspect we can too.

More like Survival Community . . .

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