Using Ethnography to Document Traditional Practices in Kadavu, Fiji


Hunting Octopus in Fiji

Fisheries in many islands in the Pacific have been managed for centuries through traditional ownership of inshore marine waters, also known as customary marine tenure. In this process, traditional ecological knowledge is passed down through generations. Many of these practices have suffered from commercial fishing pressures, increases in efficiency of fishing gear, and increases in human populations.

Ethnographic research was conducted on the island of Kadavu, Fiji, in an attempt to document customary marine tenure practices and traditional ecological knowledge.

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the management practices, the sustainability of tourism, and the applicability of modern conservation strategies in customary marine tenure.

Methods, Tools, and Data


The principal researcher spent over a year living with the native Fijians, conducting interviews and focus groups, administering surveys, documenting genealogy, and recording observations. Oral histories and marine lore were also recorded. This background information was used to better understand the native culture?s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs, particularly as they relate to tourism, marine protected areas (MPAs), and relationships between government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Historical Research and Demographic Analysis
To better understand the people of Kadavu, the researcher did historical research on the island. This included information on economics, religion, trade, colonization, changes in government and regulations, and population demographics. Information was obtained through archival research, literature review, and interviews with researchers and residents.

Related Methods

Demography is the study of the characteristics of human populations, such as size, growth, density, and distribution. Demographic analysis provides insights into the links between these characteristics and the cultural, economic, geographic, and other social attributes present in a given area.
The goal of ethnography is to obtain an in-depth understanding of the history, practices, values, traditions, and circumstances of the individuals, groups, and surrounding natural and cultural resources being studied. Research is focused on interactions within and among the groups. Ethnographic research requires the use of multiple methodologies, including secondary data research to get background information on the individuals or groups being studied, historical research, observation, and interviewing.
Historical research is a type of secondary data analysis to determine past social attitudes and community structure and how these have changed over time.

Discussion of Results

Research in Fiji revealed the importance placed on cultural fisheries management among native Fijians. It revealed that while native cultures may not be highly receptive to a decentralized government-based approach to managing fisheries, they respond well to small-scale community-based management.

Conservation NGOs have played an important role in assisting in the management of community-based MPAs.

Currently there is talk of incorporating many traditional management practices into regulations that could be used for future management of community-based MPAs.


  • This project was conducted by Mark Calamia from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He can be contacted at

Books and Publications

  • Calamia, M. 2003. Expressions of Customary Marine Tenure and Environmental Entitlements: A Case Study Involving Common Property Regimes in a Fijian Outer Island Group. PhD Thesis. University of Colorado, Boulder.