The Fijian Vanua Research Framework

Micronesians at Rabi Island

What is it?

The Fijian Vanua Research Framework (FVRF) is a pacific research methodology created by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba. Vanua in its simplest translation means tribe or clan, but it’s meaning to indigenous Fijians has greater depth. The term refers to Fijian interconnectedness inclusive of culture, chiefs, knowledge systems, relationships, values, land, and spiritualities. In application the methodology follows Fijian protocol in planning, seeking permission from the Vanua, talanoa, appropriate gifting, and reporting back,  all of which lead to forming a lifelong connection between researcher and the researched. The framework is an example of an ethical approach to indigenous research that takes into account Fijian values, protocols of relationships, knowledge, and ways of knowing. 

Between meeting the expectations of the academy and the Vanua, Unaisi recognised the need for culturally appropriate methodology that recognises Pacific worldviews, knowledge, and epistemologies, in a way that grounds research with methodological integrity. In alignment with epistemologist Sandra Harding, Unaisi agrees that knowledge claims are socially situated rather than universalistic where what is known and how it is known reflects the knower’s (or researchers) experience and perspective. Therefore, situating indigenous people at the centre of research extends our current knowledge base and transforms their understanding of the socio-cultural world.


Why is it an important intervention?

As knowledge is deeply associated with power, research has been another form of colonisation, thus decolonising research allows indigenous people to re-establish their engagement with scholarly authority. The FVRF is framed in a context that indigenous Fijians can appreciate and trust as it is embedded in indigenous Fijian worldviews and validates their ways of doing. Research findings in an indigenous context aren’t always found as traditionally expected in the academy, histories can be found in dance, poetry, ceremonies and crafts among other things. Vanua research ethics both supports and affirms existing protocols of relationships, ceremonies, and knowledge acquisition to ensure that the research benefits the Vanua instead of harming it. 

The FVRF acknowledges four millennia of knowledge bases, philosophies, ways of seeking knowledge and ways of passing it on, among Fijians, therefore grounding indigenous research in the realities of the culture being investigated. As a research methodology, it argues against the academy’s perception that indigenous people didn’t have complex systems of education, philosophy, relationships, and values that determined their conduct. The framework also creates future possibilities to extend Fijian research into more specific areas such as education and leadership. Though the FVRF has a strong Fijian focus and is limited in its application in a pan-Pacific manner, there is potential for its underlying principles to be applied in other pacific contexts, as well as inspire other indigenous researchers (as Unaisi was inspired by Kakala and Kaupapa) to develop other culturally appropriate methodologies. 

The Vanua framework has deepened the academy’s understanding of indigenous Fijians, bringing to light areas that require further improvement to contribute to the overall enhancement and positive transformation of the lives of Fijians (which is the intended outcome for the FVRF). In applying the framework to her own village district (Vugalei), Unaisi found better, more suited ways to improve the lives of Fijians, through the lens of indigenous Fijian epistemology. However, her research is limited as it’s focused primarily on the Vugalei district, and also limited in its application to diasporic and migrant communities. The Vanua framework has brought to light the importance of cultural understanding especially in areas of education, pedagogy, the academy, and policy, though specific to Fiji, lessons learnt can potentially be applied elsewhere.

“Good Vanua research actually ensures the knowledge produced reflects the knowledge of the people in the Vanua”

Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, Knowing & Learning: An Indigenous Fijian Approach
Flowchart showing steps of Fijian Vanua Research Framework – Created by Arielle Lino
Based on Unaisi’s article “Decolonisng Framings in Pacific Research: Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework as an Organic Response.”

Author:

Arielle Lino


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