Masters of Wind & Wave: Tuvalu Leads The Way for Polynesia With New Bitcoin Infrastructure

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

The following is a post from our Managing Director, George Siosi Samuels.

On December 21, 2020, we released news of a new initiative between the Tuvalu government, blockchain leaders nChain, tech consultancy Elas Digital, and ourselves, Faiā, to build a "Tuvaluan National Digital Ledger" on the Bitcoin (BSV) blockchain.

And here's a list of links to all the press releases:

This project (called internally "BIT" for "Bitcoin In Tuvalu") started with a single Medium article in January 2020. Less than a year later, we launched the world's first national digital infrastructure project for Tuvalu using Bitcoin (BSV) blockchain technology.

The difference between this, and other projects, is that we are focused solely on utility. We've seen many in the Bitcoin and crypto space be enamored by the stories of overnight millionaires and "to the moon" memes. It's no wonder why lotteries still hold so much power over individuals. However, for those who understand foundational principles, sustainable income always follows assets. Price is a lagging indicator.

As such, we aim to use BSV's blockchain technology to showcase what Bitcoin was always meant to do: provide value (beyond speculation). While there may be many people who become overnight millionaires in the crypto space, there will be just as many who won't. We want to continue building a 'digital plumbing system' for the future - a future where data is the new 'oil'.

In order for this to be realized, government and nation-level initiatives need to prove themselves. To date, many governments have been reluctant to commit, but momentum is increasing. Tuvalu, which has marked itself as pioneers in their own right, will be the first to secure themselves in a space few still understand clearly.

However, as someone with part Tuvaluan (Polynesian) heritage, this comes as no surprise. Why? Because our ancestors were navigating uncharted territories way before most. So it is truly an honor to assist Tuvalu in such an undertaking.

The New Wayfinders

Us Polynesians have always been explorers. If you've ever watched the Disney movie Moana, you may recall a scene where Moana discovers the remains of her ancestors. If not, see below:

At the 2:10 mark, there's a specific line: "We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain." This is how I see Bitcoin's blockchain technology being used for the future. A way for us to "tell the stories of our elders" (data) in a "never-ending chain" (blockchain). As we move more and more into the digital realm, an inevitability, it becomes even more important that we learn to navigate this new "digital ocean."

Tuvalu, which is part of the Polynesian group of island nations, has a long history in oceanic exploration. By about 1200 C.E., Polynesians were masters of it, roaming 7000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean in outrigger canoes. This knowledge was passed down orally from generation to generation, until they stopped exploring and started settling more. However, with all that lost knowledge, a renaissance of sorts occurred a few decades ago.

A film by the name of Papa Mau: The Wayfinder, highlighted this incredible story. In 1976, a group of Hawaiians sailed the traditional voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a from Hawai‘i to Tahiti and proved to the world that their ancestors had explored the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean by navigating with the stars.

Papa Mau: The Wayfinder is the story of critical role that master navigator Mau Piailug played in that voyage, and the rebirth of Polynesian unity and pride that followed. The Hōkūle‘a was built by members of the newly formed Polynesian Voyaging Society, who dreamed of sailing in the way of their ancestors. Shortly thereafter, a search began for someone who could teach them the art of non-instrument navigation, which had been all but lost until they met Micronesian-born Mau, who agreed to share his knowledge.

Just like the Hōkūle‘a sparked a sense of unity and pride for Polynesians, we also hope to do something similar in a Bitcoin or blockchain-based future. In my view, it is simply a new type of ocean to explore. And exploration is in our blood.

Tuvalu Does Not Need Saving

Tuvalu has been known over the years for its action against climate change, being one of a handful of island nations to be gravely impacted if ocean levels continue to rise. However, in the eyes of the West, the narrative has put them in a precarious position - one of helplessness, which is far from what our ancestors were about. Being the explorers that they were.

This is why this BIT project is so important. In my opinion, it helps put Tuvalu in a position of empowerment versus one of helplessness. All that is needed are the right resources and connections to explore new unchartered territories, like they once did.

As a side-note, however, it would be amiss of me to not include the fact that I have not yet set foot in Tuvalu myself. I am of Tuvaluan heritage from my mother's side (from the Sakaio clan), but was born in Fiji, am an Australian citizen, but raised in Asia. It has always been my dream to make it there one day, but it seems like there were other things that needed to take place before that happened.

Even though I was always so far away, knowledge of my blood and roots always stayed present thanks to my mother other family members. If I could not make it to the islands, I could at least make use of my education and knowledge to give back. This is that for me. This is my way of honoring my ancestral roots.

Preserving Culture with Empowering Economics

Some people have asked why a nation like Tuvalu even needs something like Bitcoin? Well, first, let's look at Bitcoin. When Satoshi Nakamoto first released the Bitcoin whitepaper to the world in 2008, it was done so as an "electronic cash system." It was more about providing an auditable track record of data to encourage more honest behavior. It was more pro-honest government than it was anti-authoritarian. It just so happened that it needed the "anti-authoritarians" to turn it from a nice hobby project into what it is today. It then evolved from a story of "economic freedom" to now "digital gold", even if not unintended. And it will probably continue to evolve.

Regarding Tuvalu, apart from the direct problems Bitcoin will be addressing (relating to national digital registries, citizenships, and e-governance), it also provides a way for the Tuvaluan people to start capturing data in a way that gets preserved authentically, should anything drastic happen to the island nation due to climate-change. As much as we would like to reverse the impacts of climate-change, it seems like it continues to get worse. As such, some of us have started looking at contingency plans.

If people in the future were to try and dig for remains, much like archeologists, the Bitcoin blockchain could help provide a data trail of the transactions of people's day-to-day lives. Much can actually be gleaned by financial transactions, so this could be stored in the form of micropayments for all digital data.

It may seem far-fetched, but it's a future that is becoming more and more likely. I mean, DNA Storage is already becoming a reality.

In 2010, I began an animated series called Tales From Nanumea as my first foray into "preserving culture." At the time, I did this because I didn't know how else to help the Tuvaluan people with the news of rising ocean levels.

On one side, I was seeing cities like Dubai literally build islands out of the ocean from nothing, while on the other, I was seeing my maternal homeland with full, rich histories potentially "drowning." What was made apparent to me was the economic differences. Essentially, if you have the money, you can save yourself. If you don't, you have to ask for help from others. That, in my opinion, is never an empowering situation.

With this new initiative, I hope it puts Tuvalu in a position that will further its economic standing so it can rely more on its own ingenuity than the need for aid. Of course, this is a far more complex area, one I am in no political position to have any opinions on. However, if things were simpler, this would be my wish.

The Stars Align

In my opinion, Bitcoin technology has begun a transformation that we may not truly see its effects of until around the years 2030 - 2040. That's because it takes roughly 30 years for humans to adopt any significantly new innovation (e.g. the electric car, or even the push-button elevator). But outside of that, there's something even more interesting about the timing of this news with Tuvalu.

On December 21, 2020, astronomers witnessed the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, an event that hasn't occurred since 1623, and also happened to fall on the last solstice for 2020. In the world of Astrology, Jupiter and Saturn haven't been this close for the last 800 years.

"Jupiter and Saturn meet every 20 years or so, but Register explains that this particular conjunction is significant because the planets will be extremely close together — as in, closer than the two have been in nearly 800 years — and will appear in the night sky as one giant star. Additionally, this conjunction ushers in a new centuries-long cycle of Jupiter and Saturn meeting in air signs. This conjunction ushers in a new societal ethos that slowly moves away from materialism and toward Universalism and new ideologies. Aquarius is the sign of teamwork, it’s the sign of society, it’s very progressive and it’s very humanitarian. During this pandemic people have been living in their own little worlds, and I feel like those walls are going to be coming down soon and people are going to realize that if we want change to happen we can’t go at it alone. This winter solstice represents a new beginning, and the energy is ripe for making changes that will carry over for the foreseeable future. It's a good day to set intentions for where you want to be long-term. This is not a new start that you're going to get done in a month, this is going to unravel over years, so whatever direction you are moving toward in 2021 will continue over your life for the next two decades.” Sabrina Abbas

Notice the "next two decades" line? This falls in line with the trajectory of Bitcoin (as a movement) in general, which began just before 2010. Thirty years for societal-level change from a new innovation. Although it may seem strange for some, these are the things I've been observing for years. Just like my ancestors observed the celestial patterns to navigate the oceans, I've observed the digital patterns to navigate technology adoption.

Through patience and persistence, it will come

There's a mantra I live by, "tena loa e fanatu", which translates from Tuvaluan to "it will come." It's something my mom told me that my great grandfather always used to say. And it is something that has stuck with me ever since I first learned of it. With everything that has happened in 2020, those words have never resonated more.

We live in a world that's increasingly digital, but it does not need to be scary. What I foresee happening is more of a merging between technology and the physical world (nature), where technology can compliment nature. It needs to re-merge in order to truly grow, because we are all connected. We, along with all lifeforms, are stardust. Matter born from the same shared elements. And just like my ancestors once had a spirituality and reverence for nature, so too do I hope that we can find our way back in new ways.

As a "digital native", technology is just a normal part of my day-to-day. But for many in the world, it is not; yet it is beginning to evolve that way. As such, it is important that we prepare as much of the world for these changes. Because, the more we innovate, the more people can be left behind. And it is Faiā's mission to play a role in bridging the gap between such communities and technology.

This world-first initiative with Tuvalu is just the beginning. There is so much more to come, and it is simply an honor to have the opportunity to play a small part in it.


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