Over the past thirty years, externally-driven interventions for climate-change adaptation in rural Pacific Island contexts have largely failed to be effective or sustained. One reason is that traditional (culturally-grounded) autonomous community coping capacity has been overlooked, many external agencies viewing all such communities as both homogenous and helpless. A community’s autonomous coping capacity can be proxied by peripherality, a measure of the degree to which a particular community in archipelagic (island) countries engages with core agendas. In order to gauge the depth, breadth and efficacy of autonomous coping capacity, three indices of community peripherality were developed from research within thirteen communities in (peripheral-biased) Bua Province in Fiji. Index 1 concerns geography (travel time/cost to town), Index 2 concerns population and employment (community size, age distribution, employment), and Index 3 concerns tradition and global awareness (mobile phones per capita, traditional/western healthcare preferences, inherent coping capacity, diet, water and energy security). Mapping of Indices 1–3 allows the nature of community peripherality in Bua to be captured using a readily-reproducible tool for rapid assessment in similar contexts. It is demonstrated that an understanding of peripherality (as a proxy for autonomous community coping capacity) can inform the design of future interventions for climate-change adaptation.