Custom Governance to Preserve Land in Vanuatu

The people of Vanuatu, a name which means ‘Land Eternal’, are largely Melanesian and the people are called Ni-Vanuatu (meaning ‘of Vanuatu’). Ni-Vanuatu have lived in their islands for centuries and more than 110 distinctly different cultures and languages still thrive here. Vanuatu is recognized as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

Land in Vanuatu is traditionally the source of personal and clan identity, spirituality, kastom (traditional ways), power, and economic livelihood; without land, one lacks the very basis for survival. Land is commonly referred to as “the mother” underscoring the importance of the relationship between people and the land associated with their kinship group or clan. Issues concerning land are not simply to do with land ownership and land use. They are social, environmental, political and economic as well.


Aerial View of Efate Island, Vanuatu. Erakor Lagoon to the left and Port Vila, center

Recently, land consultant, Alick Kalmelu, of Ifira Tenuku says the land issue on Efate is a very sensitive matter and the chiefs of Efate should talk about the matter. He said the chiefs of Efate through the council of chiefs such as the village council of chiefs, the area council of chiefs and the island council of chiefs of Efate should unite and talk about the issue of land particularly preservation of land for future generations.

Kalmelu was commenting on the views expressed by the newly-elected chairman of the Shefa Provincial Council, Alick Arram in which he highlighted common fears by many Efate islanders about the sale of land on Efate. Kalmelu emphasized that custom governance was also paramount for sustainable use of land and resolution of land issues whenever they may rise.

However, he added that chiefs needed to work together to establish custom governance systems to get chiefs to come together to talk about and resolve land issues. “For example the land issues between individual land claimants and villages and then we go on to talk about the reservation of land for the people of Efate as a whole. “Not only on Efate, we have to look at other islands such as Malekula, Santo, Tanna because I think that the population especially on Efate has grown so fast that there is no control over the population.

Kalmelu also said, “I think the question is that land issues should go back to custom governance rather than the municipal or provincial governments. Here we are talking about custom land issues have to be addressed through custom governance rather than the Shefa Province or the central government.”


Aerial View of Port Vila and vicinity, Vanuatu

He said the current Minister of Land, Ralph Regenvanu has done a lot to amend the land tribunal act and introduced a new act, the Land Management Act to control the sale of land on Efate including other islands of Vanuatu. “The key issue here is we have to make sure that custom governance within each village council, area council and island councils of chiefs have to be enforced because at the moment there seems to be a lack of willingness to introduce this custom governance to the public,” Kalmelu said.

Kalmelu is concerned that there are still a lot of loopholes in custom governance because that’s the main area where we can use to resolve land issues and land differences between the communities and even the identification of custom land owners.

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Research Into Marshallese Navigation Will Revive Culture

Radio New Zealand recently ran a short article about Harvard Professor John Huth’s book titled The Lost Art of Finding Our Way. Professor Huth wants to further document traditional Marshallese navigation methods to help boost the islands’ indigenous culture. Marshall Islands wave piloting is one of the navigation techniques featured in the book.

Professor Huth said his research found its use of ocean swells to navigate was extremely accurate. He says he hopes further research will help revive Marshallese culture. “I almost have in my mind that we want to publish a wave piloting manual or something like that, that we could give back to the Marshallese to allow them to reclaim their heritage. Because I think it’s a very rich heritage,” Professor Huth said. The professor also said modern GPS systems could sometimes fail, and wave piloting could still be useful to help keep oriented at sea.


The Marshall Islands

About the Marshall Islands…

The Marshall Islands consists of some of the easternmost islands of Micronesia. The Marshalls are composed of more than 1,200 islands and islets in two parallel chains of coral atolls- the Ratak, or Sunrise, to the east and the Ralik, or Sunset, to the west. The chains lie about 125 miles (200 kilometers) apart and extend some 800 miles northwest to southeast.

Micronesian peoples were the first inhabitants of the archipelago. The islands were explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and were named for a British captain in 1788. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to colonize the islands in 1885. Japan claimed them in 1914, but after several battles during World War II, the U.S. seized them from them. In 1947, the UN made the island group, along with the Mariana and Caroline archipelagos, a U.S. trust territory. In 1986 the islands gained independence under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Under the terms of that agreement, the U.S. would provide significant financial aid, that to date now exceeds $1 billion.

The most populous atolls are Majuro and Kwajalein, which offers employment at the U.S. missile testing range; together they have almost three-fourths of the country’s total population. The rest of the population lives in traditional villages on the outer islands away from the two urban centers.

The clear-blue waters, surrounding the Marshall Islands, boasts of over 800 species of fish and 160 species of coral. The numerous offshore World War II shipwrecks add another dimension to local scuba diving and snorkeling attractions.

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A New Online Chamorro Language Resource

Earlier this year the University of Guam (UOG) launched a Website that teaches the native tongue making the Chamorro language more accessible than ever before. is an online, learner-driven resource geared towards teaching the language, whether you’re from Guam or abroad.

The website’s mission is to further advance the Chamorro language and help people improve language fluency. “The whole emphasis behind learning Chamorro is a very pressure-packed movement,” UOG President Robert Underwood said at the website’s launch. Underwood recalled how, in his younger days, others spoke Chamorro more fluently than him and he sometimes found it difficult to keep up with them. The language will be easier to learn now with the website’s resources, he said.

Gerhard Schwab, website founder and University of Guam social work professor, said the website is free and easy to navigate through. To begin, a user must create an account that requires a name, email address and password. The user then has access to the various teaching materials, which are a combination of audio, visual and interactive text. The user gains skill levels as they engage in more of the website’s features, Schwab said.

Schwab explained that the website has five main features:

  • a dictionary with more than 12,000 Chamorro words and their English meaning;
  • Chamorro lessons that teach various words and phrases in the language, depending on skill level;
  • a grammar section that explains Chamorro sentence structure and various pronouns;
  • basic conversations in Chamorro that are useful at home, work, school and more;
  • and a media section that gives the user access to audio clips, video and real-life documents to use as learning tools.

A significant feature of the website is the integration of the dictionary in the Chamorro lessons and dialogue. As Schwab explained, users just need to hover over a Chamorro word to find out what it means in English. Another option allows the reader to see a breakdown of a Chamorro sentence, detailing its structure and meaning. “The website is still growing and more content will be added to enhance the Chamorro learning experience,” Schwab said.

Schwab said there currently are more than 2,900 users on the website. Fifty percent of them are from Guam, 40 percent are from the U.S. mainland and the rest are international users living in countries such as Japan, Afghanistan, Australia and France. “Learning Chamorro means different things to different people and poses particular challenges,” the website states. “It is much more than learning words, you participate in and shape cultural and historical processes.”


Where is Guam?

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Maui the Fisherman

Our next legend in the series comes to us from Samoa and is about the demigod, Maui. Maui is a well-known legend among the people of the Pacific Islands especially those from the Polynesian islands, and is considered one of the more important demigods in Hawaiian lore. Queen Liliuokalani had a family chant about the demigod:

“Maui became restless and fought the sun
With a noose that he laid.
And winter won the sun,
And summer was won by Maui.”

Maui is commonly known to be the creator of the Hawaiian Islands, but in this legend he is seen hauling up the islands of Samoa and Tonga.

Maui the Fisherman, and How He Found Samoa and Tonga

Long ago the god Maui became tired of the spirit land, and decided to sail over the unknown seas in search of adventure. Taking with him his two sons and an enchanted fish-hook attached to a very long line, he sailed his canoe through the Pacific. Wherever he thought there was land waiting to be brought up to the light of day, he cast his enchanted hook.

“Now be ready to haul,” Maui cried to his sons. So, pulling with all their might they hauled in the line, surprised at the great weight of the fish that they supposed must be on their hook. Now the sea became churned up, and the canoe rocked so violently that the two sons would have let go the line had not Maui put new courage into them and bade them pull still harder.

In a little while there suddenly appeared above the surface of the waves an island; and so it was with each cast of the magical hook: either a bare rock or a beautiful coral island came to surface, to the great surprise of Maui’s sons.

In this way were Samoa and Tonga and many other islands both large and small brought up from the bottom of the sea.


“Maui the Fisherman,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

At this time the heavens hung low so that they touched the land, and Maui saw that it would be well to separate them so that there might be light and life in the world. So he propped up the sky and forced it away from the earth.

Now Tangaloa, another spirit god, looked down from the sky, and seeing the low-lying islands that Maui had fished up from the sea, threw down among them some mountainous ones. Finding that there was no life on the islands, Tangaloa planted a creeper, and soon every island was covered with vegetation. Then he plucked a piece of creeper and left it to dry in the sun.

By and by in the drying creeper a worm appeared, and this was the first form of animal life. Maui then changed himself into a bird, and flying down from the sky, whither he had returned after his fishing, he divided the worm into two pieces with his beak, and from those two pieces grew the first two men.

Later, the gods sent a canoe with wives for the men, and their children became the first great chiefs among the islands.

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Museum Of Samoa “Expanding Its Walls”

The mission of the Museum of Samoa is to safeguard Samoa’s cultural heritage. It houses several artifacts and exhibitions and conducts educational programs and tours. The collection depicts the Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way), its history and its tropical environment. It also displays some of the Pacific Islands artifacts. The museum also houses 3,000 year old pottery and stone adze discovered in Samoa.

Earlier this year the Museum of Samoa made an announcement that it was “expanding its walls” by creating a mobile phone app and on online site to expand on the history and culture sites of Apia. It is a natural project for the Museum, which is mandated to increase public understanding of Samoa’s unique and interesting history and culture.

The launch of this expansion was Titled Smart Management of Heritage Sites in Apia “The Malamalama Trail,” and was accompanied by a photo exhibition donated by the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand and a presentation of the app content. The app is an answer to the researchers of the museum collection, students of Samoa and afar, tourists, and the general public’s interest. The museum plans to continue to develop more and engaging content.

The Museum of Samoa’s App project, is funded by a Tourism Development Initiative Grant. This is developed between Scope Global and Pacific Islands Trade and Invest, as part of their Strategic Alliance, to help support tourism initiatives.

Click here to visit the Museum of Samoa’s Website.


Samoan fales

A little about Samoa…

According to legend, Samoa is known as the “Cradle of Polynesia” because Savai‘i island is said to be Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland. Samoan culture is undoubtedly central to Polynesian life, and its styles of music, dance, and visual art have gained renown throughout the Pacific islands and the world.

Over a century ago, European Colonial powers had arrived in Samoa which led to the Samoan islands being divided through the 1899 Tripartite Treat. This resulted in the Western islands of Samoa becoming a German Colony, while the Eastern islands became a territory of the United States of America. The German Administration was in Samoa for 14 years, followed by New Zealand in 1920. Samoa was the first Pacific country to gain Independence in 1962.

The local population is mostly indigenous Samoans. The port city of Apia is the center of local government and trade, and the economy revolves around agriculture, lumber and tourism.

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Fiji To Enhance Respect and Appreciation of Cultural Diversity

The Fiji Times Online recently had a story stating that the Department of Heritage and Arts in Fiji has set out strategies to enhance and improve cultural diversity in the country. Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Dr. Mahendra Reddy said one of the strategies to be adopted was the encouragement of cultural learning in schools. “In contemporary Fiji, our children need to continue learning about their own culture and at the same time respect and appreciate others’ cultures and values and accommodate them in their lives to become better rounded and accomplished citizens,” he added.

At a recent Multicultural Center workshop in Nadi Dr. Reddy also stated, “Enticed with the vision to promote social cohesion through cultural diversity, the five multi-ethnic cultural centers over the years has trained many children in cultural music, dance and playing musical instruments. The centers have prepared students to understand the richness of cultural instruments and most importantly instilled in them the discipline and dedication that is linked to cultural music and other aspects of learning.”

Newly-appointed Department of Heritage director, Collin Yabaki said working with the different multi-cultural centers in the country was an important aspect of heightening cultural education in schools and communities. “All the centers are doing really well,” he said.

Yabaki continued, “But there is a matter of administration work and ensuring that our officers are operating within our frameworks and we can assist in whatever work that they need help in. We can use some of our resources through the Ministry of Education to help our cultural centers so that we are able to uplift the work that has already been done.”

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One of Fiji’s cultural centers- The National Archives of Fiji getting ready for International Archives Day, 2016

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New Tongan Translation of Mariner’s Book

I really like this story that I came across a couple of months ago on the Matangi Tonga Online new site. I’ve been meaning to share this with you and I’m glad that I finally got a chance to do so…

The first copy of a new Tongan translation, ‘Ko ‘Ulukälala ‘i Feletoa, ko e Talanoa ‘a Toki Ukamea‘, (The Story of Fïnau ‘Ulukälala: Told by Iron Axe) was presented to Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia  in Canberra early this year. The book was presented to the Princess by Author Nigel Statham, who is a translator of Polynesian languages, and his Tongan wife Melenaite who helped with the translation.


Their Tongan translation of An Account of the Natives of the Friendly Islands by John Martin and William Mariner has an introduction and extensive genealogical, sociological and theological footnotes composed by Pacific historian Dorothy in collaboration with the late Queen Salote Tupou III.

William Mariner was a teenage ship’s clerk aboard the British privateer, Port-au-Prince, which was sunk off the island of Lifuka in the Ha’apai island group of Tonga. He and several of his shipmates were spared. Mariner was taken under the protection of the king, Fïnau ‘Ulukälala and lived in Tonga for four years, taking the name Toki ‘Ukamea (Iron Axe).

When Mariner returned to England he dictated a book of his experiences to John Martin who wrote, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, which became a major source on pre-Christian Tonga.

“Mariner’s account has been called a fantastic tale of adventure of an English boy of exceptional intelligence and personal attractiveness,” said Princess Angelika. When Mariner lived in Tonga, he quickly became fluent in the Tongan language and his story is essentially an account of life, intrigues and wars of his adoptive father. It is one of the most reliable primary historical sources for the period in Tonga.

There have been English language editions of Mariner’s account, with the original English edition first published in 1817. Since then there have been French and German translations.

Princess Angelika said, “This is a great gift to the people of Tonga. So much of our history is locked away from the Tongan mind because it is in a foreign language. This time, the people of Tonga can now discover and enjoy first-hand reading experience, the excitements and events in Tonga during Mariner’s and Fïnau ‘Ulukälala’s time.”

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