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.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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