Posts Tagged ‘Vanuatu’


(Photo by Eric Lafforgue)

Honorary Curator of the Vanuatu Museum, anthropologist Kirk Huffman says land is working in Melanesia – contrary to the view supported by AusAID, foreign economists and others. He says they need to rethink the sense of linking our self-sufficient, superior Pacific with an failed western development model.

“Land has been working for Melanesians, and working well for Melanesians for thousands of years. It’s just that, I guess, any sort of project that economists, development economists are involved in – because they only think about money – they think that land is not working for someone unless it’s making money.

“That’s a bit ridiculous in Melanesia where you’ve got the world’s highest percentage of people who are still basically self sufficient and still living on their own traditional land. The land is actually the biggest employer in the whole of Melanesia! It doesn’t just sort of hand out shillings at the end of every week like in the White Man’s World. In the White Man’s World money has become the God. Everything is focussed around this thing called money. If you look at money, modern money, from a Melanesian point of view the closest comparison you can make is that it’s rather like an addictive drug. It’s useful and beneficial in small quantities but if you over-do it it can become addictive and very socially divisive.
“Around the coast of the island of Efate in Vanuatu I think something like just over 60 per cent of the land has been alienated. And this is very rapidly. And the thing is it’s being promoted as, sort of, development. It does seem to me a little bit strange that something that is promoted as development is something that essentially means that traditional land custodians essentially lose control over their land.”There must be a better way around all this. OK, if you want development – right, one needs this, one needs that – we all know that. But let’s have the kind of development that is relevant for us. You know, we don’t need outdated and faulty economic theory forced onto, essentially, almost self sufficient island nations and cultures. Because if you pull them into the modern, highly unstable financial situation a little glitch or a hiccup or a collapse on the far side, the isolated side of the world like, for example, the United States or wherever, you could actually affect people in Melanesia. And it’s not fair! You’d think economists would actually learn something. It needs economists to respect the fact that there may be parts of the world that their type of economic theory does not fit.

“It’s actually a clash of cultures between a Western, money obsessed, capitalistic, individualistic system against Melanesian systems which are actually much, much older, a lot more sophisticated, a lot more communally orientated, a lot more geared to self sufficiency and profound thinking about ways of looking at the environment where you’re actually part of the land. The land is actually part of you.”

Via http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/veteran-anthropologist-criticises-ausaids-approach-to-land/1022032

Via Vanuatu Daily Post

The pilot study report “Alternative Indicators of Well-being for Melanesia” was launched at the Chiefs’ Nakamal on Thursday. The study is a joint report of the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, Vanuatu National Statistics Office, and Vanuatu Kaljarol Senta (VKS). It has been endorsed twice by leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Jamie Tanguay, co-ordinator of the project to establish indicators for well-being in Melanesia, started his presentation by explaining the need to change the way progress is measured in Melanesia.

On the one hand, Vanuatu is regarded as a Least Developed Country (LDC). The broad criteria involved in being awarded LDC status are low gross national income: we are down at 141 on the World Bank’s latest listings. Then there is “weak human assets”. With a labour force of less than 100,000 and only 30% of the country receiving secondary education, we are definitely weak. And then there is economic vulnerability, and especially for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Earthquakes and natural disasters like cyclones also bring us down to LDC level. That said, LDC countries tend to be typified by war, genocide, disease, starvation, homelessness, pollution and lack of clean water. We have none of those.

And on the other hand, the New Economics Foundation and Lonely Planet have seen fit to describe Vanuatu as the ‘Happiest Country in the World’.

Jamie Tanguay emphasizes that for far too long economists have used income and expenditure patterns to paint a picture of a society’s well-being. “We have failed to develop an international standard for measuring well-being.”

He continues: Vanuatu is lucky. Because Vanuatu still has a vibrant traditional economy that has served it well for thousands of years. It has supported a population several times larger than the present one with enough healthy organic food for all men, women, and children, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. It supported living conditions for extended family units – with housing, cooking and sanitation facilities – supported community organization by providing places for congregation and interaction, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. The traditional economy is culture. It is how society organizes itself to provide for the livelihoods of its members.

In Vanuatu:
• 79% of ni-Vanuatu have access to customary lands (92% of those living in rural areas).
• 90% of ni-Vanuatu know their customary land boundaries.
• 88% of people feel they have enough or more than enough customary land to meet their needs.
• 95% of people with access to customary lands make their homes and grow food for personal consumption on that land.
And all that is just for a start.

Jamie Tanguay knows the Vanuatu economy to be different to one based on cash. It has been the task of his team of economists and statisticians to establish the values that count most in Vanuatu. They reached to the furthest corners of the country (where people are clearly more happy than their cousins in Port Vila and Santo). Nevertheless, Ni-Vanuatu decision makers, says Tanguay, “risk steering their country in a direction guided by Western values and not the professed Melanesian values they once vowed to uphold at the time of Independence.”

True Melanesian values were the basis of discussions amongst many groups of people. These values went far beyond land and resource access. Cultural practice and community vitality were important. The outlook of women and church leaders had also to be considered. And ceremonial activity was also critical.

“Perhaps the most intriguing finding from this study on ni-Vanuatu well-being is that of TORBA Province, the northern most province in the country with the lowest GDP per capita and least access to markets…in effect the most ‘economically handicapped’ and, coincidentally, the Province with the highest subjective well-being (or, happiness) of any other province by a significant amount,” Jamie Tanguay said. “It is also the province with the highest perceived equality, highest levels of trust in neighbors, most positive assessment of traditional leaders, highest rates of community interaction, and the list goes on.”

The VKS production unit have also made an excellent film which to be made available as DVD and made available for public viewings toward the end of September.

The PDF of the full report is now available for download through the VNSO website  here.