This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post.
Freelance writer and Sista editor Yasmine Bjornum conducted a series of interviews to commemorate people’s memories of independence and its impact on their lives. These are their stories.
I was originally sent here in September 1964 as a United Nations association volunteer from England. I was supposed to stay for two years to teach English to adults to get them ready for Independence. Instead I met my husband, John Naupa, and we were the first inter-racial marriage recognized under the church.
The years leading up to Independence were exciting but emotional. A Government of National Unity had been formed in December 1978 and while the British were ready for Independence, France was not. They wanted a slower, step-by-step approach to autonomy and the pro-French feared that French schools would close down and their language would be eradicated.
This, of course, didn’t happen, and I’m so glad that our current Minister of Education has returned to the policy of commitment to bilingualism in all our schools, which was supported by the first government after Independence. It puts us in a unique position in the Pacific as we can communicate in three languages and talk to any Pacific nation.
Prior to Independence Day, everyone had to learn the national anthem and Charlie Long Wah was in charge of distributing flags. As the wife of the Minister for Transport, Civil Aviation and Public Works, I had a great view of the main celebrations at Independence Park. There was dancing, singing, a flypast at noon, the Vanuatu flag was raised and the national anthem was sung. I felt very proud to be a part of this memorable occasion – the country was finally sovereign and my husband and all Ni-Vanuatu now had a national identity and the right to a passport.
Although there was unity in Port Vila, Santo and Tanna wanted to break away. The rebellions were quelled fairly quickly with the assistance of troops from Papua New Guinea and we actually named Kumul Highway after them. Once unity was achieved, the First National Development Plan set out a road map for the development of all sectors. In the three years after Independence, the ingredients for great achievements were present. We had a strong development plan, we were a non-aligned state, our foreign policy was clear and we stood firmly for a nuclear free Pacific. It was important our leaders remained faithful to national interests and not wander off along paths of individualism but somewhere along the way, people started standing as candidates for themselves and not the community. This is not a Melanesian value. The Melanesian way is for the community.
I have great hope with this current government. I think that we are on the slow and steady road back to those values and plan that came right after Independence. Maybe we need to stop criticizing so much as the challenges they face is different. We have to take into consideration that our population is much bigger. In 1967, there were only 8 households in Malapoa. When I started working at BSS (Malapoa College), there were only 30 students and now there are 600. Port Vila used to have a population of 6700 people and now it’s close to 75 000. A bigger population means bigger issues and we all know what the problem is, but what’s the solution?
I’m a teacher and just as we have to energize kids in the classroom to get excited to learn, we need to do that for each other. Although we still smile at each other, we have to keep the vision of a democratic state with a great health and education system alive. I get disappointed when I hear that someone hasn’t gone to a meeting just because they are not paid to go or that they didn’t vote because ‘there is no bus to go there’. We must not lose our passion.
I still feel the same sense of duty and responsibility for Vanuatu as I did back in 1980, even if I’m a ‘naturalized citizen’. Back then, we outsiders weren’t considered outsiders as we supported independence and our particular skills were used. It’s been 52 years and I still believe that we are one of the happiest nations in the world.
Anne Naupa – First inter-racial marriage recognized in a church