Elsie: Halo olgeta, I’m Elsie, welcome to the RoundTable Podcast. We’ve created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s navigate life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Ale yumi storian. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PECMAS.
TRANSLATIONS: Hello everyone, I’m Elsie, welcome to the RoundTable Podcast. We’ve created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s navigate life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Let’s discuss. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PECMAS.
Elsie: Did you know that in the early 20th Century Vanuatu was under the Colonial Rule of both the British and the French? Now both very different countries introducing many things such as, education, religion, and of course later technology. All very important things but at what cost? On this episode we unpack the impact colonialism has had on Vanuatu and how the current generation is steering it into the future.
Joining me on this episode is Josepheen Tarianga. Josepheen is the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for the WeRise Coalition. For those of you who don’t know, WeRise is a feminist coalition made up of 6 feminist organizations across the Pacific and Sista is part of it. Josepheen is also studying Law and Journalism at the University of the South Pacific here in Port Vila. She has delved in numerous resources throughout her studies that focus on the topic that we are going to be exploring in this episode. And if you know Josepheen, you know she’s very passionate about issues that are important to her and her community and she’s always ready to speak about it.
Elsie: Hi Josepheen
Josepheen: Hi Elsie
E: Thank you for joining me at the RoundTable. Colonization it is had such a huge influence on Vanuatu and where we are as a country. They were the explorers, the traders, the missionaries and of course the Anglo-French Condominium Government.
From your perspective, what are some of the ways colonisation has affected us?
J: Well, uhm that’s a big question but I think that’s some of the main things that immediately come to mind would be the way that we value formal education in comparison to cultural education. Religion and its place in our lives as well as its beliefs as a pillar of social norms and I think a major one to me would be language. So, the use of language is so powerful into this day and age you can still see our colonial past in the way that we use language. We have over 80 indigenous languages throughout Vanuatu but, our 3 national languages are Bislama, English and French and to this day we still trying to incorporate Bislama into formal leaning education. But the use of language itself today is so when we use descriptive words like, “steel wool hair, local or island, something very harsh but black saucepan.” They have negative implications to them while if I say, “oh emia wan bigman ia, or master, or boss,” that’s something that will indicate that. That is an important person or its high praise. And if I say, “oh that girl like, emia wan misis ia, or wow misis.” You use it to describe a girl that’s like really pretty and often they have Eurocentric features or they have Eurocentric air about them. So, these of languages in itself too is a big thing that makes it, its a big way that colonialism has impacted us, but also the clash of the private ownership system and more community base way of living. So, colonialization brought in that system and we see in a work Oceanian lifestyle of communal living where the islanders wanted assimilate them and their property while the explorers believed in private ownership and to this day you see that there still a struggle between individualism and a more community centric way of living.
E: Yeah, that’s really interesting because I see that in the urban setting, you know that individualism and expression of self is more apparent in the urban communities than the communities in the rural areas. And I think we just threading in the footsteps that were already set for us. We develop this Hubs in the areas that the condominium government had already advanced. So, I think with the like introduction of the many new western concepts that they brought with them it’s as if they felt they had to dilute our culture to make room for them. And I know that in the older generation you know culture was the corner stone of their lives. It was what they revolved around, and it was something that they then passed on to the next generation through “Storian or Talanoa.” And I feel like today you know and its sad to say but it doesn’t hold the same value. My dad he can speak my language fluently and its sad to admit but I can’t speak my language. I know the most basic phrases but you know it, I was to have a full-on conversation from someone on with, like from my island it’s impossible I just, I can’t have that with them. The beautiful thing is though, is am willing to learn and I want to learn because I know how valuable it is.
J: I think that both my parents they can speak the language, but I can’t speak the language. I grew up in town. So, I grew up in an urban setting and that means, that I wasn’t exposed to my culture as much outside of family gatherings where people would gather and I would meet with my extended family and they would talk and they would just stories and they would speak in our language. But, realistically outside of the formal learning system there is not a space where you can actually learn these things in the urban areas. So, its either you go back to the island to learn it or you don’t really have that opportunity learning that privilege. Because there’s no space for it in our formal system. I know that a lot children our age as well that live in the urban areas they don’t speak their languages either or have like a deep sense of understanding about our culture, but where would we find time for these storians between like, the vigorous curriculum, and the education system and university, the workforce, adulthood, like there isn’t a set place for us to go and to learn these things. And the priorities have just shifted it’s you get a degree, you join the workforce, you make a change. Who immediately thinks how I develop my country is by learning my culture, or doing subsistence farming, agriculture by going back to my island? Like that is a shift of mindset for all of us as well.
E: And if you think about it, you know we’ve been independent for less than a half century. There are people as old as we are independent and in just one generation, one, we seem to have lost grasp of our language and cultural values. Josepheen, you wrote a lovely poem for MacFest earlier this year. I would love if you could share a bit about your poem, your inspiration behind it, and then I would love for you to read it for us.
J: Am glad you liked it. So, MacFest was a celebration of culture and for me it was a time of reflection as well on my own culture and language and my grasp of it. I wrote a poem about it for my son and I read that during the literally potion of the festival which was how “storian was the first of its kind.” And we were so privilege to have taken part in it. And so the poem is titled, “Lakwai Natungu Ngwera,” which means for my son in my language from Ambae. Yeah, am just gonna read it out for you now.
Poem by: Josepheen Tarianga
“Lakwai Natungu Ngwera”
When I was eighteen, I know seven turns of phrases, six songs and a handful of profanities in my mother tongue.
I learn the songs when I was young, I now lull my son to sleep with them.
He is one and I am twenty-two.
Now, I know twelve turns of phrase, seven songs, and more than a handful of profanities in my mother tongue.
I find myself teetering on the edges of conversations that I should understand but I do not understand.
Conversations that I am a part of but am set apart from.
Sometimes when my grandmother directs me, she repeats her directions, several times in her dialect each time motioning with her hands to help me understand.
She gives up and switches to Bislama because my ears do not know the words of where I come from.
I know how to say rankarea, bongkarea, lakua, kelekele, sihos, vanua, langwa maiko, but I do not yet know how to tell my grandparents, thank you so much for the sacrifices you have made, for the prayers you have prayed.
We will be all the good things you have made us in the dialect that raised my mother who raised me.
I am twenty-two and am only now arriving at the importance of mastering the language that comes from where I come from, that ties me to the people that are my people and the culture that is my culture.
I refuse to give my son a second-hand dialect, an English that is not mine to give.
I ask my mother to write out more songs in mother tongue, so I can give them to my son when he is between me and sleep.
I ask my aunties what the words mean, how to use them and why some of the words from the east side are different from the west side.
I feel foolish for learning so late, but I will be foolish if it means that the language will live on in me to my son.
E: Thank you Josepheen, that’s such, honestly, I love that poem every time you hear it I get like goosebumps. It’s so great that you are taking that step to teach your son your culture, while you yourself are on your own journey of learning. Why do you think it’s important to make that time and effort to know your culture and your language and really embrace it?
J: I think that for me it’s important because when you know who you are, you can walk more confidently into the world around you because you know your values and you have your own belief. So, there’s a sense of unwavering identity. I think the thing about culture and language is that it ties us to a place and our people so that we always have a community, a support system that will show up for us. So, learning the language and the culture is where you can build your connection or your relation to your people. So that you never have to be alone. When you’re celebrating, or when you’re mourning a loss, you will always have that community. Yeah, I think that’s why it’s so important.
E: Absolutely! And what are your hopes for the current and future indigenous generations?
J: I’ve so much hopes for us and the future generation. But when it comes to culture, what I hope for the current indigenous generation is that we, I want us to be curious about our culture and to prioritize its learning. We should keep advocating for its importance and make the work to record it so that we can conserve it in all spaces, from education to the workforce, to how we represent on an international level. I hope for the future indigenous generation though, is that there are establish places to learn our culture and languages. And that our current generation has made that we work hard enough to make enough space for our whole cultural identity so that they have the privilege to learn it. I guess to sum it up i want for both the current and future generation to know what and who we are and to have the privilege of learning about us or where we come from.
E: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s just getting that understanding, and that wanting to value, and wanting to learn about our culture and our language and embracing that as well. There’s this short video of Ella Henry who was a senior lecturer of Marie Development at Oakland University of Technology and it’s a short video but it’s such a powerful video. You know she speaks about, how since the 1960s, and 1970s has been a movement that happened in the Marie community. And the movement you know it’s so an increase in Marie Activism and the struggle for self-determination. You know in the political sense, the economically sense, and culturally as well and in the last twenty years there’s been this new generation that has emerged through the Marie education system. And she noted that, “you know even though that this generation may not speak the language, their willing and wanting to learn and to be on that journey of discovering, you know who they are and what they are and they’ve identify that identity is crucial to cultural wellbeing.” And I think that’s so powerful, and she continues on and says you know, “that this generation understands they understand you know crucial it is to understand their identities, understand their culture. Uhm it’s allowing them to move confidently and reinstate their cultural strengths.” And I think we hope that uhm our generation today and the future generation will recognize this. I feel like, I feel like slowly we are, our generation is recognizing it and were slowly building that movement. For instance, there’s this great initiative that uhm recently started up and granted you know its specific to the island of Emae. But it’s a great example of how we can reclaim and embrace our culture and identity. The project is called Leiwiyo. I really hope am pronouncing that correctly if am not I apologize, but, uhm the initiative started by Dr.Jimmy Obed. And I didn’t know anything about it, but it popped up on my Facebook feed and I went onto the page, and I was looking through it and it looks great, and I was looking at the aims that they have or the aims of this particular project and so they have three aims. One, to create a safe space for young girls to learn and speak their language. Two, to allow the young girls to practice speaking the language without shame, and without you know feeling scared of making a mistake. Which I think is great because having wanting to learn you know your culture, your language is a whole challenge in itself. But when on have the community to back you up and be like, yes this is important this is something that you should value and we here to support you. I love that, so I really love this particular aim that they have. And then the last aim is to teach the young girls their community values. So, it just, I feel like this initiative just wraps up everything that we’ve you know talked about today, embracing, learning you culture and the values behind it and just yeah having that safe space to do it all. Just before we wrap things up, I would like to know, you know what are some ways that we can reclaim our culture even in the smallest of ways.
J: For me I find that one of or the most practical ways that we can try to reclaim our culture is by staying curious it’s by asking questions. When you don’t know something, or when you don’t know the meaning of a word, or when you’re out of your capacity, to understand certain things just ask. It’s admitting that you don’t know your language, you don’t know the significant of this cultural ceremony, you don’t know how you are related to this uncle, or this aunty or this kid. And just asking about it. But the opportunity to ask is in the family gatherings. So, another practical way going to these family gatherings I know that in the instant age everybody is so busy, we have so many plans, but make the genuine effort to attend these things. These weddings, these deaths, these hundred days, these five days, ol blocking ceremony, or other custom ceremonies. And if you don’t know the significant of these ceremonies ask. So, curiosity is the most practical way to ask first and then to attend these places. So, you have the opportunity to ask.
E: Thank you. Now, we gonna be doing a new thing where on each episode we ask our guests what is the most important lesson you have learned as a woman navigating life in Vanuatu today?
J: It is okay to come off a little aggressive. I think that because as women in our society we are expected to be dowsyle, to be submissive and when you are, when you have aspirations, or when you have certain goals and you’re willing to make the sacrifices to get there sometimes it seems a little bit aggressive you know. Uhm but it’s okay to come off a little aggressive because at the end of the day as women in the society we always have to do what feels like the most to get to certain places. And if, you know, its just saying, look I see that it’s going to be hard, I see that doing these things would mean that I’ll come off with a certain brashness. And it’s not something that you should be doing it intentionally but you know. If that’s what takes you to where you have to go it’s okay and its gonna be completely fine just to be accepting and open to the fact that not everybody is gonna like you and what you do and understanding that, that is not your greatest aspiration in life, and that is none of your business. I think that and lastly because you asked for one but am gonna give you two. And lastly its admitting that you don’t know everything, and being open to learn. Because you know when you are coming off its like on I know everything it takes away from your opportunity to learn. It takes away from other peoples’ openness to teach. But, when you are there and just you know hands open and look, I don’t know this but I would like to know this. People are more willing to pour into you because they see that you’re willing to be malleable enough to take on new things to take on new learning so.
E: Thank you Josepheen for sharing your two most important lesson you’ve learned so far as a woman navigating life in Vanuatu. Uhm thank you again for joining me for you know this provoking discussion of understanding our culture and embracing our identity. That brings us to the end of this episode. We hope this episode was beneficial to you as always. Thanks for listening to the RoundTable.
E: Make sure to check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok as Sista Vanuatu and our website sista.com.vu. This is Elsie, from the RoundTable. If you want to hear from The RoundTable podcast, make sure to tune into the next episode.