Last Sunday, the island of Maewo grieved the passing of Irene Lini, a revered 71-year-old mother and one of the participants of the 7th Melanesia Arts and Culture Festival (MACFEST).

She suddenly passed away at the festival village in Port Vila on Sunday, July 30.

Lini held a special place in the hearts of her people as she was one of the first female fieldworkers recruited by the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS) back in 1994. Her dedication to preserving and promoting the island’s customs and traditions earned her the title of the “mother of customs” of Maewo.

During the MACFEST, she passionately showcased her island’s cultural heritage alongside two fellow mothers. Together, they performed the Kabakaba Dance and displayed custom mats, captivating the audience with their talent and knowledge.

Although Lini was feeling unwell before leaving for Port Vila, her commitment to her work as a fieldworker led her to join the delegation regardless.

After enjoying the sounds of the Naio Band at Saralana on Saturday night, she returned home but started feeling pain. She was rushed to Vila Central Hospital but, unfortunately, it was too late.

Coordinator of the Women’s Cultural Program and Fieldworkers, Evelyne Bulegi, said her passing is a loss for Maewo, PENAMA, and the entirety of Vanuatu.

Throughout her tenure as a Maewo woman fieldworker, Lini revitalised the chiefly ranks of the women known as Legwasa and preserved the ancient tradition known as Malo- a long mat used to cover a deceased body before burial, which could reach up to 100 meters long.

On Tuesday, August 1, her body was repatriated to her village of Kaiogo. Her legacy as a valuable protector and guardian of Maewo’s customs and culture will always be cherished.