Mamas from the Vanuatu Mama’s Market


Vendors at a Vanuatu market for women traders are unable to pay their rent and are offloading stock at up to half price after recent natural disasters.

Stall holders at Port Vila’s Mama’s Market estimate the financial loss from last month’s double cyclone disaster and the ongoing Air Vanuatu travel disruptions to be as high as $US80, 000.

The women’s market plays a crucial role in the lives of many rural ni-Vanuatu communities.

“Most of them are grandmothers but they still try their best to get small money to survive with their grandchildren,” Mama Market Arts and Handicraft team leader Rebecca Bule said.

Handmade products are lovingly crafted in villages, and the sales support entire families.

“Most of the products for the mamas, locally made products, have been damaged by the cyclones, the water is spreading over the products, they are no longer in the same standard of the value for the vendors to sell,” Bule said.

Vendors have reduced their prices by up to 50 percent to get rid of stock quickly but a lot of it is too water-damaged to sell.

When cyclone’s Judy and Kevin slammed Vanuatu in the first week of March 2023, boxes full of their products were outside.

“The winds, the waves…everything is damaged, all the boxes were slipping outside, all the walls, the whole thing — it collapsed,” Bule said.

Sales money is trickling in now but is nowhere near enough to sustain the communities that rely on it.

With cashflow wiped out for a month, the women have not been able to pay rent for all of March, Rebecca Bule said.

A meeting is expected to take place next week with Port Vila Town Council, the building owner, to discuss concerns.

“The Mama’s are losing a big value of money while I’m speaking to you,” she said.

On top of the financial pressure, many of the Mama’s houses have been destroyed.

The women who man the stalls are mostly grandmothers, Bule said it takes one of the women two hours to get to the market each day from North Efate.

She has been in the role since 1997 and said it is really tough to watch the women go through this.

“It’s very hard to recover. This is their daily income, but if the products are damaged I don’t know how they can survive.”

It will be a slow process, at the moment the women are only making just enough to pay the essentials and start to rebuild their homes.

“It’s quite difficult,” she admitted.

Bule has hope, however, that the Mama’s Market building repairs will last the distance.

She wants roller shutters, “to cover up all the walling so that when the waves come or the winds blow, then the boxes are covered up”.

She said the women “still need support, the Mama’s are using small money in their pockets to survive, we trust God that we will recover”.