Photos: New Zealand High Commission

The launch of the first Vanuatu women’s anthology, Sista, Stanap Strong! on Friday 25 June at the National Museum, Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta, was touted a fitting contribution to Vanuatu’s continuing celebration of ‘Yumi 40’.

It started off with the first mini writer’s festival Port Vila has seen. A panel comprising contributors to the anthology, covering various creative writing forms, including poetry, verse, essays, and fiction, was moderated by the co-editor of the anthology, Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen. Panelists included: Mary Jack Kaviamu, Roselyn Qwenako Tor, Helen Lobanga Tamtam, Anna Naupa, and Losana Natuman.

The launch was set against the backdrop of Juliette Pita’s Viktri Danis that graces the cover of the anthology.

Ending her inspiring Keynote Speech at the event of the launch of Vanuatu’s first women’s anthology, Sista, Stanap Strong!, Viran Molisa Trief, anthology foreword writer, talked about the power of the written word to create life and shape the future.

“Our words are important. Our words make our life. There is particular power in the written word. We see that in this anthology: Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology,” she stated. “The future of our beloved Vanuatu is bright with the strength of Vanuatu creative writing evident in this anthology.

“I congratulate and salute the editors and editorial team on their fine effort and achievement of this anthology, Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology.

“It is an utterly fitting contribution to our continuing celebration of Yumi 40, the 40th Anniversary of the Independence of our beloved Vanuatu.”

As the keynote Speaker at launch event, Viran Molisa Trief emphasized the vitality of a country’s art and literature to life and culture.

“That some writers will only ever be published in an anthology does not make their writing and contribution any less than those published in books by single authors. The art of a country, the literature of a country, are equally important to the fabric of its life and culture,” she added.

The Keynote Speaker had a special message for the writers who contributed to this anthology.

“To the writers, I salute you all. By your writing, you inspire me and so many more. Your writing is a gift to all of us and I thank you,” she said to the writers who contributed to this anthology.

This was a fitting tribute to one of the contributors who sadly passed away, Caroline Nalo, whose family was at the event.

In his speech to launch the book, the New Zealand High Commissioner, Jonathan Schwass said that he hopes the book will inspire some readers to pick up a pen and write down their stories so that creative writing in Vanuatu continues to grow and flourish.

“This book is surely proof that there are wonderful stories to be told — and that the women of this country intend to be heard,” High Commissioner Schwass said. “What’s more, I think this anthology has the potential to bring the wonder and power of creative writing to a whole new group of ni-Vanuatu readers, especially women. There’s nothing like being able to read stories that relate to your own culture, your own traditions and your own challenges, rather than exclusively the experiences of people in other countries,” High Commissioner Schwass added.

Each of the 26 contributors based in Vanuatu received copies of the books supplied by the publisher, Victoria University Press.

Capping off the mini writer’s festival were readings by some of the writers who contributed to the anthology.

Armed with her guitar, Joan Niras led the readings, her evocative song, ‘Paran Latan’, in the Natwar dialect of West Tanna reverberating through the museum, attesting to the strength of women.

Following this, other contributors, or representatives they sent in their stead read poems and non-fiction pieces published in the anthology including:

– ‘This body is mine’ by Elsie Nalyal Molou

– ‘Givim wata lo olgeta’ by Kety Dan-Napwatt

– ‘Kava lover’ and ‘Kava Man’ by Nancy Gaselona Palmer

– ‘A woman in a man’s world’ by Joana Bule

– ‘Wan strong woman’, by Sharyn Wobur

– ‘Their lives matter more’ by Telstar Jimmy

The event was live-streamed on the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta Facebook page and watched across the region, in New Zealand, Australia and as far away as Canada and the US.

The Sista, Stanap Strong! national launch team acknowledges the Director of the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta and his team for hosting the event in Vanuatu’s national museum. Alliance Francaise kindly provided the boards used to display anthology excerpts and contributors’ biographies. A special acknowledgement goes to key supporters and dignitaries who graced the event with their presence: HE Jonathan Schwass, New Zealand High Commissioner; Ms. Clemency Oliphant, Acting High Commissioner, Australian High Commission; Ms. Gwennan Delannee, First Counsellor, French Embassy; Ms. Cathy McWilliam, First Secretary of the Australian High Commission; the Ralph Regenvanu, Leader of Opposition and representatives from Care International Vanuatu, Balance of Power, UN Women and UNICEF. A most important acknowledgement goes to the contributors to the anthology including the writers, editors, artist, and their families.

Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women’s Anthology, edited by Mikaela Nyman and Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen is available from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington and online at the Victoria University Press website. It is now available as an e-book on mebooks New Zealand e-books.

The anthology Sista, Stanap Strong! is a community initiative driven by a five-member project team located across three countries: Vanuatu, Fiji, and New Zealand.

The project team is grateful to Creative New Zealand and the publisher, Victoria University Press, for supporting their vision.

A New Zealand High Commission grant enabled shipping of the books to Vanuatu and to make the launch event and the first mini writer’s festival a reality. Sista, Vanuatu’s first feminist charitable organisation and online platform, is a key supporter of their vision.