President of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, Chief Paul Robert Ravun, has recently taken a firm stance about the VPride Foundation, emphasising the importance of traditional Vanuatu culture over modern trends.

The VPride Foundation, a community-based organisation established in 2017, aims to educate, advocate, and mobilise support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer (LGBTIQ+) community, and Sex Workers (SWs) in Vanuatu.

Chief Ravun publicly made his stand clear after hearing a Member of Parliament’s statement during a special Parliament meeting in December 2023, where he urged Parliament to address the issue surrounding VPride organisation, as it does not align with Vanuatu’s Constitution which states that Vanuatu is a Christian country. He questioned whether Vanuatu will continue to allow it under the guise of human rights.

As such, the head of Malvatumauri expressed his concerns and is urging every chief and leader in Vanuatu to remember Vanuatu’s Constitution’s preamble before adopting new laws, as it emphasises Melanesian values and Christian principles, which are integral to Vanuatu’s identity.

“Our customs are unique and must guide our law-making process, particularly on matters such as same-sex relationships, which are clearly not part of our traditional practices,” he said.

“If a law doesn’t benefit our people and instead brings discrimination to them, we should adhere to our customs. I’m calling on my fellow chiefs to revaluate our stance and uphold our culture, which is non-negotiable.

“My worry is about the future leadership of our tribes and the growth of Nasaras if our youth adopt practices promoted by groups like VPride.”

Chief Ravun also highlighted the importance of preserving Vanuatu’s culture, stating, “We must protect, preserve, and promote our culture. It’s our lifeblood, and losing sight of it risks our children’s inheritance.”

He mentioned the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs’ introduction of 19 Resolutions to create a custom constitutional law, stressing the need to follow traditional customs in matters such as the adoption of foreign concepts like Human Rights.

“Our Constitution and Melanesian and Christian values should be our focus. While human rights have their place, we must not forget our longstanding customs and wisdom. I want Vanuatu to be a paramount country, honouring our traditions and values,” Chief Ravun concluded.

Vanuatu Christian Council maintains stand on 2018 Memorandum 

Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) affirmed that in 2018 there was a statement made by VCC and the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs during the term of late Pastor (Pr.) Alan Nafuki as the Chairman of VCC and Pr. Shem Temar as the Secretary General.

They had teamed up together to write a statement on VCC’s stand with the support of the chiefs, stating they do not want to discriminate children, but such activities to set up as an organisation should not be entertained.

The VCC said once an organisation is formed, it gains a platform and structure to articulate its plans and advocate as a collective. The church reiterated its belief that God created man and woman, with man being made in His image and woman for man.

“The Word of God is profound, and when we attempt to interpret it according to our own understanding, we risk straying into heresy by adding or subtracting from it,” the VCC emphasised. “These children, youth, men and women are our responsibility. We cannot issue a new statement until the VCC executive board reaches a decision. Our stance remains aligned with the 2018 Memorandum.”

However, the VCC does not entertain but encourages children to identify themselves: males as men and females as women. They emphasise that going against the word of God carries consequences.

“These are our children who need our prayers and encouragement to find their identity before God, live within a family, and enjoy family life,” VCC stated.

“If we allow them to have a voice like in other countries, where they form separate associations, it will bring a curse upon us. Vanuatu is unique because its Gospel and Culture align closely.

“The chiefs welcomed the church to our country, and the church, in turn, adapted its culture to honour God while preserving the valuable Vanuatu culture and maintaining integrity in line with the word of God.”

The VCC concluded with the statement: “We must not entertain the idea of organising our children into a separate group, as it would expose them to external pressures, power dynamics, and influences from those unfamiliar with our culture, values, and Christian beliefs.”

One of VPride’s major sponsors, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was also consulted. VPride claims UNDP’s support for its activities, including funding the HIV Project, and initiatives like the VPride Fashion Show. This fashion show provided an opportunity for members of the LGBTIQ+ community to showcase their sewing skills.

The UNDP spokesperson from the Pacific Office in Fiji stated that UNDP maintains a longstanding and trusting partnership with the Government of Vanuatu. This partnership respects the country’s great diversity while supporting efforts to ensure that no one is left behind.

“Our partnership involves collaborating with the government to improve the lives of all in Vanuatu. This includes providing services for vulnerable populations, expanding access to clean energy, and supporting key governance reforms such as decentralisation,” the UNDP spokesperson explained.

Efforts have been made to obtain comments from the VPride Foundation, but none have been provided.

Sista advocates for unity and equality 

Sista, a charitable organisation, based in Vanuatu, which is driven by feminist values, was also consulted to give their views. They elaborated that at Sista they work to progress Gender Equality while also celebrating and appreciating Vanuatu’s country’s diverse culture and customs.

“Vanuatu has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a charter that serves to protect everyone’s Human Rights regardless of their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and any other status. We recognise that the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) community that VPride works to protect and progress, is a marginalised part of our community that faces difficulties in accessing basic necessities, like education and health – all of which come under this convention,” the organisation conveyed.

“We highly recommend that people do their own research to better their understanding on the matter. The Allyship guide we created in partnership with VPride and HCDI last year, is one of the many resources out there: https://www.sistalibrary.com.vu/guide-on-how-to-be-an-ally/.”

Sista added Vanuatu is a small archipelago of 83 islands with a population of just over 300,000 people. As a small nation, the organisation believes the focus should be on an individual’s potential and talents, and what unites rather than what divides.

“It will take all of us to build a nation in the face of natural disasters, climate change, inflation, government instability, gender based violence, social impact of seasonal worker schemes and so forth,” Sista stated.

“It will also take all of us to preserve Melanesian values and Christian principles, especially in the fast moving digital age where we are more connected to the global world than ever.

“We welcome Chief Ravun to come to Sista’s office anytime. We would be honoured to learn how to work together on approaches that preserve kastom and culture while developing our nation to become a happy and prosperous country for all our people.”