Vanuatu’s forgotten people

Series presenter Charles Sumbe and Chief Tuilen of Marakai village in the interior of Santo. Photo: Slone Fred

Series presenter Charles Sumbe and Chief Tuilen of Marakai village in the interior of Santo. Photo: Slone Fred

The Last New Hebrideans is a new 10-episode ni-Vanuatu-made documentary series about the life the people of the kastom villages of the deep interior of Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo, who live a traditional lifestyle with little influence from the outside world.

While this may seem idyllic, these villagers say they want more recognition from their own government. Vanuatu may have been independent for 36 years, but for these mountain people, it may as well not exist: they have received none of the government services that people elsewhere in Vanuatu take for granted. As Chief Molitamata from Balakovanua village explains, “since 1980 until today no government worker has ever visited us.”

Here’s a sample from the series:

Despite feeling neglected by Vanuatu’s government, Chief Molitamata and his people still vote in national elections. Chief Molitamata has to travel to town to prepare their electoral cards before a polling day, because no one from the Vanuatu Electoral Commission has ever visited. People from the mountains say that politicians from the coast never go up to the mountains to campaign, only some of their campaign teams.

This leaves Chief Molitamata to deal with the frustration of his people, who do not know who they were voting for, or why — to them, voting serves no purpose at all.

“My people are already tired of voting, but being the chief of this village I am holding onto everyone’s voting card, so whenever it’s Election Day I have to encourage my people to go to the polling station to vote for a government of this nation. They often ask me, where is the government that we are voting for? I tell them we won’t be able to see the government until the government decides on its own to visit us.”

Chief Tuilen of Marakai village. Photo: Slone Fred

Chief Tuilen of Marakai village. Photo: Slone Fred

The lack of service delivery has a huge impact on their lives. Chief Tuilen from Marakai village says that pregnant women who can’t deliver their babies up in the mountains often die. “For women who are pregnant and cannot deliver their baby with traditional help, we will have to take them to the main road to go to the hospital. Some women have died along the way because of the long distance to Namuru village [the main road].”

Chief Maliu gives a speech at Ulua Primary school's closing day. Photo: Slone Fred

Chief Maliu gives a speech at Ulua Primary school’s closing day. Photo: Slone Fred

Another village in the south-west of the island, Kerevalis, has no access to education or health services, despite being a relatively accessible two-hour walk from the main road. The village chief, Chief Maliu, says the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu has been their only outside source of assistance, building a primary school for the village in 2009. The documentary makers arrived when the school was giving out student awards on the last day of school. During Chief Maliu’s speech that day, he asked for the village to be recognised as part of Vanuatu. “The church is helping us, but we are still waiting for the government to help us. Because these children belong to the nation of Vanuatu. Not to another country… we are from Vanuatu.”

Funded by the PACMAS Innovation Fund, the 10-episode documentary series is produced by Island Sun Pictures, directed by Slone Fred and presented by media personality Charles Sumbe. The series is scheduled to screen on Televisen Blong Vanuatu in May.


This is a modified version of a post that first appeared on the website of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS).


4 Comments on “Vanuatu’s forgotten people”

  1. StEvEn says:

    The people know – it’s not possible for the government to serve these rural people’s interests; in fact it is overwhelmingly difficult for the government to serve much more than the politicians’ interests as came back so dramatically in the corruption trial of 2015.

    The newly elected leaders are bearing the brunt of years of pathetically distributed services. They are besieged by the backlog of problems that exist.

    We just try to do our best… this is a magical land …one that can be uniquely appreciated in the world today.

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  2. Nasimal ( Nasingamelip ) says:

    That proves how each successive governments of Vanuatu never adventure out from Port Vila or do visits to remote areas . I think each government should hang their heads in shame .Thank you and my pray’s goes out to those people in Marakai village and the people of Vanuatu . AHAYAH bless you all .

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    • Kleton Albert says:

      I think Vanuatu’s system of a centralised government has caused many obstacles and left many grassroots vulnerable. I suggest we resume the local government that was active some 40 years ago. Decentralisation is unequally distributed and sometimes inadequate and insufficient. Our leaders then to focus on huge proposal or intiatives, while there are indigenous who were suffering for decades. “When government fails in some ways, however as an obligation of a christian citzens we ought to take responsiblities to surport the work of the government”. Let’s pray that God will open the eyes of our leaders and the decisions they engaged in.

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