A reader writes:
Feel however you like about that video of the Vanuatu chief, but you should be aware that it's a nicely put together piece of propaganda. Vanuatu culture is not dying. It's remarkably healthy and is coping quite well thankyouverymuch with the stresses of the modern world. Ironically, Vanuatu is one of the only countries in this part of the Pacific that is stable, peaceful and NOT suffering significantly in the transition from Stone Age to Digital Age.
Vanuatu's chiefs are alive and well, too. Albeit diminished somewhat from their once-regal stature, they still wield considerable influence over our day-to-day lives. Here, here, here, and here are portraits of four of the chiefs who preside over my neighbourhood in Port Vila, the capital.
All of them exude canniness, experience and power. They remain a force to be reckoned with, and have intervened in national affairs when needed. In 2002, the Malvatumauri (the national council of chiefs) peacefully negotiated an end to a tense armed standoff between our police and military. Our chiefs and Kastom (traditional culture) continue to guide this nation, and that's not going to change in this generation or the next.
What the video doesn't tell you is what any ni-Vanuatu person would notice at a glance: This story (fable would be more accurate) takes place on Tanna island in what's known as a Kastom Village. These people live quite close to the main road, barely a half hour out of Lenakel, the provincial capital. They live according to 'Kastom' - the traditional way - entirely by choice. They are accepted and respected by their neighbours.
The vast majority of the population of Vanuatu, including Tannese on all sides of the village, have chosen a middle way - keeping many of the best aspects of Kastom and letting others go. This canny commingling of old and new has created a culture that is unique, vibrant and very healthy.
(Photo of United Nations Development Programme chief Helen Clark in Vanuatu)