Something that’s been bothering me about ‘outside’ influences….
One of the common refrains that you hear whenever someone advocates for change–here in Vanuatu, and throughout the world–is that these are foreign ideas imposed by radically different cultures. In other words, they’re incompatible with the way of life we’ve enjoyed since we were created according to our particular culture’s creation story.
But most progressive ideas are not foreign ideas. They’re not ‘western’, and they certainly are not incompatible.
How do I know? Because I know my own culture. I come from a deeply conservative Irish background, and there is nothing in my heritage that drove me to protest nuclear proliferation, to oppose government corruption, to advocate for environmental causes, or to oppose violence against women and children.
I learned all those things on my own. Yes, I am happy and grateful to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants in all of these things. The people who pioneered these concepts in Vanuatu–Marc Neil-Jones, Wan Smolbag, Merelyn Tahi, Grace Molisa, Florence Leingkon, and now Stephanie Ephraim–are not western dupes. They are all the opposite of easily led.
People who have the strength to campaign for justice, who have the courage to belief that we owe our children a better world… they’re not stooges of the New World Order. They are your brother, your sister, your auntie, your dad.
Respect for kastom? Yes. Absolutely. As long as kastom means peace and harmony FOR ALL.
But when ‘respect’ means sit down and shut up and wait your turn (which will never come, because it’s always my turn), that’s not kastom. That’s just plain old wrong.
Our culture should stand strong against outside influences? Well… I don’t know. Culture–all culture, everywhere–is changing every day, every moment. Kastom and culture are who we are today. They are who we are yesterday, too. And tomorrow.
And each of those is different.
Oppose change if you must. But if you do, at least to honest enough to attack the idea on its merits, not merely because it’s ‘not ours’.
Nobody told Flo she didn’t have to take it any more. Nobody told Steph to get cussing mad. Nobody told Grace to denounce injustice. Nobody told Merelyn to devote herself to saving lives.
Their experience, their insight, and their activism is born out of the blood and soil of Vanuatu just as much as Independence was.