Melanesian Socialism

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Ten years ago last week, Father Walter Hadye Lini succumbed to illness. His passing was a milestone marking the end of the first ascent of Vanuatu politics.

Walter Lini was the first – though not the only – Vanuatu politician to elaborate the unique political philosophy of Melanesian Socialism. The term, loaded as it was with unwelcome overtones for capitalist nations, was nonetheless an apt description of the conjunction of traditional Vanuatu values with progressive western politics.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography clarifies:

“There is little evidence… that he used socialism in the common sense of its meaning; rather, he was attracted by its emphasis on communal action and social responsibility, which seemed much more in tune with traditional Melanesian values.”

There isn’t a politician alive today who doesn’t pay tribute to kastom. Many of them take the role of the traditional chief to heart, integrating it into everything they do. One political observer once remarked to me that Ham Lini Vanuaroroa was the very epitome of the Pentecost chief, and though some outside commentators were quick to criticise his quiet, unassuming approach to governing, his own people wouldn’t have it any other way.

Vanuatu’s political leaders may espouse all that is best in traditional Vanuatu values, and without a doubt many of them are committed to a course of reconciliation between formal western models of governance and the un-codified body of kastom philosophy and practice. But few have managed to express a vision as simple and as clear as Melanesian Socialism.

I think it’s high time that Vanuatu took another look at Walter Lini’s vision.

Continue reading