CROSSED NAMELE LEAVES SHADOW VANUATU ELECTIONS

Commentary

By Dr Wendy Stenberg-Tendys

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Sept. 19, 2008) - The position of Prime Minister has not yet been settled in Vanuatu. Emotions still run high behind closed doors and in the Nakamals.

[PIR editor’s note: A nakamal is a public meeting place, usually for men only, where kava is served.]

Even in the lower arenas of the political scene emotions are boiling over boiling over as would-be politicians come face to face with their failure to be reelected.

It is now over two weeks since the general election took place in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, but the controversy still continues to rage behind closed doors, as political parties jostle to form a coalition government. The coveted position of Prime Minister is being hotly contested. However, feelings are boiling over in lesser areas of the political scene.

September 16th

is a holiday for people from the Penama province, a small group of tropical islands in Vanuatu. It was also the day set aside for a peace ceremony between the Vanuatu Agricultural and Technical Centre and Chief Molbarab. The Chief had counted on the votes from the Centre to reelect him into office. When the votes did not materialize as promised, tension quickly built up between the chief's family and the Centre. It was alleged the Chief would place namele leaves at the door of the Centre, effectively closing the Centre down.

Namele leaves, from the palm known as the Chief's Palm, pose a very real deterrent in the culture of Vanuatu. If two leaves are crossed over and placed at the door of any place of business, the staff will bluntly refuse to enter that property. The business has no choice but to cease to run, until such time as the problem is solved.

Namele leaves are shown as a peace sign on the Vanuatu flag, along with pig tusks, a symbol of wealth. However Namele leaves are also used as a very strong emblem of taboo. If a senior person or family in a village feel they have an ownership to a particular fruiting tree, all they need to do is to hang a namele leaf on the trunk. Should anyone dare to take the fruit, they will be liable to a fine, imposed on them by the chief of the village.

Two weeks ago, namele leaves were crossed over at the entrance to a dental clinic. Even though patients turned up for their appointment, the clinic was forced to remain closed until such time as the dispute was cleared up.

A dispute erupted over the illegal use by six persons, of a piece of land as their village garden, The owner, a chief, placed several sets of crossed namele leaves around the edge of the property. To make the taboo of the leaves even stronger, the chief killed a pig over the top of the crossed leaves. The offenders, who had used the land as their vegetable garden, were ordered by the chief, to pay one pig each, for the illegal use of the land. When the six offenders refused to yield to custom law, they were hauled away to be judged under white man's law. The court ruled that the men were banned from use of the land and forced to pay full court costs for the defendant, plus still owe the chief one pig each.

It is hoped that there will be no more threats of crossed namele leaves, or the need for more peace ceremonies, before the Vanuatu political scene returns to some sense of normality.

Dr Wendy Stenberg-Tendys and her husband are CEO's of YouMe Support Foundation, Vanuatu, (youmesupport.org) providing high school education grants through a Blue Moon Opportunity. You can really help make a difference in some great kids' lives. Take a few minutes to check it out

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