Lonwolwol community revitalize dying language

Port Vila, December 5 – The Lonwolwol community in Port Vila is revitalizing the use of their mother tongue, which has been in disuse for the past 100 years.

As a consequence of being dispersed by the 1913 eruption of Mt Marum and Mt Benbow, the people of Lonwolwol village have seen the slow decline of their language, called Raljago, due to lack of active usage.

Raljago Choir Practice

Lonwolwol community in Port Vila getting ready for choir practise in Raljago

George Tasso, a passionate member of the Lonwolwol community in Port Vila has the vision to take his home village’s language and promote it among his kinsmen and kinswomen, wherever they may be.

“We’ve just celebrated 100 years that we have ceased to be a community after the eruption of 1913. So we have come to realize that in order to come back as a community after 100 years, the very first thing is to bring back the language. Needless to say that in the space of 100 years the language has gradually fallen into disuse.”

Mr Tasso started brainstorming ideas in October of this year, 2014, and has brought together members of the Lonwolwol community to revive the dying language. Activities that have been employed in the revitalization efforts so far have included translation of Christian plays, singing practices and some language classes.

“The project is one month old. [There are] less than 10 people we are aware of who speak the language. The actual count is at 6 but God willing we will discover one or two more.” One of the six people is Mr Tasso’s father.

He is enthusiastic about the project and is putting as much time, effort, and resources that he can find into making this project work.

Working with Mr Tasso is Lilon Bongmatur, daughter of the late Chief Willie Bongmatur. She sees the project as one that is very vital in bringing the people of Lonwolwol together.

“It really does… It seems we were just floating around, but now we seem to have found and connected back to our roots,” commented Ms Bongmatur.

She acknowledged that it is still a long way to go but “we will and we can be proud to say, we are the people of Lolwolwol.”

People currently living in Lonwolwol village are not speaking the Raljago language. 99% of the villagers now speak Ralkalaen, the language spoken by the   people of craigcove, Lonwolwol’s closest neighbors. When the volcano erupted in 1913, the Lonwolwol people left for Malekula as well as other villages to the Northern part of Ambrym,  fleeing from the flowing lava. This migration coupled with intermarriage started the slow death of the Raljago language.

The Lonwolwol community in Port Vila is looking forward to celebrating the 101st  anniversary of the volcano eruption on December 7, 2014 at the Chiefs Nakamal. The anniversary celebrations will centre on the theme “Finding our identity through Raljago”. Featured in the day’s program are Dr Howard Van Trease, Honorary Research Fellow, and Dr Robert Earley, both from the University of the South Pacific.

During the celebrations, there will be displays promoting the revitalization project that is being carried out by Mr Tasso and Ms Bongmatur.

The “Raljago Revitalization Project” is keen on being an example to other communities in Vanuatu that are losing their native language. It is a message they want to instil into everyone in Vanuatu as well as the Pacific region, that our languages need to be preserved, because in it one can find deep rooted identity.

West Papuan Meetings Barricaded, Indonesia Indicates War, Vanuatu Adamant

The Chiefs' Nakamal in Port Vila, Vanuatu - the scene of closed-door meetings.

The Chiefs’ Nakamal in Port Vila, Vanuatu – the scene of closed-door meetings.

The West Papuan reconciliation and unification conference being hosted in Port Vila for the different separatist groups from West Papua has gone into stealth mode as the delegates have barricaded themselves in the Chiefs’ Nakamal to deliberate and make recommendations for a way forward.

No member of the local media or public have been allowed entry into the Nakamal.

These restrictions are a precautionary measure to avoid Indonesian spies infiltrating the meetings.

The various groups represented in the closed-door meetings are here to find common grounds on which they can be allowed member status into the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional body that supports the interests of Melanesians.

Indonesia, West Papua’s current colonizer, has been granted “observer” status in the MSG while West Papuans have so far been denied representation. The main speculation regarding this would be due to the fact that West Papua is not a sovereign state so it cannot be represented in an organization formed by Melanesian sovereign states.

There are several separatist factions claiming to fight for West Papua’s right to self-determination. This conference aims to bring these factions together to formulate a common ground on which they can move into the MSG as full-time members.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has threatened to cut all diplomatic ties to Vanuatu for meddling in its internal affairs. Radio New Zealand reported that Jakarta’s Acting Ambassador to Vanuatu, Imron Cotan has indicated that there could be war.

“Indonesia is ready to go to war in order to maintain Papua within our territory so we are indeed serious about Papua. Nobody I believe should take it lightly. Indonesia will be more than prepared to freeze anything if our sovereignty over Papua is questioned. That is definitely a no go in Indonesia.”

Vanuatu, however, is adamant with its stand to support West Papua. It has always been a staunch supporter of the “Free West Papua” movement and has championed the cause for self-determination for years.

Fr Walter Lini, the foremost father of this nation famously declared that “Vanuatu is not free until all Melanesia is free.”

It is with this attitude that Vanuatu will not give in to Indonesia’s threats, but will remain a strong supporter of West Papua. This support has gone as far as seemingly “meddling” in Indonesia’s internal affairs so that West Papuans’ voices can be heard in the MSG.

West Papuans are predominantly Melanesian. When their Dutch colonizers left in the 1950s to 1960s, West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia through a rigged vote called the “Act of free choice” in 1969. Ever since then, the West Papuans have faced increasing human rights abuses.

These abuses have been one of the reasons why Vanuatu will always support the West Papuans’ fight for self-determination.

Suspension of 16 MPs not Provided by House’s Standing Orders

Vanuatu's Parliament Chamber.

Vanuatu’s Parliament Chamber.

The debates are still hot and people are giving their opinions left and right. MBO even ran a question and answer session via social media and got responses that reflect a real sense of the people’s understanding of what is happening in the Vanuatu parliament.

According to today’s ruling in court, Justice Oliver Saksak cited the Parliament’s Standing Orders not permitting the suspension. The constitutionality of the suspension was brought into question, even though the formerly suspended 16 opposition MPs had breached the Leadership Code by accepting bribes from their leader. That leader, Moana Carcasses, was suspended along with them.

Justice Saksak’s ruling implies that even though the formerly suspended MPs were in breach of the leadership code, Honorable Joe Natuman and his government shouldn’t have taken over the parliament and thrown out the MPs. Such a move is not covered in the Standing Orders of Vanuatu’s Parliament. The standing orders of the parliament do not cover the conducts of the members of the House while they are outside of it.

This ruling has left the public at large quite confused. Especially since Chapter 10, Article 66 of the Vanuatu Constitution clearly states how leaders should NOT conduct themselves ANYWHERE. And even if a leader were to breach this code, Chapter 10, Article 68 states that “Parliament shall by law give effect to the principles of this Chapter.”

However, in his remarks, the Justice pointed out that there was not a previous ruling by any court of law confirming that the 16 MPs were guilty of the bribery charges against them.

No doubt this has left a lot of members of the public frustrated and on edge. One member of the public observed that the “Standing Orders of Parliment should be well defined. At the moment there is a loophole within the standing orders of parliament!”

Meanwhile, Moana Carcasses and his 15 MPs were back inside the parliament house at the resumption of parliament this afternoon at 2pm.

Citizens Speak up about the Current Situation in Parliament

Vanuatu's Parliament house in the background. In the foreground is a carved out Pig's Tusk - a symbol of wealth in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu’s Parliament house in the background. In the foreground is a carved out Pig’s Tusk – a symbol of wealth in Vanuatu.

The people of Vanuatu are once again left in confused awe. As parliament resumes its ordinary session, a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister, Honorable Joe Natuman is looming. This, just a few hours after the decision to suspend 16 Opposition MPs (including opposiont leader Moana Carcasses) on allegations of bribery, was declared invalid in court by Justice Oliver Saksak.

MBO had a survey on Facebook and Google + asking citizens of Vanuatu about their opinions (as subjective as they may be) on what they thought about the current situation playing out in the parliament.

One commentator observed:

Emia emi prosija blong wok we olgeta i folem koko kassem naoia….every samting i stret ! Oli go baek long palemen, sapos gavman i jenis be i jenis ia nao ! yumi taet, be i olsm nao, law i stap guidem olgeta i stap mekem ol samting ia! Be long lukluk blong mi, bai motion ino go tru, sapos i tru se Natuman gavman i karem tugeta ol honest leaders blong yumi ia nao !

The responses were varied, depending on how well aware the respondents are of the current situation. Speaking from Australia, a student observed:

Your bloody kidding me!!!!!! Is this serious??!!!! Is this for real?!!!!!! Mania! Wanem ya oil stap mekem lo parliament? Ya. This is crazy. How is the suspension unconstitutional????!!!
Oliver saksak Oli bribem hem too. I have no comments. Just when things seem to be getting better.

It was surprising how young adults reacted to the question posed to them. A few responses from some young adults are listed below.

From the University of the South Pacific, a female graduate declares:

Would take a whole lot of paragraphs to describe those ill-minions. But for short…its a circus…seriously…anyone would agree..if one was feeling low…a step through those doors to watch them put on their “show” would make that person’s day. so what’s my opinion?? give me a year to write a book about the current parliament of Vanuatu.

That speaks volumes about how much young people care about politics in Vanuatu. Not only are they young, but they are also educated. If a graduating law student has to make such a sarcastic remark about Vanuatu politics, what are the realities of law graduates seeking jobs in Vanuatu politics?

A graduate from PNG offers:

Maybe we should have some criterias blo ol Ministerial Post ia. Get some more Polictical Science graduates or something like that… that’s the way i see [it].

Indeed that would be ideal.

However some young adults have had enough of the political wranglings that go on in the house. When asked what this instability is doing to the integrity of the house, one young adult observed that “right now no MP gives a **** about what house they are in! The foremost worry is who gets to be a Minister, and who is on the government side.”

A resident of Teouma puts it wisely, that “power struggle leads nowhere.” To support this observation, a resident of Beverly Hills insists that “it’s power. They are being pushed by some outside forces or power with alot of money. So in one word [I say] POWER.”

From Manples, a young adult who just turned 21 dismisses that it’s a “waste of time”, while another young adult from Mele has no idea what is going on in the Parliament. From Santo, another twenty-something-year-old did not mince his words when he declared that “Vanuatu [is an] unstable country!”

A very important observation came from a rugby player who observed that the “Standing Orders of Parliment should be well defined. At the moment there is a loophole within the standing orders of parliament!!!”

This hints at a support for the Natuman-led government. In addition, a resident from Seaside was hopeful that in spite of the judge’s ruling and the motion against him, Natuman will remain as PM. Even from Ifira Island, one particular working class young adult has put to words what a lot of people are feeling. She thinks that “Moana should step down with all his [blah].”

Given the varied responses by the citizens of this country, there is a need for immediate change. The voice of the young adults are important because they will be the one suffering from the bad choices that our leaders make.

Pointing us back to the responsibilities of leaders, one Facebook respondent had the following to say:

My opinion is that this situation will get worse. It’s probably one of the first time in our history that [16] MPs were ousted in Parliament [at one go]. This has caused even bitter feuds amongst parties, individual MPs and their voters. Both sides will go even further to retain or regain their positions. It will not stop anywhere. At the moment there is no stability. Instability not in politics, but in development for the people. So mi luk se bae livelihood blo yumi bae i affected bigwan lo ol raorao blo politics from olgeta nao i influence large sphres of our economy. All in all, [we are] getting worse.

Pointing us back to the country’s motto, a church elder adviced that “we need more God-fearing leaders in the Vanuatu Parliament. A true Christian leader abstains himself from all corrupt practices.”

God save Vanuatu!

Parliament Resumes with a Full House

Vanuatu’s Parliament will resume at 2pm with a full house. All MPs from both sides of the house will be present, after Justice Saksak Oliver ruled in favor of Moana Carcasses & co. – effectively nullyfying the suspension of Carcasses and his troupe.

The Prime Minister and his government bloc successfully suspended 16 opposition MPs, including the leader Moana Carcasses, from parliament on November 25 on allegations of bribery.

Consequently Mr Carcasses challenged the validity of their suspension in court and was handed a favorable verdict this morning by Justice Oliver Saksak, citing that the reason for suspension was unconsitutional. His bloc is expected to be in the house as parliament resumes this afternoon at 2pm.

One matter of importance that will be debated, and voted upon this afternoon at 4pm, is the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister, Hon Joe Natuman. This motion was launched by Moana Carcasses before his suspension, along with the cohort of 15 MPs alleged to have been bribed by him.

Now that Mr Carcasses is free to re-enter parliament with his 15 MPs, the opposition’s numbers has risen from 6 to 22 MPs. The government of Honorable Joe Natuman has the support of 30 MPs as a majority.