Nitivenbetep: 5 Crucial Lessons For Our Millennials, Generations XYZ & Alpha

The Childrens Book called Nitivenbetep (yet to be officially published) is written to capture some important pressing issues and lessons for the children of third world countries. I wanted the children of South West Bay, Malekula in Vanuatu to learn and maintain the cultural knowledge. But having written and researched this blog, I have learnt a lot too. Hence I wanted to share them here with you.

Firstly Conservation, Reservation and Preservation

Nembangahu-exceptional views of the whole South West Bay.

These days, the media presses on about the importance of maintaining our environment. Large masses of trees are being cut down in places around the world and we are not doing enough to replace them. The Amazon forest deforestation and the rainforest ecosystem continues to be under threat and we are still not doing enough of tree planting to save the plants and the animals. Our New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is using her authority and position to highlight the pressing issues of climate change around the world.

Our famous Veteran Wildlife Broadcaster David Attenborough is advocating big time on the media to highlight the huge impact that climate change is having on the planet and the environment.

But the most surprising yet heartwarming stance taken by Vanuatu has really shown how vulnerable we have become as a country desperate to save ourselves against the giant culprits of the world.

Sawoho, in the childrens book, is a special area of bush which is largely untouched by the villagers of Lawa, South West Bay. This area of land belongs to the tribe of Denemus and my father Peter Isno held this small piece of land like it is gold. So it should be. He guards the species of plants and animals. Even though, he is limited in his knowledge, Peter honours the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the environment and the earth;

“Here is your country. Cherish this natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interest skin your country of it’s beauty, it’s riches or it’s natural romances.” 

This educational video about Coral Planting in South West Bay by Island Reach has raised awareness about marine conservation and regrowing it’s biodiversity. It focuses on teaching us about strengthening the communities from the ridges to the reefs. Check them out here and donate to keep the projects going.

It is very infrequent that my mother Ruby would collect firewood from Sawoho. If she does, it is usually from dead wood. This area is rich in small wild life, plants, insects and trees and we like to keep it that way to maintain the food chain.

Ruby Isno on her way to Lumete Guest House.

The area presents as a wonderful niche to name these wild life plants, animals and insects in our traditional language called Ninde.

Our festive seasonal activities would often include naming the plants and the animals in our local dialect. This reserve has a small river that flows through called Lorwoiwoq. Lorwoiwoq is very important in our cultural history as it is believed to have played a huge role in the Denemus tribe and how they have lived.

Conservation, Reservation and Preservation are still our family’s priority and values. The area has remained largely untouched. We want to honour the area that way for our future generations. We will maintain our earth day and faithful stewardship. We are taking slow, little yet meaningful steps to honour that legacy.

Sawoho 2.JPG
Sawoho area to the sea and coastline.

Secondly a Humanitarian Disaster in South West Bay, in Melanesia and the Pacific

Lorbunwoi, an area in the childrens book closer to Lamelkise has been the centre of our dark history Blackbirding. This is a special location. This was where blood was shed on the beach as the naval vessel came to forcefully take our people away to be trade slaves in the sugar cane plantations in Queensland, Australia. More information can be found here through these articles on some of these dark history. These are stories that are not often talked or spoken about. Many of these stories are untold to this current generations as I had discovered.

blackbirding nh
I often envision those days of Blackbirding as similar to Captain James Cook where rifles were fired and weapons were used. Photo Credit: Classical Images

Today, our people in Australia are called the South Sea Islanders. They are still struggling for recognition from the Australian Government. Dr Bonita Mabo was one of our indigenous leaders whose tireless campaign and activisim brought the Australian government to acknowledge our people in Queensland.

A young fourth generation South Sea Islander Artist called Jasmine Togo-Brisby is actively doing and promoting a lot of work on this important history to educate us all about this dark past. I continue to support her incredible work through art and I see a lot of value in keeping that history alive. You can check her out on her website for more information.

Bittersweet by Jasmine Togo-Brisby; our Australian-Vanuatu artist work on exhibition.

Togo-Brisby’s legacy was highlighted in her art and her story telling through these creative outlets. The bittersweet history is told through unrefined sugar sculptures. The South Sea Islanders are highlighted in their history from generations in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islanders.

blackbirding rnz
Credit: Blackbirding Vanuatu, Radio NZ.

Lorbunwoi is also where our annual Nalawan Cultural Festivals are held. The Nalawane Festival is celebrated to mark the season prior to harvesting yams. With so many tribes in the South West Bay area, my distant cousin Willie Isno became a successful entrepreneur trying to showcase our culture to the world. He did well. The event was shortlived due to financial constraints. One day I hope it will pick up again. The support from the local and national government had became limited at times. But the cultural outcome and values have been outstanding for our generations to learn.

nalwan festival
Malampa Travel Centre, Vanuatu-A tribal dance from Labo Village at Lorbunwoi.

In my seasonal freelance job as a linguistic consultant in 2013 to Waikato University’s Linguistic Department, I developed this huge interest in keeping my Malekula traditions and culture alive. In 2015 I helped the University by travelling over to Vanuatu to collect linguistics data. An important history of this Blackbirding story in Lorbunwoi was captured and recorded. It is now stored at the University for our future generations.

Leina Isno dressed in a coconut dress as woven by the local women as part of the linguistics competition in 2015.

Thirdly Rural and Marine landscapes and Conservation

The village of “Labo” means “Goodness lives here. It means love.” Labo is one of the villages of South West Bay which to me, has always had the feel of the city of Wellington, New Zealand in it as well as San Francisco in the States. It is because it is so hilly with it’s landscapes yet there is a surviving village there.

Labo Village, South West Bay, Malekula with Leinasei’s coconut trees along the seaside front.

What has been captivating for me as a young woman being away from home so much was discovering a distant family member called Leinasei Laáu. She was a student from Labo village studying in Fiji some years ago. She came home to Labo one Christmas and she planted the species of dwarfed coconut trees along the beach. She had her own reasons. I never got to hear them.

Over the years I have observed the functionality of these coconut trees on the beach. They have withstood the constantly changing tides. They have provided maintenance against soil erosion into the sea. They continue to be life saving for our marine lives and their underwater environment with their ability to retain and absorb all the erosions.

These coconut trees have provided cooling shades.  The scorching sun heat can be extremely uncomfortable for the pregnant rural women who walk a few miles to get to the nearest health centre. The pre natal and postal maternity checks are so important for our pregnant teens and expectant mothers. Once, my father and I walked to the other villages of Wintua and Leinasei’s father came out to give us papayes and coconuts to drink under these coconut trees. They were the best on a hot tropical day.

From out in the ocean, the coconut trees give a beautiful landscape to the village. Its a tropical beach village with a seaside landscape from afar. Its a great play area for the children under supervision. But potentially it can be a relaxing spot with hammocks inbetween hot tropical days and summer movie nights.

Fourthly Global Warming and Climate Change Impacts

The whole area of where this childrens story was set has undergone dramatic changes over the few decades. I was a kid growing up along these coastal lines and I have seen alarming changes to the coast and the ocean. The climate change has been impactful. At times negatively on the people who live there and we have to re-adjust our lifestyles to be able to live comfortably.

The recent and continuous string of natural disasters affecting Vanuatu saw the rise earthquake and volcanic activities. It is one disaster after another. Nothing in comparison to what Indonesia is experiencing currently. But there have been some sudden rises of huge rocks out of the ocean water in South West Bay, Malekula too. It is scary. It is often unfathomable. As a young woman returning over over the number of years, I have observed a lot of landscape changes. Both on the land and under the sea. These are some photos from Maivah Luan of Lawa Village 2019.

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The shoreline and the beach landscapes have been changing rapidly too with severe weather patterns at times. The sea would bring us contentment through it’s supplies, whether it was with the beautiful colourful seashells that were washed up on the beach so we could blow them and make music or simply creating an environment right for our sea animals to grow so we could harvest them like the sea cucumbers. I hate to think what has happened to our coconut crabs. We used to have an abundance of them. These days, there are none.

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The tides are the same. The tides these days would come so high. The low tides were not as effective as before where we would go scrammaging for food on the reefs. Today, there are no reefs or very little of them would surface under water. We have lost most of our coastal trees. These special trees were our herbal medicines and through the different time eras, I have noticed they have slowly disappeared. But more importantly too, our cultural knowledge of those herbal medicines were not being passed on through the different generations. Its drastic! These are some of the images from Maivah Luan of Lawa Village 2018.

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On occasions, we would have beautiful sandy white beaches. The next year we would have black rocky stones or black fine sand. Other areas along the coast would a reduced number of native trees and plants. Who knows what’s happening under the ocean with the seabeds?  We, the villagers have to be pretty flexible with it too and adapt to the huge climatic changes. Perhaps we will be climate refugees one day? We will be driven out from our natural habitats-what we called home! These days with the huge changes in technology and internet. Every so often we have crazy trends that sweep the globe and they go viral on social media! As my friend #BeautyBeyondBones described in her recent article of the Ten Year Challenge,

“Everything from planking, to gangnam style, to the ice bucket challenge, to KiKi-ing, to the mannequin challenge…it seems like every couple of months, a new craze is flashing across our desktops, each one more ridiculous than the next.”

It would be interesting to see a #10yearchallenge of the geography of the area. I noticed a photograph of the #10yearchallenge of the Antarctic/Artic Ice melting sizes over the years. Its dramatic. Global warming or climate change as it is, is more alarming all over the world as seen in the different photographs!

10 yr challenge
The meme game that is taking internet by storm called #10yearchallenge. Photo Credit: Shehryar_taseer

Finally Archeology, Anthropology and Linguistics 

The largest archeology site from our ancestors is based between the land of Lumete and Lambitep where the story flows through. There are masses of grave yards there and the area is well respected by the tribal land owners.

It is interesting to note that my father had spoken about some of our cultural practices from our ancestors. They cremated the dead for up to 100 days in their days. They used to nurse the dying in a “special house.” They carried out the process of cremation for very long days. They were smoking sessions. They then would preserve the bones. In his Visual Anthropology Review article, Geismar (2014), related that these “special houses” were called “Nimangki” shrine and were in the form of standing stones and carvings within the framework of a house. Nimangki is the ritual ceremony of looking after the death in our area of South West Bay.

nimangki shrine
A “Nimangki Shrine” where the process of cremation takes place for looking after our deads. Credit: Haidy Geismar from Arthur Deacon’s small fieldwork notebook.

These days this practice is against our religious beliefs. We have been truly converted to christianity. A far cry from the practice of cannabilism. Our Missionaries have been a major influence but more importantly our first anthropologist Deacon to the area. His work has been of so much interest to me being a native of South West Bay area. Geismar also wrote Deacon was excited by the discovery of a “six class marriage system” which caused a lot of anthropological excitement as reported through the exchange of letters. I have yet to find out what this means!

deacon arthur
A snapshot of Deacon in Malekula a week before he died. Credit: Geismar, H. 2014

Arthur Benard Deacon (1903-1927) was born to English parents who were based in Russia. He travelled to Malekula and worked closely with the Missionaries; Mr and Mrs Boyd and the two traders; Ewan Corlette (British) and Mr Dillenseger (French). Based in South West Bay, he collected very interesting data and studied ethnographic theory.

Deacon’s visual sketches and simple paintings were fascinating and told a lot of stories. He had a very keen artistic eye. Of note, he was clued to drawing sketches of ears. He had drawings of ritual artefacts, and notes about magic, health, poison and sickness.

I found his written and phoenetic data very resonating from the University of Cambridge museum of Anthropology and Archeology. I am able to understand a lot of his work on my culture. I am able to understand the words that he wrote in the ninde language. I would love to go to the museum one day and honour the work that he has done to collect and store the important cultural data. More importantly too, the book called “Malekula: A Vanishing People in the New Hebrides” by Deacon is a must-have.

university of cambridge
These days I am reassured and grateful that the University of Cambridge Museum of Anthropology and Archeology has a lot of our cultural heritage and artefacts stored. The cultural knowledge and fieldwork samples of Deacon has been guarded for the generations ahead. Photo Credit: University of Cambrdige

On a tragic note, Deacon contracted Blackwater fever in South West Bay while he was preparing to leave to Australia. Blackwater fever is a severe form of malaria in which blood cells are rapidly destroyed resulting in very dark urine. He died a few days later as he was nursed by Mrs Boyd. He was buried in Wintua, on the island of Malekula. My family and I have a lot of deep respect for the work he had done for us. The main goal for our future planning will be to expose his cultural work to our future generations and show the importance of embracing our culture and heritage. This is power on all levels.

The story of Nitivenbetep centred on the tribe of Denemus. This is my tribe and it has taught me some very big lessons. As we journey on into the future, it is vital that we teach our children to honour our environment and ultimately our planet. There must be a full degree and new respect of social entrepreneurism where we must hold onto the concepts of conservation and preservation. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world-this is generic. We must all unite to fight global climate change.

We must also learn to appreciate, honour and acknowledge our history and, find a way to save it in all essence. One can write about it, record the stories through technology or simply retell the stories through the generations so it can be passed on.

For anthropology’s sake, it is vital that we learn different languages. Our rural villages are fast becoming and turning into global villages. We must learn to communicate through the more than one language in this day and age.

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