Vanuatu provides a very interesting test case for the role of traditional chiefs because the country is a small island state with some very remote islands. Indeed, it consists of some eighty islands scattered along an 800 km axis, most without any access by public transport. It could well be argued that if chiefs cannot survive in a politically active (rather than ceremonial) role in Vanuatu, then they are unlikely to be able to survive anywhere else in the modern world. As described in this chapter, there is an enduring dialectical tension between aspirations for a more locally embedded system of government in Vanuatu and the legal-rational model of sovereignty and powered justice imported by colonial powers and colonisers, to which most modern power elites are wedded. While the modern state system is based on majority rule and free and fair elections, varying from island to island, the traditional system relies upon decisions by consensus or by hereditary chiefs. The role of the chiefs is enshrined in the Constitution of Vanuatu. However, chiefs require the concrete support of the Government of the day to be able to meet and receive administrative back-up.
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The Bislama term for kastom leader and it is used throughout this chapter to refer to traditional authority. The Article 29 of the Constitution makes explicit distinction with the prefix Kastom in front of the term jif- Kastom jif. Thus the term jif or Kastom jif is used to denote a traditional leader who, according to the 1983 national policy of the MNCC, has inherited their position through a bloodline; who follows the proper kastom fashion and has a nasara, nakamal, land and people; who is known by the whole village and has killed the pigs at the nasara and people from his village have followed him and participated in his pig killing ceremony and; his title name and meaning is on his original language (Lindstrom and White 1997).
The term that referred to an individual who was appointed by the missionary in the colonial days as a leader in the local community (Rodman 1977).
This is a new leadership position created by the two colonial powers (French and British) in the local communities to act as a middleman between local communities and colonial authority (Rodman 1977).
The drug that comes from the roots of the plant Piper Methysticum. It is consumed as a drink on special occasions in traditional society of Vanuatu. However, the uses and culture of kava drinking have changed drastically in the last three decades (Crowley 1995).
Unclean foods are certain products that are defined in Leviticus 11. This belief system is promulgated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church which promotes vegetarianism. Other Christian groups adopt the Old Testament taboos set out in Leviticus which explicitly name pigs as being unclean whereas pigs are very valuable animals that Vanuatu communities use in most of their traditional ceremonies and feasts.
The experiences of different levels of conflict of institutions and clashes of values that I encountered in my childhood and at the workplace in three different departments of government, in church and village levels prompted me to write about the challenges of adopting and adapting new institutions in a local context. The purpose of my writing is to try to plot a way through the complexities of religion, authority, language and custom in order to find a possible strategy to address the challenge of development in Vanuatu.
This is a new leadership position created by the two colonial powers (French and British) to act as a middleman between local communities and colonial authority (Rodman 1977).
Nasara This is a consecrated area and a house where a chief conducts the pig killing ceremony, and also it is a place where the head of clans performed the leadership ranking ceremony.
Nakamal This is a traditional house in a village that symbolises the functional leadership structure of a village. It is where members meet and dialogue over certain issues affecting their welfare and also discuss ceremonial activities such as marriage, circumcisions, funerary services, and birth celebration (Huffer and Molisa 1999b).
Chapter 5 of the Constitution is about the establishment of the National Council of Jifs. Chapter 8 is about the establishment of judiciary and again article 51 made provision about the rules of custom. Chapter 9 is about land management and development and custom governance remains as one of the main determinants of land ownership.
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Nimbtik, G. (2020). The Struggles of Adoption and Adaptation in the Governance Space of Vanuatu: The Incorporation of Jifly Authority and Kastom Governance into the Legal-Rational System. In: Lahai, J., Ware, H. (eds) Governance and Societal Adaptation in Fragile States. Governance and Limited Statehood. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-40134-4_10
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