Vanuatu community tells story of attack at birth of independence
A New Zealand sociolinguist has helped a Vanuatu village in Hog Harbour, Santo, tell the story of the traumatic attack on their community during a flashpoint shortly after the country gained independence in 1980.
A New Zealand sociolinguist has helped a Vanuatu village tell the story of the traumatic attack on their community during a flashpoint shortly after the country gained independence in 1980.
The account of the attack on the community at Hog Harbour has been one of the hidden stories of the Santo rebellion which caused significant tumult for the newly independent country 35 years ago.
It's now the subject of a DVD documentary, put together by Professor Miriam Meyerhoff of Victoria University's School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, who told Johnny Blades about the project to tell Hog Harbour's own story.
MIRIAM MEYERHOFF: They remember it every year they have a holiday on the 21st of August which is the anniversary of the event, kids don't go to school, and they have services and everyone gets together. Usually what I think happens is people in a sense, testify the people who were there at the time tell their stories and that's one of the reasons why I think they were very keen to get this down on a DVD. Because now at last, they're aware of the fact that a lot of the people who were involved in the attack and who defended the village at that time in 1980, some of them have already passed away and some of them are getting very old. So now they look at it and they go, it can be remembered, we can keep having this story being told to our grandchildren and our grandchildren's children. So it's terribly important and I think they're delighted at the idea of more people knowing about it because I do think they feel as though it was something that they did that was really quite brave and they made a stand for independence and for the emerging nation of Vanuatu and they're quite proud of that.
JOHNNY BLADES: How did you come to be the person to put this together. Were you just there or did they seek you out?
MM: No I was just there. I was working on their language, I had decided to do some work on the language they speak in Hog Harbour, which they call Nkep, and so I was collecting stories, traditional Nkep stories as you do when you start to do language documentation and one of the younger women that I was talking to said 'I'm not going to tell you a custom story, I'm going to tell you a story about the rebellion'. So she told me the story, it was the first time I'd heard about it and after I went through it with one of my language assistants and we'd translated it, this is an older guy, Sapo Warput, and I said to him 'you know, I've never heard about this before do you think maybe we should collect some of these stories as well as the customs ones?' He and Manasseh Vocor were incredibly enthusiastic about it and swung into action. I was all ready to do a book, I said 'I'll do your stories in Nkep on one page and the translation in Bislama on the other page' and they said yeah that'll be good but we should do a DVD, we'll re-enact it. So it was their idea, they wanted to have a material record of what had happened.
JB: Do they want it better recognised in terms of the national forum as it were?
MM: I think they would, I think they feel as though this was a bit of sacrifice that they made. People lost houses, water tanks, there was tremendous damage to the village and there was the trauma so I think they feel it was a sacrifice they made for Vanuatu's independence and they would like it to at least be recognised at least as part of the official story of Vanuatu's independence.
The name of the documentary, Heher hür nwesi cei netvoocvooc, translates as Days of Struggle, Days of Hope. It was put together by Professor Miriam Meyerhoff with videographer Steve Talley and editor Gloriana Roebeck and the village holds the copyright.
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