Aboard a local bus at the north of the main island of Efate where passengers and cargo are put together, I took off for a few days just to relax and find peace before continuing on my trips. The island Nguna is a half-hour crossing by boat. On the bus I met with the Natapei family, and the father who worked as a nurse in the local clinic offered to host me as long as I spoke English to their children. The couple was busy at work, so I spent most of my time with the mother of his wife Emma and their kids. The grandma spoke enough English to communicate, so I took the opportunity to ask some questions.
During my quick visit to your island, I remain amazed at the cleanliness! We may be in a village without much ease nor comfort, but the village is clean and neat. How do you explain that?
Historically the villagers organized a day of work for the community. Indeed every Thursday, the men gather and begin a community task such as cleaning the village, planting a field, build a house, etc. Tuesdays are dedicated to women who get together to discuss and propose ideas to improve their quality of life. There is also the day when the whole village would gather – which is every other Monday. The meeting takes place in the leadership appointed Nakamel, which is a large building constructed exclusively of local materials (leaves, branches and local coconut wood). This organization makes us peaceful and orderly people.
Today I attended a rather special family luncheon, because the guests had to pay for their meal. Can you explain this?
This is certainly a family meal that finances the education of their children. Once the children complete primary school, they must leave the village and go to another island with a secondary school and then the university, which is in the capital Port Villa or the Fiji Islands. This funding is made possible by the parents’ preparation of a big meal, which is then sold to mainly family members and neighbors, and also offered to anyone else interested. A minimum of 3 Euros is required for participation, but close family members give more.
Is this way of financing common on the island?
Yes, we would like to maintain this practice for as long as possible. On one hand, the family finds a way to finance a portion of the children’s studies by tightening the family and tribal links. On the other, the schoolchildren learn about their family values and gain responsibility towards their education and contribution to the community.