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Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu
Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu
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Lambue, Belaru, Espiritu Santo, Luganville, Sanma province, VU
Climate zone:
Wet Tropical

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News from the bush, part 9

Project: Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu

Posted by Zaia Kendall over 5 years ago

We had our pancakes really early on the Monday 14th,  as we had an appointment with Bernard our neighbour at 7am who is going to introduce us to the Chief of Bellaru, Victor Moltures. The project is right in the middle of land issues, as it is the case everywhere on the island! Now here since 3 months we are starting to understand Bishlamah better and we also gained some precious keys of understanding in this particular culture, ruled by kastom : Custom laws .

It looks like different families from different villages are claiming the land we are using… this since long time but the fact that ‘white people’ get into the land made every thing worse. We first were a bit confused as we thought we were on Ray’s land and followed his advice to not listen or talk to anybody without asking him first. We heard a lot of different stories, thoughts and points of view from many different people and finally got some good advice in order to clarify the mess from a legal standpoint.

In our big aim of integration to the local culture we followed the advice and decided to meet the chief of our area to communicate, explain the project better and the reasons we came here for. We informed Ray and asked him to join us but he refused not really explaining himself. While later talking with Franck and Bernard we figured out that Victor, the chief, is also and first of all the main claimer of the land!

P1070525So on this early morning all of us: Tom, Dany, Meriem, Bernard and I went down to BP Borne to meet the chief in his town house. We also picked up Mendra, Ray’s brother who proposed to come with us. When we came back Victor the chief welcomed us with the great respect of the kastom, in the simplicity of the garden with a house full of children. NiVan sat down on one side and Westerners on the other one, we were facing each other. I started to introduce every one in a bishlamah/french as he is a French speaker, we expressed our respect for local kastom rules and insisted on our aim to integrate this culture.P1070527 He started to thank us to come today to talk with him and he explained to us that he is the kastom owner of the land and expressed his past confusion about us. We apologized and explained that we didn’t know about all these rules and insisted on the reason we came here for: work FOR and WITH NiVans. We didn’t have to talk long about the project as he started to tell us how happy and grateful he is for us to have come here, he proposed his help and support. Bernard with whom we had long talks about the project, permaculture and our ideas, seemed to have transmitted all the essential keys of understanding and brought all our fears and doubts into a peaceful and grateful moment. Then, Victor invited us to the office of land to make everything official. We said goodbye after exchanging phone numbers and we went into town to celebrate this big step in the project integration.

We then did some shopping and a bit of Internet, had a great lunch on the river side at HQ, Dany tried the flying fox which was not actually really fragrant! It tastes like liver and it is quite chewy! We bumped into Ruth from Eden Hope in the street and had a nice chat, she proposed to offer us pinto peanut seeds as they have a lot which they ordered from the States in order to establish a good grazing material for goats that they recently purchased. She also introduced us to the Italian, Piero, who is the honey maker on the island. After a market mission, we all went back to Mendra’s house where Tom got his bag and jumped on a bus for the airport to fly back to Australia.

On the Tuesday, 15th, our plan was to go to town early to catch up with Ruth to get the pinto peanut seeds and a lift with her to the VARTC(Vanuatu Agricultural Research and Training Center) where we want to get propagation material. We then had an appointment with Victor Moltures at the office of land in Luganville.

We had to walk almost all the way to town and after brekky at mama Mary Therese’s stall we waited for Ruth who arrived at 10am after being caught up. She told us she would only be able to go in the afternoon, so we decided to postpone the VARTC visit and to use our time in town to do a bit of research on internet.

No island time at the office of land!

Victor arrived on time with his wife; two office workers welcome us. They told us about the kastom ownership and explained to us that the kastom owner of our land was Victor… Ray’s family is having an old agreement with Victor’s father signed by his own father in the past… All this probably sounds unclear to you dear readers… Vanuatu land laws and managing of land are quite specific and different . For now the important thing to know is that on Santo there is really little official leases, people are going for written agreements for land use against money or any other material compensation. The landowner has the advantage of the situation and is able to ask the land back after the established period without having to pay any compensation for the land improvement such as buildings or plants. Another important detail that we need to share with you is that Victor and his Dad are not talking anymore to each other. Ray is been working for 20 years on this piece of land making it valuable with the coconut plantation and he is right now working at keeping it : common dispute type on Santo . They then gave us the long list of procedures and fees to get a legal certificate of lease. We understood why the people are going for agreements! All of us were astonished by the huge amount of 300 000 Vatu and explained to every one that we are a charitable organisation and we don’t have this amount of money available. We explained the project again, our aims and convictions, that we came here to work with and for NiVans and talked about our developing on a low budget as a new example of western approach, accessible to anyone and including  the rich and valuable traditional and environmentally sustainable Melanesian way of life .

Every one understood and the office of land told us to deal then deal directly with Victor, that the office of land is not representing any agreements under kastom . We then started to chat openly and Victor suddenly proposed us to move to an other piece of land closer to Bellaru village with more connections with a local community and also water available on site…. we took an appointment for the next Thursday to go and have a look at this place. Every one left confused, tired and quite fed up, and we decided to go to visit Ray and Agnes to talk with them … we found them in town at ‘La place’ and we tried to understand why we never get to know all this really important data and facts of leases, agreements and ownerships. We had a long talk with Agnes who explained to us that the land law, kastom agreements and right of use in Vanuatu is a huge mess impossible for us to handle or even understand and they were keeping us under their “umbrella” out of all these problems. We insisted that as an organisation we need to know to be able to manage any issues or big strategic decisions as a committee members group and do not wish for any unilateral decisions. Frank joined us freshly arrived from Villa by boat and we went to find a transport back home.

P1070879On the Wednesday, 16th we were not on the land as we were quite confused, we thought a lot and talked between each other and with our neighbours. We enjoyed a stay at home getting busy around; seed saving and planting for me: melon, onions, coriander, herbs… Meriem did another lot of sugar cane syrup and Dany read and researched about clay stoves.

On Thursday we waited for the promised organised truck at the gate but he never came, so we started our way up on a Nivan style ‘walkabout’. Franck and Bernard accompanied us as we needed advice. After more than one hour, a transport picked us up and we finally arrived at the Bellaru Nagamal ‘official chief meeting building’ where we waited for the chief.

When he arrived we had already decided to not move from our present land but we followed him onto the land anyway. He led us for a long walk along the road, we ended up at a waterfall site, nice place with a such fresh and pleasant ambiance with the nice song of the river. On this hot day we remembered ourselves how a flowing water presence is nice. Then we started to go back instead of heading to the site… he finally stopped a truck for us and told us that the land could be every where but that we need to talk with Tom in Australia first.

We came back home with a strange feeling of a bad joke and disappointment … but we were happy to have spent a few hours with our chief socialising and explaining more about permaculture.

We had a delicious taro and pumpkin lap lap for comfort!

On Friday 18th, we went to the land without Frank and used our time to catch up with non building jobs, Dany dug the bananas circle and filled it up with organic matter, then he started to dig a hole near the bananas and collected soil to do a jar test, he put together half water half dirt and shook it strongly before letting it settle down, the test should show us the proportion of the different components of the soil: gravel, sand, loam and clay but we just had two layers and couldn’t identify the clay one which should be floating in the water, the water remained pure and us a bit perplex !

Meriem continued the preparation of the compost area and went to collect burao posts to make a covering structure, I weeded the grass in the new garden bed for staples in order to plant more sweet potatoes and I went for a little explore to find a spot for our pumpkins seedlings which are struggling. I slashed a new area on the East side, this part was half covered by some small trees and vines, I obtained quite a reasonable garden size to plant 5 pumpkin seedlings in a half shady half sunny position while working at extending our site covering. Of course a lot more needed to be done and I got frustrated and stopped as the slashing job is really tiring!

After lunch I went away to spend the weekend out near the beach by myself, after this big intense week I needed some time alone to think and replenish in a new place and new atmosphere.

The guys put up the posts of the compost area in the ground and went back home.

On Saturday 19th, Meriem went away, her turn to spend the weekend in Bambooa with Papa’s family and Dany spent his day in town to do some research. He met a young European couple, Jonas and Manouk coming to spend some time in Eden Hope and willing to visit our place, as they are permaculture practitioners and are seeking for a place to establish themselves somewhere in the tropical gentleness and abundance.

On Sunday 20th, Dany did his soap making session and cleaned up the pots . He had a fish feast with Franck and Ginette who went to ‘dive’ on the previous day.

The onion sprouted on our improvised kitchen nursery.

P1070584Personally I had a great time enjoying sea side, snorkeling and sea kayaking, I found really nice red legumes seeds and I picked a lot to make jewellery but when I showed them to locals they told me that those trees are really good for timber, strong and hard! I had a lot of fun with Jeannette, the minder of the place, ‘Towoc Bungalows’ who became a new friend, she is having a really nice place, simple but really well situated 5 min walk from the famous ‘champagne beach’. I planted my tent on a sublime seaside in front of shallow turquoise water sharing the shade of huge trees with all the farm animals freely walking around and coming at low tide to drink from the emergent spring water on the white sand beach. I met Nicolas, a Swiss guy who is traveling around the world and showed a lot of interest in permaculture and our project, I proposed he visit us or come for a week or two as a temporary volunteer. On Jeannette’s beach, there is a big traditional building and I got curious about it, she explained to me that she is renting it out for events like weddings, ceremonies or training and workshops, while we were talking the idea of making her place another potential site for the PDC course in May popped up in my mind.

This place is situated on the sealed road of the East Coast close to all facilities and reachable easily from everywhere, there is a huge traditional building, all the kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities, a huge camping ground and a few bungalows to hire, all that in the most sumptuous site near the water nearby a community village. Of course our priority site is our land but as we are not sure yet we will be ready for it, we are looking for alternatives places and this one is looking better than the concrete classroom of the agricultural college.

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