President of Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs (MCC), Chief Seni Mao Tirsupe presided over a very significant reconciliation ceremony last week at the Sanma Chiefs’ Nakamal.
During his opening speech Chief Tirsupe stated, “Reconciliation originates from God who has then given it to custom and Chiefs to be caretakers of this valuable practice.”
Chief Tirsupe explained further, “God designed reconciliation to ensure that peace and security can be restored to our communities when certain behaviours break the peaceful functioning of our societies.”
“The Vanuatu Constitution specifically charges us as chiefs with the responsibility of upholding the cultural values of our nation. Reconciliation is one of those important values that we must never forget,” Chief Tirsupe added.
“Another cultural value we are honouring today is respect. So, I am here today on behalf of the government and the people of Ambae, to say sorry for the words and actions that have caused this conflict between our people and to ask you all for your forgiveness.”
In his support of Chief Tirsupe’s speech, Alicta Vuti added, “This ceremony is not only important for our Ambae and Santo communities but it will serve as a model for other ni-Vanuatu communities that face similar situations in the future, so that they will know the correct protocol to follow for resolving differences between us.”
The significance given to this reconciliation ceremony was evident in the caliber of people that accepted the invitation be part of the ceremony.
Representatives from the Government side included, Minister of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) and Member of Parliament for Santo Gaetan Pikioune, MP for Ambae Mr Alickson Vira, DG for the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) Mrs Cherol Ala, Sanma Province President Mr. Thomas Vora, Luganville Municipal Council Lord Mayor Mr. Onen Gaviga, Acting SG and Planner for Sanma Province Prosper Buletari (MC and organiser of the ceremony) and Councillors for Sanma, Penama and Luganville Councils.
On the side of Vanuatu Custom, in addition to the President of the MCC Chief Seni Mao Tirsupe, and CEO for MCC Jean Pierre Tom the facilitator for the ceremony, there were other high-ranking chiefs and orators present.
Those from Santo included; the President for Tabwemasana Council of Chiefs (TCC), Chief Levus Tamata; Chairman of Luganville Town Council of Chiefs, Tamata Tahe; Secretary of TCC, James Surai and; Chiefs from various areas of Sanma Province – Sam Kalo (Big Bay), Ajuju Sokovatu (South Santo), Jara Mele (South Santo), Gideon Rokrok and Kevin Kuvu from East Santo.
The delegation of Chiefs representing Ambae included: President of Ambae Port Vila Chiefs, Paramount Chief John Tarilamalama; Ambae High Chief in Luganville, Chief Andrew Ngwera; Chairman of Ambae Chiefs in Santo, David Vatu; a representative for Ambae Chiefs on the MCC, Alicta Vuti; members of the Executive of the Ambae Chiefs of Port Vila, Vusle Joseph and Henry Vira and; Chairman of the ceremony for the Ambae Chiefs, Matthew Vira.
During the ceremony, various chiefs and Government representatives expressed a secondary, but equally important, purpose for the reconciliation ceremony.
Chief Tarilamalama said during his speech, “I look forward now to dialogue resuming after today, so that the government can carry out its plans for a long-term solution for my people of Ambae being displaced by this disaster.”
When Minister of MFEM, Gaetan Pikioune, spoke on behalf of the Government, he stated, “Now that this custom ceremony has been performed it opens the door for people to permanently settlement in Santo or other provinces in Vanuatu until the situation in Ambae returns to normal. But we will need the cooperation of all Government Institutions, Chiefs, NGOs and NDMO to identify suitable areas for people to relocate.”
Mrs Cherol Ala, DG for MOIA also explained, “This reconciliation process was necessary so there could be further dialogue between people from Ambae and people from Sanma Province. Assistance from the Government will then be available for the short, medium and long-term relocation of people from Ambae.”
It was interesting to note that least 3 of the Chiefs that spoke expressed their concern about the disrespectful way that people aired their disapproval on social media instead of bringing grievances on both sides, to the correct cultural forum for resolution.
As a first-time observer of this reconciliation ceremony, the writer of this article, was deeply moved by the dignified grace and humility with which orators spoke, especially when they did not personally perform the offending actions.
Those who committed the offensive actions or used social media to aggravate issues, should have witnessed the personal and financial cost to chiefs, government officials and innocent community members caused by their cowardly actions.
Experiencing such a solemn ceremony would then hopefully prompt them in the future to be more responsible and respectful members of society.