In Langscape Magazine Articles

TEKS | Promoting & Safeguarding Biocultural Diversity Through the Arts in Northern Vanuatu

August 07, 2015

Text by Dely Roy Nalo and Thomas Dick, Photos by Cristina Panicali and Sarah Doyle, with contributions by Ham Maurice Joel, Augustin Leasley, and Len Jacob Tafau

Biocultural Diversity

Left: Volcano on Gaua, the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province of Northern Vanuatu. Right: Kastom performers from Fanafo village, Espiritu Santo. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

Traditional: Habits and ways built over the years that are flexible and change in relation to new circumstances and situations

Entertainment: An opportunity for the people to express and adjust, to adapt, safeguard kastom music and acts using contemporary arts in the face of overwhelming foreign influences

Kastom (custom): Practices that bind people together in relation to the land, their leaders, and the environment

Support: Using appropriate tools to promote and support positive kastom and traditional practices in ways that are respectful of our people

biocultural diversity

Preparing leaves for traditional dress for a performance at Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival in Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

In the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, over 130 different languages are spoken. With its population of approximately 263,000, this means Vanuatu has the highest rate of per capita linguistic diversity on the planet. For many people in Vanuatu, one of these languages is the first language that they learn from their mother. These languages — and the knowledge and practices that they represent and articulate — are important expressions of cultural diversity. As the cash economy penetrates deeper and deeper into the islands of Vanuatu, communities are identifying the need for alternative, locally based approaches to the promotion and preservation of important traditional wisdom practices — including dances, music, songs, and stories — and connecting these with contemporary music and dance.

One of the ways that communities in Vanuatu are responding is through the Traditional Entertainment and Kastom Support (TEKS) unit of Further Arts — a local NGO working with communities on arts and cultural projects. Dely Roy, an Indigenous woman of Vanuatu and Kiribati descent, founded TEKS in 2011. Dely conceived TEKS to provide space and equal opportunity for traditional performers to express and showcase their artistic talents in a local cultural festival on Espiritu Santo Island in northern Vanuatu. At the same time, TEKS also provides support to practitioners of kastom and those communities that safeguard its values.

biocultural diversity

Left: A traditional performer from Gaua blows the conch shell at the opening ceremony of Singaot Musik Kamp, Espiritu Santo. Right: A Leweton Cultural Village performer, Charlie, playing the bush bass at Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival in Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

Dely speaks fluent English, French, and the local creole Bislama (the lingua franca of Vanuatu) in addition to her father’s vernacular language, Mwerlap. She says: “I feel that I understand enough about diverse Vanuatu cultures and that I have a reasonable understanding of many foreign cultures. I created TEKS as a unit to serve as a bridge between the different conceptual worlds.”

TEKS supports a range of traditional wisdom practices such as dances, music, songs, stories, carving, weaving, painting, drawing, and fabric art. There are two principal ways that TEKS engages with communities to support these activities: firstly, by assisting village groups to organize and host Mini Arts Festivals (MAFs); and secondly, by documenting these MAFs through co-produced audiovisual content in vernacular languages.

Dancing at the opening ceremony of Singaot Musik Kamp, Espiritu Santo. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

Dely explains that her “idea is that if each culture can understand or at the very least acknowledge each other, a platform can be set for mutual respect.” TEKS aspires to be there to facilitate that platform and foster the connections.

At the time of preparing this photo essay (March 2015), Vanuatu was severely hit by a tropical cyclone, which affected more than seventy percent of the population through the destruction of ninety percent of homes, gardens and infrastructure. Many people were left without adequate shelter, food, and safe drinking water. The Further Arts office was completely destroyed along with most of the equipment in it. Without the office facility to provide stability to TEKS, its work with communities, local youth, artists, and musicians is unlikely to continue. All the communities that TEKS works with are in the process of rebuilding their lives but need as much support as possible to restore healthy cultural and lifestyle practices. People wishing to donate for the reconstruction of Further Arts and TEKS initiatives can do so at http://rebuilding.furtherarts.org/

biocultural diversity

Left: Women kastom performers at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Right: Lily Weul, leader of the Salap women’s water music group, Gaua. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

Men performing Qwat kastom dance at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

biocultural diversity

Children performing na-Mag kastom dance at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.
biocultural diversity

The Salap women’s group performing their mesmerizing water music at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.
biocultural diversity

Whole community song and dance at the Fanafo Indigenous Kastom Day in Fanafo, Espiritu Santo. Photo: Ham Maurice Joel, 2014

.
biocultural diversity

Left: The volcanic landscape of Ambrym, visited by performers during the Emyo Tinyo Dance & Music Festival in Emyotungan village, Ambrym. Photo: Sarah Doyle, 2014. Right: Dely Roy, founder and leader of TEKS unit: “I face enormous challenges in my work as a female, but I am committed and passionate about ensuring that the voices and stories of both men and women are heard to strengthen harmony and respect between people as a foundational value.” Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

biocultural diversity

Left: Local and regional Melanesian musicians and dancers perform at the Emyo Tinyo Dance & Music Festival in Emyotungan village, West Ambrym. Photo: Sarah Doyle, 2014. Right: Dely Roy looking at historic photos with Merion Roul of Namasari village, Gaua. Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

biocultural diversity

Village in Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone PAM passed through on March 13–14 2015. Photo: Sarah Doyle, 2015

.

Left: Musicians from around Vanuatu and the Pacific came together under TEKS leadership during the phenomenal Singaot Musik Kamp, Espiritu Santo. Right: Musicians from Pacific and African countries shaking hands at the welcoming ceremony of Singaot Musik Kamp, Espiritu Santo. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

biocultural diversity

Left: Tokbor mask at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Middle: Men performing ‘Bigfala tamtam’ kastom dance at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Right: Children entering the nasara (ceremonial dancing grounds) at the Salav Festival in Namasari village, Gaua. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

Left: Life in Fanafo village, Espiritu Santo. Right: Yankee Stevens carrying a banana tree for a child’s kastom ceremony at the Fanafo Indigenous Kastom Day, Fanafo Village, Espiritu Santo. Photos: Sarah Doyle, 2014

.

biocultural diversity

Left: A ceremony for a newborn child at the Fanafo Indigenous Kastom Day in Fanafo, Espiritu Santo. Photo: Sarah Doyle, 2014. Right: Children painting in Chapuis, Espiritu Santo, inspired by their cultural identities and traditions during the Creative Arts Pikinini workshop. Photo: Augustin Leasley, 2015

.
biocultural diversity

Participants of the ‘Niu Saon mo Kalja’ camp hosted by TEKS in Mon Exil, Espiritu Santo Island with the artistic leadership of Horomona Horo (a Maori Tuhunga). Photos: Len Jacob Tafau, 2015

.

biocultural diversity

Left: Merion Roul of Namasari village showing a photo from over 40 years ago, of a woman standing outside a woman’s nakamal (a sacred meeting place) with signs of women’s’ kastom grading (rank) painted with unique local designs, Gaua. Right: Bese Rotua of Namasari village holding a sign of her kastom grading (rank), Gaua. Photos: Cristina Panicali, 2013

.

biocultural diversity

Left: Dely Roy Nalo, founder and leader of TEKS unit: “I face enormous challenges in my work as a female, but I am committed and passionate about ensuring that the voices and stories of both men and women are heard to strengthen harmony and respect between people as a foundational value.” Photo: Cristina Panicali, 2013. Right: Villages in Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone PAM passed through on March 13–14, 2015. Photo: Sarah Doyle, 2015

.

Volume 4, Issue 1 | Editorial | Table of Contents | Subscribe | Buy | Donate


Thomas Dick is the founder and current chairman of Further Arts, an NGO based in Port Vila, Vanuatu that works with local communities on arts and cultural projects. Further Arts’ main objective is to empower Ni-Vanuatu to develop long-term social and commercial enterprises in the industries of creative arts, agriculture, and communications that are culturally, socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable.

Cristina Panicali is a prize-winning freelance photographer based in Italy. She has been traveling through Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania to tell photo stories on socio-cultural and environmental issues. In 2012–2013 she was in Vanuatu to document the “Music Bridges” project, a music and culture exchange among musicians from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Sarah Doyle is manager and a photographer of Further Arts’ Nesar Studio in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The word “nesar” (from one of the vernacular languages of Vanuatu) refers to the place where all custom ceremonies and dances are performed. It also refers to an area where chiefs, mothers, and youth can meet to discuss village affairs. It’s the area where the traditional arts are carried out.

Dely Roy Nalo is a visual artist and cultural fieldworker based in Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island. She works with rural and remote communities on cultural and artistic initiatives through her project TEKS. She has gained recognition for TEKS at local and national levels and continues to expand its international network of cultural artists and professionals.


Further Reading

Further Arts: Using Arts and Culture for social transformation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.furtherarts.org

Further Arts Facebook Page. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/FurtherArts

Further Arts YouTube Channel (n.d) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/furtherarts

Future Arts. (n.d.). TEKS Program Activities. Retrieved from http://www.furtherarts.org/teks-program/

Dickson, T. (2013). Gender, Creativity, and Cultural Heritage: A Case Study of the Vanuatu Women’s Water Music [Resources — UNESCO Gender Equality and Culture]. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/pdf/RESOURCES_ThoTho_Dickson_A_Case_Study_of_the_Vanuatu_Wom.pdf


biocultural diversityBefore you go…

…did you know that Langscape Magazine is an ad-free, full-color publication that brings you unique stories about people and nature from all over the world  —  inspiring stories that you won’t find anywhere else?

“The articles are all so rich in elucidating the resilience of biocultural diversity. I appreciate all of the work Terralingua does so very much.” — Nejma Belarbi, MSc, MH, Ethnobotanist and Herbalist

We believe there never was so important a time as now for these stories to be shared as freely and widely as possible  — online as well as in print. That’s why we’ve been putting many of our stories on Medium for everyone to read.

But we are a small team with big goals. We want Langscape Magazine to continue to be brimming with global stories rather than with ads. So far, this quality has been made possible by grants, donations, and subscriptions. That’s why we are asking for your help..

“Langscape is the heart of the movement.” — Kierin Mackenzie, PhD Student, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

If everyone who reads and likes our magazine helps support it, we’ll be able to continue to bring you these amazing stories into the future. For as little as $10, you can support Langscape Magazine  —  and it only takes a minute. Subscribe to the handsome print or PDF version of the magazine, or buy individual copies. Thank you for your support!

The Langscape Magazine Team

<< Previous  |  Next >>