DESPITE BEING THE FOURTH LARGEST in Vanuatu the island of Erromango, in the Province of TAFEA, has a rather small population. Famous for its sandalwood lengthy, hectares of land on the island are inhabited and untouched by man. But this will be changing as Erromango’s new settlers begin colonizing the islands underpopulated regions.
During the past week a team from Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) was on Erromango conducting consultations on the Right To Information (RTI) Bill.
It was during a Civic Education awareness session, which usually accompanies the RTI Bill consultations, that the team came across the inspiring story of young man named Roki who had taken the ultimate decision to move out of his home and start a new village on a remote part of the island.
For those of you who do not know, the Civic Education sessions promote citizenry activism, like what a former US President said; “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you for your country”. The sessions underline the fundamental rights and duties expressed in Vanuatu’s National Constitution, and explains the lyrical meanings of the National Anthem.
Roki left home voluntarily, taking with him nothing more but just four clothes, “I will return when all of this four clothes are worn out” he told his family.
It took a timely boat ride to reach Roki, Officers from Transparency International Vanuatu made time to meet him after having been persuaded by fascinating stories told of him.
His one-man village is several hundred meters away from a deep bay called Punusia near North Erromango, the boat had to be literally carried a few meters over a stretch of black smooth stones to harbor on a quiet river before the journey began further uphill by foot.
The rows of manioc plants lined up along the banks of the river showed human presence in the isolated area, and recently planted pineapple plants occupied a clearing next to rows of tomato plants. Passing through the forests the TIV team, and a few villagers from Potnarvin and Dillon’s Bay, came upon rows of peanut plants silhouetted by high-rise corn plants that bend a little due to the added weight of the mature corn kernels that were attached to them.
In the middle of the corn field a house loomed, and smoke from a fire rose at the edge of the corn field ahead and the smell of heat-cooked meat filled the air. “Bumro” (goodnight) greeted Roki in the Erromang language when the group finally met up with him outside his kitchen, he shook hands with a wide smile, happy to see fellow humans at his remote setting.
“When I first came here I slept on the black stones by the sea, I then moved here and made home underneath that Burao tree with my dogs” he pointed with his torch when the team finally had time to sit down for a chat.
“When I woke up in the morning I was ready to start a village after my first night here. I threw fear faraway, no more fear, I am on my own” said Roki. “When I sleep I can hear wild cattle mooing, wild fowl’s crow everywhere, and I have become very good at tracking down wild pigs. I worked by myself to clear the land for planting. And all the food I eat is roasted over fire, just like our ancestors did. When I want to eat fish I go down to the sea and spear them. Every morning I go hunting before tending to my gardens”.
“I planted a lot of manioc during my first days because it would be my stable food. I have also been able to map out the wild pig’s routes, which has allowed me to make my gardens where the only way to it for the wild pigs would be through my compound. Unfortunately for them, they always do not return to the wild when they make that mistake” he explains in a calm, but firm tone.
“Next time you come here” he nodded at us “you will see changes; fences and bigger gardens. And of course a nakamal, to show that I have put down roots”.
The last verse of Vanuatu’s National Anthem supportively says; “Yumi save plante wok I stap long ol aelan blong yumi” (We know there are a lot of work in our islands), therefore as citizens we need to be proactive like Roki, develop the land and be productive and do not be lured by the tempting lights of the city or its range of material wealth.
The TIV team camped with him overnight before continuing the RTI Bill consultations to the western part of the island. The team left Roki brochures and information on the RTI Bill including a Vanuatu Constitution Book.
Certainly, when the RTI Bill is passed in parliament it will help people like Roki who live in remote places, it will give them the right to access accurate information wherever they are. Because as time goes by, there might be information that Roki needs in order to develop the land he lives on, and the RTI Bill, when it becomes law, might just be that link to personal and communal development. It will become a lifeline to social and economic development for the very remote places of Vanuatu.
Therefore, voters tell your parliamentary representatives to support the RTI Bill because how, and where, it will help you will be extensively beneficial. To know more of the RTI Bill please view the information on the Transparency Vanuatu blog site; www.tivnews.wordpress