Artist, anthropologist and politician
MALEKULA/AUSTRALIA | BORN 1970
Nine-year-old Ralph watched over people’s heads as Vanuatu was born in 1980. A cheer rang out around him when the flag was raised. Before this, he remembers being bundled up and hidden away in the night for fear of anti-independence movement attacks. But he says, “We weren’t scared – it was all an adventure”.
Born to pastors Sethy from Uripiv, Malekula, and Dorothy from Brisbane, Australia, Ralph was 10 when his father entered the Government. The biggest change for Ralph seemed to be the move from a wooden house to a concrete one with a bidet in the bathroom!
Ralph loved Melanesian art. In Year 12, he painted the famous Las Kakae (Final Feast), illustrating the links between the Church, kastom and the state. He decided to study anthropology at university because of his passion for Vanuatu and for learning about people, their cultures and development.
Ralph became the head of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and led its role in preserving custom and culture. He often had to think a lot about traditional and modern ways. For example, Ralph said, “We must have a realistic balance between tradition and modernity” when the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs debated the tradition of bride price.
Ralph wanted to include young people in thinking about our culture and spearheaded a popular music festival in Vila in 1996 called Fest’Napuan. The festival is now held every year and thousands of people get together to celebrate Pacific music.
In 2006, Ralph decided to become a politician to fight for social justice. “We have to do what is right for Vanuatu, even if the path is not easy,” he says.
“Your purpose is to serve people. Help others achieve their dreams and you’ve served well.”
Author : Rebecca Olul
Artist : Izzy Regenvanu