Emerging social conflicts on Maewo – worse to come

The people of Maewo through their leaders and chiefs have accommodated and given land for the people of Ambae to grow their own food as seen in this photo. Photo: facebook/Matai Seremaiah

The article below is written by an Ambaen intellectual who predicts new challenges to be faced by the chiefs and their people of Ambae now living on Maewo. He says it is a wake-up call for the Government to place its decision under a microscope now to make sure it does not backfire on the indigenous people of Maewo by way of food sufficiency while having to put up with approximately 2,000 Ambaens on their island.

Social conflict is common when two different ethnic groups live together in a single society.

Such conflict arises from human behaviours and when there is extensive pressure on land spaces and resources owned by permanent ethnic residents of that society.

Whereby scarcity of resources become eminent, an ethnic group that doesn’t own lands can be the most vulnerable victim of such conflict and in this case Ambaens taking refuge in communities on Maewo island.

In just less than two months signs of oppression start to unfold.

A recent incident in one of the communities on Maewo is a significant example of this conflict and a beginning of the worse to come. Youths from the community confronted Ambaens, swearing at them and threatening them from engaging on their lands in planting vegetable seeds. While alcohol could be said to have influenced those outcomes, such feelings develop with clear conscience from the heart long before are eventually exposed through whatever means.

These incidents are expected to occur regularly since hosts communities are beginning to realize the disadvantages of hosting disaster victims. A continuous repeat of this becomes problematic for host communities.

A prominent chief of Maewo stated recently that their people spend excessive time caring for Ambaens welfare which actually is not their responsibility but the government of Vanuatu.

He stressed that it obstructs them from doing their daily works of gardening etc..

Certainly the people foresee the negative consequences of this as it can impact negatively on their future livelihood once ambaens return home. While they are heavily occupied with Ambaens in their communities those who have made such decisions relax on their arm chairs far from such population pressures.

Factors such as population ratio whereby in many communities, Ambaen population exceeds actual total residents put pressures on home spaces, food sources, firewood sources, privacy, noise pollution, waste disposals, etc.. These can trigger relationship crises such greediness and hatred from local residents which are obvious elements of conflicts derive from such ethnic mixed settlements.

Of course, no one can blame these youths, it’s their home. They foresee the danger of over-exploitation of their community resources by foreigners.

It happened to Israelites in Egypt and in more recent times, to the people of Malaita vs Gaudal Canal in Honiara, to cite two examples of similar previous conflicts. For as long as Ambaens remain with communities in Maewo there are high expectations of revulsions to occur.

Would family adoption ease this situation as was stipulated by leaders at the Luganville meeting recently is of course not a constructive solution.

Traditional principles of adoption are: to maintain hereditary of customary land, a means of substituting family gap and maintenance of family hereditary.

Such adoption based on one adoption per family, is determined by resource capacities (esp. land) a family owns. For a Maewo family (five members) to adopt ten Ambae families(50) in modern Vanuatu is unrealistic unless done in a dream world.

In modern age, such massive adoption is a means of a slave labour force whereby those adopted be used as family work force (historically called slaves).

With such adoption model, the future of Ambaen children is not guaranteed and expecting worse scenarios once leaders involved in current decisions passed away.

And Vanuatu law from ch.11 art.71 (1a) of the constitution also forbids “inhumane treatment and forced labour” during a State of Emergency (SOE).

Decision makers oversee such factors or are ignorant of consequences of their decisions.

The ‘I don’t-care approach’ is common when decision makers have no personal nor biological relationships with those for whom decisions are made.

For Ambaens, Maewo communities cannot continue to host them because it comes problematic and great burden for them to tolerate. The Vanuatu Government must know now that this community host approach in caring for Ambaens on Maewo is no longer acceptable and neither a long term solution for Ambae disaster.

While some leaders defend this approach obviously not the whole Maewo population is in favour of this arrangement.

It is obvious that few politicians are enforcing their political agenda on Ambaens that resulted in such chaotic circumstances. When decisions are challenged leaders retaliate aggressively such as recent incidents on Maewo.

A Government leader reiterated that all Ambaens should have gone to Maewo and refers to Ambaen brains as “stones” during his speech in a community. In response, Paramount Chief Jacques Sese says the leader contradicts himself as he chartered a free transport for Ambaens to Santo and proudly says Ambaen brains can break rocks.

Several days ago Ambaens were stopped by leaders from boarding a certain ship to Santo, some of whom are mothers intending to sell their kava. Even worse are Francophone secondary students who were left stranded on Maewo for over two months without attending classes had to eventually pay their own fares on a copra boat to Santo this week, to resume their education since no education opportunity for them on Maewo.

Situations are deteriorating and a warning for Ambaens to leave at the lapse of SOE.

Of course Ambaens have decided to leave Maewo by the lapse of SOE on September 26, 2018 and their decision still stands.

They’ve asked the Government to assist in setting temporary settlements at safe zones on East Ambae and Walaha for most affected victims while others return to their respective homes to rebuild the ruins and replant crops.

Those at safe zones can still access their homes to start rebuilding their livelihoods; a suitable long term solution than continue living for 9 months on Maewo.

Com should enforce this as it suits art.71(2) …”that decisions made shall be such as are reasonably necessary in the circumstances of the emergency to which they relate” during soe.

To keep Ambaens on Maewo for nine months without accessing their homes to rebuild their livelihood is not a long term solution as they will still be dependent on their return to Ambae.

If the intention is to attract developments on home ground, better still to use home ground population statistics as Ambaens will not live any longer on Maewo.

To await the harvest of vegetables then return is, a reflection of short-sightedness.

Ambae island is safe and habitable for them even if volcano still rumbles underground and maintain level 3, is nothing new.

Ambaens don’t just need a home and food to survive but to also engage in commercial and other development activities which are currently lacking where they are.

Should the Government establish a second home for them it should be on land(s) with tenancy agreement(s) to avoid the current situations faced with on Maewo.

They resolved for Santo being their second home accompanying families who are currently there.

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