Monday, July 14, 2008

Vanuatu: Chief Roi Mata's Domain Listed as World Heritage Site

On July 8th, Chief Roi Mata's Domain in Vanuatu was inscribed along with twenty seven other site on the UNESCO's World Heritage List. Two of the other sites were also in Melanesia: Kuk, a 116 hecters of swamp in PNG's southern highlands; and Lagoons of New Caledonia). Chief Roi Mata's Domain is the first site inscribed in Vanuatu and includes the island Artok (where Chief Roi Mata and more than 50 of his community are buried), Mangaas on Efate Island (his site of residence) and the chamber care of Fels on Lelepa Island (where Chief Roi Mata died). It joins the listing of the 'Vanuatu Sand Drawing' which had the distinction of being proclaimed a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO in 2003. The following is posted on the UNESCO site about the Chief Roi Mata listing:
It consists of three early 17th century AD sites on the islands of Efate, Lelepa and Artok associated with the life and death of the last paramount chief, or Roi Mata, of what is now Central Vanuatu. The property includes Roi Mata’s residence, the site of his death and Roi Mata’s mass burial site. It is closely associated with the oral traditions surrounding the chief and the moral values he espoused. The site reflects the convergence between oral tradition and archaeology and bears witness to the persistence of Roi Mata’s social reforms and conflict resolution, still relevant to the people of the region.
The Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VCC) site has a report prepared by Dr. Meredith Wilson and Dr. Chris Ballard at the Australian National University, which was created in collaboration with communities from Lelepa Island and Mangaliliu Village on Efate Island. They began this report in 2004, and it provides a summary of the nomination process. The report can be viewed as an html document here or downloaded from the VCC site here.

On the ANU website the following press release was posted on the 14th of July:

Forbidden island is first world heritage site in Pacific

The mass grave of a chief on a forbidden island in Vanuatu has been chosen as one of the first cultural sites in the Pacific added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, thanks in part to the efforts of ANU researchers.

The small offshore island of Artok, where Chief Roi Mata was buried together with more than 50 members of his community, has been protected by traditional prohibitions for four centuries. Also included in the World Heritage property of Chief Roi Mata’s Domain are the sites of Roi Mata’s residence, at Mangaas on Efate Island, and of his death in the large chamber cave of Fels, on Lelepa Island.

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is the first site in Vanuatu to be granted World Heritage status, and shares the honour of being the first cultural site to be listed from an independent Pacific country with the Kuk Early Agricultural Site in Papua New Guinea.

ANU researchers played a leading role in the successful nomination of Chief Roi Mata’s Domain. In 2004, Dr Meredith Wilson and Dr Chris Ballard of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS) at ANU were invited by Ralph Regenvanu, Director of Vanuatu’s National Museum and Cultural Centre, to work on the nomination together with the museum and the Lelepa community.

“Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is a unique cultural landscape,” explained Dr Wilson, who led the team that put the site forward for World Heritage protection. “It’s not just that the mass voluntary live burial is exceptional relative to the small size of the local population, but also that the descendant communities have observed the prohibition on the island for four centuries.”

Dr Ballard, the project researcher, said: “The oral traditions of Roi Mata and his legacy of peace-making that are still being told by the Lelepa community actually guided French archaeologist José Garanger to the grave in the 1960s, and accurately predicted much of the detail uncovered by his excavation.”

The nomination process was supported by the Division of Pacific and Asian History, RSPAS, and assisted by the Australian Government’s Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

ANU researchers also played a central role in the successful World Heritage inscription of the other Pacific cultural site, the Kuk Early Agricultural Site in PNG. Archaeologist Professor Jack Golson from RSPAS and his former ANU students, Dr Jon Muke and Dr Tim Denham, have spent many years working on the history of Kuk, the site of some of the earliest agriculture in the world. A buried network of drains in the Kuk swamp has revealed an almost unbroken record of agricultural practice stretching back at least 7,000 years.

View of the off-shore island of Artok, where Chief Roi Mata was buried, and which has been protected by traditional prohibitions (from Vanuatu Cultural Centre website).

1 comment:

Cahya said...

I like the place.