More Lessons from Vanuatu

Vanuatu has the highest risk for natural disasters on the World Risk Index (WRI). Every year the country of 30+ islands is susceptible to hurricanes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes. As if that wasn’t enough, the results of the disasters lead to other disastrous outcomes such as landslides and flooding.

Ni-Vans (the citizens of Vanuatu) are naturally fierce and resilient. Ni Vans come together and stay together as they have learned that loss can happen instantaneously – lives can be changed in an instant. Given these circumstances, the Ni-Vans chose not to leave people alone. Families will accept stragglers into their communal family, if not, adopt people into their family. Adoption ceremonies are almost commonplace.

I had the opportunity to visit a few villages and meet folks in the community. I learned that many villages hold village meetings where there is an agenda of items to review with all who are present. Example of items can be 1) Birthday celebration 2) Reparations needed for a community building 3) Preparing for anticipated dry season 4) Assault/altercation between community members.

For the fourth, I was told that the village leader may ask that a perpetrator apologize to the victim/survivor publicly. Those harmed, including family members, have the opportunity to receive the apology and may even have input on retribution. Sometimes the village chief would demand that the perpetrator pay a punishment by giving the family a pig. Sometimes, public shaming and genuine expression of remorse suffices.

This group/communal experience reminds me of Restorative Justice circles being used present day in communities in the U.S., usually youth communities in lower SES areas, to promote peace-making and healing. These circles, sometimes referred to as “healing circles”, “peace-making circles”, “sentencing circles”, or “repair harm circles” originated from the people of New Zealand. At least, that’s what light internet research tells me. It could possibly have originated from Melanesian groups – like the Ni-Vans.

It really made an impression on me that in 2018, Restorative justice circles are utilized in the U.S. and are viewed by some as a progressive, innovative method of, well, restoring justice. However, there are countries that have used this method for centuries. The villages in said countries are relatively untouched by the rest of the global world and simply continue to do as they have done. It felt like at time warp – being in the U.S. and learning of these relatively ‘new’ RJ methods and then traveling to an underdeveloped country that many from the U.S. would view as benighted where the age-old process of RJ continues to be the customary form of mediation.

 

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