Years ago, supporters of Vanuatu’s founding father embarked on a mission to erect a statue commemorating this great man.
The effort was aborted because of pettiness. Others were equally instrumental in the fight for independence, detractors said. If you’re going to put up a statue, it should feature a group.
There is no question that countless people strove and suffered to further the cause of Vanuatu’s independence. There is no question, too, that Walter Hadye Lini stood tallest among them. Was he raised up by the efforts of others? Of course. That’s how popular movements work.
Shining a light on one person’s historic achievements doesn’t have to cast a shadow on the works of others.
This year, we broke ground on a new Prime Minister’s Office. We need to make allocate the space and funds necessary to mark the contribution of this great man in a way that befits his legacy.
For Charlot Salwai to preside over the process is especially advantageous. Mr Salwai has made his mark on Vanuatu politics precisely because of his ability to bring the mostly francophone Moderate bloc back into the political fold. He has forged an alliance that the spans linguistic and cultural gaps that have bedevilled national politics since the very beginning.
This would be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the newfound respect and admiration between our francophone and anglophone populations, and to reconcile ourselves to the legacy of our mixed colonial past.
And as Man Pentecost, Mr Salwai stands to unite his own island as well.
The price tag will doubtless be high, that’s true. It’s also true that many of our key ministries lack the cash to provide basic services.
But let’s not discount the value of civic pride, patriotism and a sense of history. When we speak to our children about the struggle for independence, we should be able to point to something tangible and say, ‘That’s the man. You’re free because of him.’
In today’s Daily Post, we commemorate four people’s independence stories, each of whom had a unique perspective on that exciting—and nerve-wracking—time. We are also reproducing several vintage photographs showing Port Vila as it looked in colonial times.
My, how we’ve changed.
But as we embark on the process of transforming our capital yet again, with new roads, wharves airports and public buildings and facilities, don’t we owe it ourselves to hold onto some of the past?
The great danger of modernism is the way it uproots people, distancing them from their heritage. Father Lini’s achievements are slowly receding from living memory. There are still thousands who can say they saw him, and hundreds who can say they met him, but that number diminishes every year.
We’ve waited long enough. It’s time to make a space, not just in our hearts and history books, for this great man. The Prime Minister’s Office compound is being flattened and rebuilt; now is the time to see it done.
We should erect a statue of Father Lini, and on its pedestal, carve a list of all those whose contributions made independence possible.
Happy Independence Day, Vanuatu. Let’s make sure the memory of it endures.