Is the Namele leaf on Malekula being abused? There are good arguments on both spectrums of this dilemma.
One says the Namele leaf is preventing development on the islands and the people responsible for placing these “road-blocks” are being selfish by putting their needs first before the development of the island. The other side of the coin is the Namele leaf needs to be respected no matter how many times it is erected, because it represents a cry for help, a plight that needs to be addressed.
Let’s start with the first – I can see how this reasoning is gaining a lot of traction and support on social media. Let the foreign or government contractors build new roads, open new government offices and inject a bit of the cosmopolitan lifestyle into the islands that will provide drivers and commuters easier access to government or private services, create employment opportunities and modernize peri-urban and rural areas.
Unrestrained and undisturbed access to give the people what’s best for them. Brush aside concerns of underpaid workers, removing quarry without permission and doing whatever is necessary to get the job done, then put a bow on it and leave.
If this is what development is going to cost then I wouldn’t want it. That may be the selfish choice or small-minded perspective but last I checked, we have rich kastoms and traditions, respected chiefs and landowners, so in other words, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and respect the traditions and restrictions that come with it.
In 2013 Bali cancelled the Miss World Pageant Bikini showcase and all the contestants had to wear sarongs or ‘lava-lavas’. The bikini category was replaced because it contradicted the country’s traditional values and the Miss World Pageant body had to abide by it.
We’ve never hosted this but we do have our own kastoms and traditions, the same kastom and traditions that shouldn’t be tossed out the window just because a project has six figures attached to it.
Now you could come up with another argument to triumph that and we could go around in circles but we need to ask ourselves, is the trust and respect of our people worth throwing away for development?
If a Namele leaf is placed twice or three times, is that the threshold of our patience? There is a reason why these leaves are being placed. Even if it is the smallest reason, that thread leads to a family who has been impacted which then leads to a community.
Answer the call for help. Send officers down to investigate. These Namele leaves are an S.O.S beacon that is amplified on social media which is great, because it makes the work for the proper authorities easier, they see a leaf and if it is an issue with underpaid workers, contact the Labour Department. If the issue has to do with quarry, contact the Commissioner of Mines.
Instead of mocking these leaves, we need to start paying close attention to what they represent, and if the leaves are erected again, then we haven’t solved the problem.
Ironically, in the end no one is ever ignored, even if the chiefs and landowners have been disrespected, there will always be a resolution every four years down the line, or maybe just a promise of one.