Today was a keystone in my language and culture documentation career. I had the opportunity to deliver the result of a several year long project in the form of a book for children to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Accompanied by my adoptive Paamese father, Chief Kunde Toka, I handed over copies of the book to the Museum Director Richard Shing, Nelly Celleb, Head of the National Library, Office Manager Henline Mala, and Digital Marketing Officer Len Tafau.
The book is entitled “Mutis en Atan”, which means “writing/drawing in the ground” in Paamese, an Austronesian language spoken in Vanuatu. I received several research grants which funded an intensive fieldwork expedition to Vanuatu in 2019, where, among other valuable material, I documented the vanishing art of Vanuatu Sand Drawing. There were only 4 sand drawers left on Paama in 2019, and the four of them agreed to share this invaluable knowledge with me.
The Paamese Chiefs’ Assembly gathered on March 3rd 2020 and unanimously decided that a book should be published to safeguard what is listed by the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This book is the result of this collaborative work. It is a creation story inspired by traditional Paamese narratives, written in Paamese, and illustrated with sand drawings. The second half of the book consists of sand drawing tutorials, which shows how to perform these complex geometrical patterns.
From today, November 9th, the book is now available from the Vanuatu Public Library in Port Vila. In two days, I am flying to Paama island to deliver 50 books with 250 others on their way to primary schools and the local tribes. The Paamese community can be proud of this achievement. I certainly am grateful to have been part this wonderful journey.
Ihuri meatin tenaut Vaum!