Celebrating Culture: Vanuatu Cultural Centre creating pride in the community


By Harriet Harvey

The much loved Vanuatu Cultural Centre. Picture by: Jane Mahoney

The much loved Vanuatu Cultural Centre. Picture by: Jane Mahoney

Edgar Hinge works at the national cultural centre as a tour guide and he believes it is a great step in protecting and teaching Vanuatu’s history.

“There was a very big demand to build a cultural centre and National Museum in Vanuatu to promote and revive it well,” says Mr Hinge.

Tour Guide Edgar Hinge draws traditional sand pictures using a grid and continuous line. Picture by: Jane Mahoney

Tour Guide Edgar Hinge draws traditional sand pictures using a grid and continuous line. Picture by: Jane Mahoney

He plays music on the instruments on display, sings, explains everything with a patient, story-telling style and gets down to draw mesmerising designs in a sheet of sand – the way they would tell the children stories of their people long ago.

The cultural centre’s main focus is recording rituals and languages as indigenous cultures often retain knowledge through oral transmission, making it hard to teach to members of a community in any formal way.

“We record them in a special room because we are losing them,” Mr Hinge says.

The cultural centre aims to help researchers have a central place to learn about Vanuatu. It receives funding from the Vanuatu Government; Australia provided the funding to build the National Archives and Art Gallery located next door.

Traditional Vanuatu Sculpture. Picture by Jane Mahoney

Traditional Vanuatu Sculpture. Picture by Jane Mahoney

The museum has a rich collection of objects, from burial statues and dance masks; to carved weapons and boats; craft work including weaving, with a design for every island community; and a collection of shell money once worn as jewellery.

There are bits and pieces from the colonial days when Vanuatu was the New Hebrides, jointly ruled by Britain and France, including Khakhi police uniforms and a pith helmet.

One corner is a small piece of America, with souvenirs of the American occupation of the South Pacific during World War II.

The main drive remains to celebrate the deep traditions of the people of the 83 islands, with more than 80 local languages and customs.

They hope to keep what is strongest in the culture, like traditional ways of making peace, as an asset for the future, while in the meantime looking over the past is something to enjoy.

“Everybody is always loving it,” says Mr Hinge. “Everyone is coming here and being excited.”

The centre is constantly changing its exhibitions, but does keep permanent exhibitions including those on marriage, death, and ceremonial killing of pigs – a species with high economic value.

“We wish to educate our local people in Vanuatu because we should know more about our country,” says Mr Hinge.

“We should learn it first.” The Vanuatu Cultural Centre is open Monday to Saturday; closed on Sundays, church attendance being aqn important part of the national culture.