The Traditional Melanesian Economy Resilient in Global Economic Crisis

By Regenvanu, Ralph | Pacific Ecologist, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Traditional Melanesian Economy Resilient in Global Economic Crisis


Regenvanu, Ralph, Pacific Ecologist


Vanuatu suffered Little from the global economic crisis, as eighty percent of people live in rural areas where the cashless, traditional economy provides people with land to grow their food and the resources for the basic essentials of life. Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and some other Pacific Islands enjoy the same characteristics. RALPH REGENVANU, Member of Parliament of Vanuatu, appeals for recognition of the great strengths and resilience of the traditional Melanesian economy and for government strategies to strengthen and enhance it in development plans. Education priorities should reflect the central role the traditional economy plays in providing livelihoods, security and sustainable development for the people.

Preliminary results of Oxfam Australia's survey on the social impact of the global economic crisis on Vanuatu families found it to be negligible. Families reported the biggest impacts came from the global food crisis of late 2007 and 2008, which particularly affected urban families more reliant on imported rice and flour for daily sustenance, and also rising transport costs of the global fuel crisis of 2008. Generally, the current 'global economic crisis' has had little impact in Vanuatu compared to the massive social impacts on more industrialised countries.

A main reason for this is the very low level of integration of the great majority of our population into the cash economy. Vanuatu's classification as a 'Least Developed Country' (or LDC) by the United Nations is based on the fact the great majority of the population use only a very small amount of cash in their lives, and have correspondingly negligible debt. This characteristic we share with our two immediate neighbours, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. These three countries are among the last places in the world where the 'subsistence economy' which I prefer to call the 'traditional economy' still outweighs the cash economy in providing livelihoods for the population. The traditional economy is the source of resilience for our populations, and it has allowed them to weather the vagaries of the global economy over past decades. My comments, below, on Vanuatu can be applied to both Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and to a lesser extent some other Pacific Island countries.

What is the 'traditional economy'?

At the most basic level, the 'economy' refers to how a society organises itself to sustain its members, how it manages and shares its resources, how it feeds, clothes and accommodates them, and how it instils in its members the values required to keep society going. The traditional economy refers to the way our indigenous Pacific societies are organised to look after the concerns and resources of their members, in contrast to the way the 'capitalist' or 'cash' economy organises itself to look after the concerns and resources of its members.

The traditional economy in Vanuatu today is by far the most important and predominant economy in the country. Far more people participate in the traditional economy, and to a significantly greater extent, than they do in the cash economy. In Vanuatu today, the great majority of people, roughly 80%, live in rural areas. Almost all of this 80% of the population:

* Live in settlements or villages with other members of their traditional extended families on their land under the rules of custom;

* satisfy most of their food and other requirements using traditional methods of resource utilization of land and sea, for example, gardening practices on their customary land and sea areas;

* speak their indigenous language;

* are governed by traditional leaders of chiefs and chiefs councils;

* have their disputes resolved within communities by traditional leaders using traditional restorative dispute resolution approaches; and have participated in traditional lifecycle ceremonies which cement their place as members of their community. …

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The Traditional Melanesian Economy Resilient in Global Economic Crisis
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