Vanuatu’s Santo Island to be replaced by “Venia” in restoration of original Island names

Photo: Espiritu Santo Real Estate

The Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs and the Tavuemasana Council of Chiefs of Santo are urging the people of Vanuatu to replace the name “Santo Island” with its original name, “Venia.”

This revival of the original name is in line with the 11th resolution of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, which emphasises the restoration of pre-European exploration names for all islands in Vanuatu.

The event took place in Vunavei village, North Santo, Big Bay, where a traditional by-law book and the chiefs’ flag representing the nine area councils in Venia Island were also launched. The flag symbolises the recognition of the longstanding existence and future of the chiefs and their customs governance.

The governance of chiefs and custom authority is a significant issue addressed in the 19 resolutions of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, adopted in 2011 following a national summit in 2006. The aim is to establish appropriate custom authority positions, such as head chiefs, police chiefs, and custom authorities, according to the resolutions.

To address these governance matters and reaffirm custom governance’s identity, the President of Malvatumauri launched the governance initiative from 2016 to 2019, leading to the restoration of what was previously diminished throughout the islands of Vanuatu.

One of the resolutions, as explained by Jean Pierre Tom, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, is for each island in Vanuatu to reclaim its original custom name, as these names are linked to their respective custom authorities.

“It is important to dispel the misconception that islands like Tanna or Ambrym were the origins of Vanuatu’s history, as our ancestors inhabited these islands long before explorers arrived,” the CEO of Malvatumauri said.

“According to the chiefs, continuing to use names given by explorers would undermine our history and lead future generations to believe that our history only began with the arrival of these explorers. By restoring the original names of our islands, we are encouraged to think beyond our history and embrace a deeper understanding of our heritage.

“We have had several forums here in Vanuatu, and the chiefs feel strongly that the ancient names of the islands should be reinstated. Ambae Island, formerly known as Aoba, was named by Captain James Cook as “Aoba,” meaning Island of the black bird, in honour of the Ambae black bird. However, the chiefs of Ambae have decided to restore its original name, Ambae, reclaiming its historical significance.” These initiatives will be acknowledged and supported by Vanuatu’s formal Government, which will act accordingly for the benefit of the country as a sovereign and free nation.

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