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Vanuatu Cultural Center

Island Culture Archival Support


With the unfortunate and untimely passing of the Archivist in December 2006, the National Archives of Vanuatu in Port Vila fell on hard times. For over two years the collections were left unmanaged, unsupported and even inaccessible for users. The flora surrounding the archives was left unkempt and began encroaching closer to the building, allowing pests an easier access to the inside. The vegetation also presented a fire hazard. The building itself has become neglected and dilapidated.

The Rescue

It was the foresight, courage and determination of the librarians, Anne Naupa and June Norman of the National Library of Vanuatu at the Cultural Center, that led them to retrieve the archives and bring the collections back to the Cultural Center. To do this, the librarians needed the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Once this was accomplished, it became a matter of finding ways of getting the materials to safety. It was Dr. Howard van Trease who offered to transfer the archives to the Cultural Center. After gathering a group of volunteers and renting a truck, the Archives were transported to the Cultural Center and came under the watchful eyes of the National Library by early December 2008. William (Rudy) Rudin, an American World War II veteran, generously donated a container where a large portion of the materials are now being safely stored, awaiting sorting and organization for cataloguing.

Current Situation

There is no archival building at the Cultural Center to house the newly acquired material. The archives are either being housed in the container, or deposited in various piles scattered throughout the center. The records are in no order, and no database or list of any kind exists. A new, qualified National Archivist has not been appointed, since the National Librarian is expected to "double" as the National Archivist, and resources are at a minimum. The container is only a temporary solution until a better one is created, but until then, it can be said that the records remain secure, dry and pest-free.

ICAS Involvement

Since most of the records are not in any order, and no list or database currently exists, the daunting task of sorting is a priority. Before Independence in July 1980, Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides and jointly administered by England and France. Before any kind of appraising and processing of the records can be executed, it has been deemed necessary to sort these disordered records into two groups: those that are pre-Independence ( i.e. the period up to and including the Anglo-French Condominium era) and those post-July 1980 that relate to the Republic of Vanuatu. ICAS was able to sort approximately fifty boxes. During this sorting, library material was identified and pulled to add to the library collection. Basic conservation treatments that included such tasks as the removal of rusty fasteners, insects, and dirt were also performed.

Morale was certainly boosted, as finding trusted volunteers with archival experience can be quite difficult in Vanuatu. With ICAS being there and making a big deal over the records, it also showed higher and influential members of the Cultural Center and Government that the Archives are the memory of the nation; they are important and deserve immediate attention and care. With newly found confidence and encouragement, ICAS, together with Anne Naupa and June Norman, created a document that included a Mission Statement, Goals and Objectives, and a 2009 Action Plan for the new Archives. These documents have already been presented to the Minister of Internal Affairs, as well as to the Director of the Cultural Center.

The Future

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has approved a new National Library and Archives building to be built within the Vanuatu Cultural Center Complex. This is exciting news as ICAS will be involved with the creation of a new National Archives of Vanuatu. A ni-Vanuatu National Archivist will be sought for, as well as an Archivist Assistant. The initial sorting project will continue throughout the rest of 2009; the next phase of sorting will include appraising, accessioning, and processing of the records. A Collection Policy will be created to aid in these decisions. Once these are underway, a descriptive database will be implemented and maintained. First and foremost, the overall goal is to get the collections ready for shelving in the new building.

Future ICAS Help

With limited resources available for the National Archives of Vanuatu, ICAS is in a privileged position to help as much as possible. We will continue to be involved with the different stages of sorting, and another trip to the Cultural Center will take place in 2010. Until then, we can help monetarily by donating funds to purchase archival record center boxes and other supplies that are desperately needed for the sorting projects. ICAS can also help by submitting recommended building specifications and archival information to aid in the development of the new archives. And, naturally, ICAS will be involved with the processing of the records, and will be a strong advocate for the protection of Vanuatu's cultural heritage.