Collecting Change in Vanuatu: Oral Traditions and Cultural Change
The nations of the Pacific region are faced with a substantial challenge in preserving and promoting their cultural heritage. Vanuatu, for example, is a nation of approximately 145,000 people who speak 113 different languages, none of which were written until the European incursion after 1840. The Vanuatu Cultural Centre has developed a unique program to address this problem – the fieldworker program. Volunteer extension workers, based in their own villages and districts, work to document and revive local customary knowledge and practice. Operating now for nearly thirty years, the program has resulted in the production of thousands of hours of audio recordings of various kinds, kept in the National Audio Archives. This documentation process both demonstrates and raises many issues about the nature of oral traditions, and in particular, the way in which they constantly transform to meet new circumstances. This paper will describe some aspects of the fieldworker program and will consider the complex issue of change and transformation in oral traditions.