6 Int'l J. L. Context 1 (2010)

handle is hein.journals/injwcext6 and id is 1 raw text is: 

International Journal of Law in Context, 6,1 pp. 1-21 (2010) Cambridge University Press
doi: 10.r017/S744552309990279 Printed in the United Kingdom



Law, land, development and narrative: a

case-study from the South Pacific'


Sue Farran
Department  of Law, University of Dundee
E-mail: s.e.farran@dundee.ac.uk



    Abstract
    This article explores a primary source of legal studies, case-law, as aform ofnarrative in the context of
    indigenous land rights, and considers how this narrative negotiates pre-colonial land claims in a post-
    colonial context. Its case-study is the South Pacific island country of Vanuatu, a small-island, least-
    developed, nation-state, where laws introduced under Anglo-French colonial administration are still
    retained and sit uneasily alongside the customary forms of land tenure which govern ninety percent of
    all land in the islands. The article looks at the traditional and changing role of narrative presented as
    evidence by claimants and their witnesses against a context of rapid social and economic change, and
    asks whether the metamorphosis of narrative signals the future survival or imminent demise of
    customary indigenous land rights and what that might mean for these island people faced by the
    pressures of development.



Introduction

The  role of indigene as narrator or the central figure of narrative, while not commonplace, is not
unfamiliar in literature. If narrative is to be understood as the telling and interpretation of events, real
or imagined, for the benefit of others, then the proposal here is that narratives of land, especially those
narratives used to support claims to land, play a significant role in shaping and understanding the identity
of indigenous people and their relationship to land. The focus of this article is the Melanesian country of
Vanuatu, which  is located in the south-west Pacific. It is a country of around eighty islands and more than
one hundred  languages. The majority of its population of just over 200,000 are indigenous ni-Vanuatu.
    Melanesian people are people of place.! A person's identity is closely bound with where he or she is
from. Thus  in Vanuatu, while a person may  reside in the capital, Port Vila, they are 'of/from Tanna'
(manTanna/womanTanna) or one of   the other islands, and often more specifically a locality within that
island. Narratives relating to land are therefore narratives of being and belonging, as will be seen by the
importance  of identity of place. They are historically narratives of origin and survival, as is evidenced
by stories of descent and rationales for relocation. In the contemporary legal framework, narratives are
used as evidence to support land entitlement claims in an environment in which rapid land alienation
under leasehold is taking place, much of it to non-indigenous people, although narrative also reveals
the long history of such alienation. These narratives are bridges, negotiating the space between the


*   An earlier draft of this paper was presented at Birkbeck College in May 2009 at a conference entitled
    'Narratives of Indigeneity: Law, Literature and Sovereignty'. I am grateful to helpful comments from my
    colleague Professor Janet Maclean.
I   Islands mentioned in this article include those of Ambrym, Efate, Erromango, Malekula, Paama, Pentecost,
    Shepherds, Tanna and Tongoa.
2   It has been stated that 'Land means life to the nation's indigenous population or, in other words, No Land,
    No Life' (Vanuatu Report to the United Nations HRI Core documents, 1998, para. 19).

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