During a day-long visit to Vanuatu, The Prince of Wales was made a chief of its people and saw how the people had recovered after a cyclone in 2015. This was the fourth day of his visit Down Under, after he spent time in Bundaberg (at a rum distillery meeting old friends) and then to hear about conservation with the Irwin family on Lady Elliot Island.
Prince Charles began the day with the British and Australian High Commissioners to Vanuatu, as well as the Vanuatu Minister of Foreign Affairs, for his official welcome to the islands, which lies off the north-east coast of Australia.
The Prince was greeted with a traditional dance performance from the islanders.
It was then on to a meeting with the President of Vanuatu at State House, where Charles was presented with a salusalu (a ceremonial welcome garland) and greeted by traditional dancers from a local school. Inside the President’s Nakamal, there was an exchange of gifts, before His Royal Highness and the President held a brief discussion.
Outside, there was a guard of honour for the royal visitor, which Charles duly inspected. The guard was made up of members of the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF), a paramilitary wing of the Vanuatu Police Force.
Red ceremonial mats were featured throughout the ceremonial greeting, and indeed as the royal visitor travelled across the islands, as one of the most widely recognised and deeply respected aspects of Vanuatu’s traditions.
After all the greetings were over, The Prince of Wales visited Haos blong Handikraf 9new market house), a local market and handicraft production centre. It was established in 2017, as a way to sell local products, drive creativity and revive handicraft skills that are at risk of being forgotten; it also forms part of the Seafront Beautification Project.
An aspect of the market which will have pleased the future King is that plastic carrier bags are banned here, as well as the handmade and local aspects of the market’s products. Paintings, clothing and sculptures were on display for purchase.
Now without his wife for this leg of the visit, Prince Charles picked up a hat and a bag for Camilla at the market.”They make such wonderful gifts, don’t they,” he said, handing over the 6000 vatu.
Speaking to Jonathan Schwass, New Zealand High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Charles then discussed the damage caused to the islands by Cyclone Pam in 2015 and the subsequent recovery process, as the pair walked along the seafront. This path also included an exhibition that was created to celebrate women of Vanuatu.
HRH’s next stop was Port Vila Central Hospital, the islands’ main medical care centre, opened in 1975. Prince Charles toured the hospital to see restoration following damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam, which caused extensive damage in 2015. Recovery efforts funded by the Australian Government include refurbishment of the lab, theatre, mortuary, waste water treatment plant and electrical works of all original buildings. The 69-year-old said the changes were ‘fantastic’.
The Prince and met with recently graduated and current students of the Vanuatu College of Nursing Education, which is the islands’ only training college for nurses and midwives.
He then headed to an afternoon tea reception, hosted by a senior OBS/GYN consultant, and greeted by the Minister of Health.
The Prince of Wales then visited the Chiefs’ Nakamal (a traditional meeting place for chiefs), where he was given a chiefly title in a traditional ceremony. Charles was given the high chief name of ‘Mal Menaringmanu’.
Chief Sine Mao Tirsupe, President of the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, met the royal visitor and helped get the cermeony underway. Prince Charles had to drink Royal Kava, which is reserved for special occasions and was only last consumed during a visit by The Duke of Edinburgh in 1974! Kava is made from the root of a plant closely related to pepper; it is soaked in water to produce the drink.
In Vanuatu, Prince Philip is revered as a god. The people worship him, believing him to be the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit, who ventured across the world to look for a powerful woman to marry. One local from the village of Yaohnanen, Jimmy Joseph, handed over a present for the Duke.
“I gave [Charles] a walking stick for his father made by the hands of the Prince Philip Movement,” Mr Joseph said. “I told him a lot of people in the movement have now died but there are some still living. The Prince said he would deliver the message personally.”
The Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs is recognised by Vanuatu’s Constitution as a formal advisory body of chiefs. It plays a central role in advising the government on matters related to kastom (custom) and language. The Council consists of 31 kastom Chief members who are elected by their island or urban council of chiefs.
Following this, Charles unveiled a commemorative plaque and planted a namele fern to mark the occasion. He also addressed the gathered people, saying “Halo yufala euriwan”, meaning “hello everybody.”
“My visit, while far too brief,” the Prince said, “has nevertheless allowed me to experience for myself the warmth, generosity and spirit for which the people of Vanuatu are so justly famed.”
“I’m truly touched by the generous welcome shown to me today and by the very great honour you have bestowed on me in granting me the chiefly title,” he said.
The Prince of Wales will now fly on to Cairns before finishing his trip in Darwin.