In my previous post, I outlined a somewhat brief chronological description of how the Europeans came to find out about and then name our country as the New Hebrides. In this post, I will try to establish the idea of the “Doctrine of Discovery“. It is a form of “doctrine” established by the Catholic Church back in the 15th century.
In essence, the Catholic Church established Papal Bulls which gave Christian explorers the “right” to lay claim on lands they had “discovered”. Such a bull was a powerful document that enabled explorers (and countries) to go around the world “discovering” lands and laying claim on them. It was this “doctrine” that led to the colonization of lands by European super-powers in early civilizations.
Regardless of natives living on the “discovered” lands, as long as they were not Christians, their land was available for “discovery”. Their land could be claimed and exploited in ways that would benefit the “discoverer’s” national interest. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.
During the Age of Discovery (15th to 17th century), Europeans explored Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. It was an era which can be referred to as the bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Most of this change came from Europe and spread out into the world by colonization – all made possible through the Doctrine of Discovery.
When the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros first “discovered” the islands of Vanuatu back in 1606, it became recorded in European (and consequently the world) history books as being “discovered” by him. Others followed such as Captain James Cook, the trader Peter Dillon, and countless missionaries.
This is what is being taught in schools around Vanuatu and the region. Social Sciences and History lessons are filled with material from Europe that teaches our citizens about foreigners “discovering” our lands. Lands that people had already been living on. Our people, who came through from South-East Asia, by canoes and other sea transport. These are the actual people who discovered our islands and inhabited them long before these Europeans came along.
Now let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Doctrine of Discovery did not exist, would the discovery of these lands still be attributed to the European explorers? How would our history have been written had the doctrine not been effected? Or, if we were to annul the fact that New Hebrides was a colonial condominium of the French and British, would the discovery of our islands be attributed to our ancestors in the history books?
These are questions that are worthy of our attention – especially our country’s historians. When we understand from whence we came and how we got here, only when we grasp that we were here first, then we can begin to understand how ownership of our land is vital to development and growth for a better Vanuatu. What shall we do?