The stories of how technology would be used to preserve Kastom seems to be headed to another direction. The initial plans in that regard involved the use of technology, not only to preserve our cultural and kastom practices, but more importantly to involve the population in actively practicing it. Well, that has not been the case.

Why so?

While the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta might be employing technology of some sort to archive and record Vanuatu’s history, their efforts are more to do with the preservation of published works and artifacts. They do not have the wherewithal to use technology that can boost cultural identity for every citizen who is unsure of their origins.

If anything, people are using technology for one purpose only – to communicate. Most of the time such communication doesn’t involve preserving cultural values or upholding kastom practices. Quite the opposite! As an example, we have witnessed an increase in births at the Vila Central Hospital and elsewhere. One huge contributing factor to this boom has been the easier access to communication and hence easier “hook ups”.

For those of us who work with, and for technology-oriented industries, one of our biggest concern is to make sure that there is access to technology. We have seen the advantages of it keeping people in touch. Telecom Vanuatu Limited understands this very well, that is why they have the slogan: “Storian hemi laef blong yumi”, with pictures of locals smiling with mobile phones glued to their ears.

Whilst it is true that “communication is our life”, what life exactly are we referring to? Is it life in this post-modern culture? Or is it an attempt to bring back the kastom of our forefathers – somehow? How do we identify the line that separates post-modernism from kastom preservation? Whom exactly are we communicating with, and what are we communicating about?

Advances in communications technology has brought with it so much perceived benefits at the cost of kastom values. For instance, a child of fifteen years of age who is still living with her parents is suddenly faced with the prospect of motherhood because some guy sweet-talked her into the bushes via a mobile phone. That, of course, is not a problem for the technology advocates, but rather an issue of societal norms – which leads back to my previous question. How do we identify the line that separates post-modernism from kastom preservation?

I ask this – would that 15 year old daughter still be innocent if she didn’t have a mobile phone in the first place? It begs for a debate, but if there is evidence that the device was exploited to that end, then of course it should take some of the blame. Not because it caused any problem, but rather because it became a medium through which a societal norm was violated.

All gun owners know that they have to treat a gun like it is loaded at all times. How can the Telecom companies and technocrats educate the Vanuatu population to treat their mobile phones in a similar fashion? That mobile phones – although a means to an end – are to be used with the utmost care.

Destroy_Splatter_1I am sure if there was a technocracy in Vanuatu which could take the gunnery adage and use it as their mission to educate the population on the proper use of technology, we could see some changes. But then again, where does one start? Through technology, Vanuatu’s citizenry has become more aware of its rights – consequently promoting the right to freedom of expression – oftentimes neglecting the associated duties.

Living with technology is akin to moving to a new culture and learning a completely new way of life. It demands that we shun a lot of our preferred norms – norms that have shaped this country’s identity for centuries. Some might want to argue that this is not the case, but such people are the ones who have tasted life as it was before technology brought radical changes to this nation.

For this new generation of technology-oriented kindred, kastom has little place in their lives. They have moved into another societal norm whereby, if you do not have one of these devices, you are nobody – a far cry from the chiefly system whereby your value in society lies in how many pigs, cows or yam gardens you own.

As sad as it sounds, technology IS killing kastom. And unless we can figure out a way in which the two can work together in harmony, life in Vanuatu as some of us have known it, will slowly and gradually pale into insignificance.