Becker has lived on a sailboat in the Western Pacific for more than
20 years. He is currently based in New Caledonia, just south of
Vanuatu. He specializes in cultural photography, working with museums
and other cultural institutions, primarily in Melanesia.
through Papua New Guinea for eight months in 1986, Becker saw how
rapidly traditional cultures were being changed by contact with
the outside world. With friends, he founded The Society for the
Recording of Vanishing Cultures, and has since devoted his life
to this work.
is important to record this precious heritage before it disappears.
I hope that whatever I can do will help future generations realize
the beauty,the richness, and the dignity of this way of life."
have my own special way of looking at Melanesia. It comes from making
friends here and living among them. I come neither as tourist nor
as anthropologist, but as a friend."
my first visit to Tanna I asked High Chief Kowia, What is
the basis of your culture? He answered, Peace and respect.
He spoke the truth. Living in harmony and dignity is a reality here.
Disputes arise, but are resolved in a way that satisfies both parties.
No one is punished or disgraced.
by the trade winds, I could have landed anywhere. By chance, I sailed
here and discovered an extraordinary world. Because its disappearing
before my eyes, I am recording what I can, before it is too late."
Place to Live,
a Land to Nurture
many people choose to build tall, square, European-type houses.
Theyre considered stylish and more comfortable but they
blow over easily during a cyclone!
Vanuatu architecture is dictated by the environment. A typical Tanna
house is very strong, built low to the ground with a triangular
front profile. Each part is made from a specific material that is
prepared in a certain way, perhaps even harvested at a very precise
yam garden is a metaphor for principles guiding daily life. Everything
in it can be explained in spiritual or symbolic terms.
is an art for the people of Tanna, and part of their religion. There
are rituals for planting and cultivation, and periods when land
must lie fallow. Some produce is used in ceremonial exchanges.
kava, taro, manioc, corn, fruits, and a variety of greens are grown.
Within a garden, each plant has complex spatial and temporal relationships
with every other.
to Son, Mother to Daughter
is a value children learn by example.
spend most of the day with their mothers; boys, with their fathers.
Working together and sharing with others are foundations of island
life. From their parents, children learn the values and skills they
will need as adults.
family and community assist parents in educating older children
in the ways of traditional society. Many children attend French,
English, or mission (Bislama-speaking) schools.
traditional "graded societies," men and women increase
in rank through ceremonial gift-exchanges, feasts, and pig-killings.
There are several forms of island currency, but true wealth is measured
in friends and family.
first time I saw one of these amazing trees, I could hardly believe
ita living house!
ago, men trained the aerial roots of a banyan tree to form a living
shelter. This is the community mens house. Each evening, men
gather here to talk about the days events and drink kava together
before retiring for the night.
Kasu asked me to photograph his people together at their nakamal.
Quickly, easily, and quietly, this is how they arranged themselves
for the group portrait.
word nakamal refers to the mens house but it can also
describe the community: all the men who meet there and their families.
the past, there were no villages on Tanna. Small family groups lived
near a piece of land they were cultivating. Families residing close
to each other belonged to the same nakamala basic social
structure in Vanuatu.