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Accepted Paper:

Sweetness, Bitterness, and Transforming Land-Labour-Plant Relations: horticultural legacies, and hopes surrounding Indigenous futures in Vanuatu  
Rachel Smith (Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

I contrast three land-people-plant nexes in which Ni-Vanuatu have been engaged. First the 19th century labour trade to overseas plantations. Second, 21st century seasonal migration to New Zealand and Australia. Third, hopes surrounding homegrown kava, an ‘indigenous’ and symbolically potent crop.

Paper long abstract:

This paper contrasts three horticultural regimes in which the people of Vanuatu, in the southwest Pacific have engaged, and the transforming people-plant-land relations on which they are based. Firstly, the often brutal regional plantation regimes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the sugarcane plantations of Queensland and Fiji. Second, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork in a rural Vanuatu community with a high degree of engagement in New Zealand’s and Australia’s Pacific seasonal horticultural worker programmes, to discuss Ni-Vanuatu hopes for development, but also experiences of often exploitative and exclusionary racialised labour regimes that sometimes evoke echoes of colonial plantation regimes. Thirdly, drawing on recent fieldwork, I discuss hopes and anxieties surrounding homegrown kava, an ‘indigenous’ crop, imbued with aspects of personhood and ritual and spiritual significance. In 2019, kava became Vanuatu’s biggest export commodity, inspiring hopes of alternative developments and economic self-reliance (Smith 2021) founded on customary land, and traditional knowledge. However, anxieties remain including kava’s ‘scalability’, saleability, and sustainability.

Panel P148a
Transformed landscapes, uprooted commons, cultivated hopes: plantation legacies and future possibles in contemporary food systems
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -