In 2018, I visited a distant place twice only to find out more about my own home. In between my two trips to Vanuatu, I realized that the four plane rides it takes to get to this South Pacific archipelago didn’t push me farther from the Philippines, but rather to arrive closer to it.
Vanuatu is regarded one of the world’s most intact primal cultures, a generation shy from cannibalism and other ways that maintain what life must have been like for our hunter-gathering ancestors.
From my window seat, the oceanic view below dotted by pristine islets may as well be carbon copied from Palawan’s sky view of its 1,700 islands. I can see across the cabin, this plane headed for Espiritu Santo island is filled primarily with Australians and New Zealanders and the occasional Ni-Vanuatu (the country’s indigenous inhabitants), two of whom are stewarding drinks and making sure our tourist majority stay calm as we pass above this beautiful nation of eighty-two islands.
My host on Espiritu Santo is a seventy-plus American visionary, whose East of Eden project is transpiring many hours drive inland. Getting to East of Eden was a cosmic safari unto itself. It was easy to imagine our seasoned pick-up was a dune buggy negotiating some serious moon craters. As we passed through the tribal villages, I noticed the same smiles always beamed at us, substantiating a big sign at the airport that claims Ni-Vanuatus are the happiest people on Earth.
After my first trip to Vanuatu, my travel companion Serena came upon a magazine article during her stay in Cebu that reported anthropological findings (from DNA studies) that Vanuatu’s first inhabitants originated from the northern part of the Philippine islands after making the long boat trip to Vanuatu three thousand years ago. The possibility was hilarious, as I had joked weeks earlier that I might be the first Filipino to visit this far-away place. I did further research to find out more.
Upon my return there, I had grown intensely curious about the Ni-Vanuatus and succeeded to spend time with some of them, on the thought experiment that maybe this was one way of speaking to my Filipino ancestors, as they might have been if left undisturbed.
It is not difficult to find out more about the country’s history. Ni-Vanuatus know the stories of their people from the same traditional storehouse. At one time, a cultural historian named Edgar visited a global group we had gathered in the mountain in December 2018. Edgar narrated the stories of the land through Sand Drawing, a very special ritual in which the myths he related to us are enacted by a stick dancing intently through particles of sand, symmetrically shaping his spoken words in a geometrical song, unlike anything we have seen or heard before.
The Ni-Vanuatus we met answered questions in the same way. However basic or complex the inquiry, everything about Vanuatu is explainable through their oral traditions. The people understood how the land arose from the waters, why the sun shines at day, why it rains and thunders, what happens to people after death. Everything happening in the present moment could be traced back to a point of origin, founded upon a tribal group’s creation story.
On the plane ride home, I felt satiated by my lengthy experiences in Vanuatu’s forests. Here was a world that opened itself up to what modernity had to offer, yet respected that local laws and logics must be based upon belief structures owed to causal relationships that bounds the members of complex social groups within their native sense of place and time. If our ancestors weren’t heaved beneath four-hundred years influence of the Spanish sagas and one hundred years underneath the yoke of American allegories, perhaps the Philippine mind had borne this same sense of rootedness.
History and Causation
Small children learning new concepts naturally do so through their own myth-making. The human mind functions through symbolic meanings referenced in language, and it is through stories, that memories, attention, emotions play out as they do.
Throughout Western civilization, history’s telling stretched further and further, the more empirical feedbacks it received from scientific evidence as to the age of human society, of our earth, and the universe it inhabits. Up until today, debates rage as to what seamless narrative marry the old and the new timeline that helps to shape an unbroken curriculum that could initiate children more fully into the world.
Up until the 1700s, the earth is purported to be between four to eight millenniums old until the geological sciences proposed that our planet’s history dates back to tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Through the centuries, our earth’s conjectural age stretched to the tens and hundreds of millions, resting now on being 4.543 billion years old (plus or minus fifty million years).
In the age of digital, the minds of many are yet to undergo a shift. Pre-history is a term used by anthropologists and social scientists to refer to all of history prior to the invention of writing. As we realized that the documentation of our ancient memories is legible beyond written documents, the term Deep History arose to further help us think through the much deeper memories of Earth Time. Schools are having to incorporate Deep History into the classroom, an evolutionary throw from centuries ago when dinosaur bones and fossils were questionable objects that took part in modern myth-making when they were first discovered.
Schooling systems that hope to establish authentic learning stages need to consider how Story shapes children’s belief structures. In the minds of students, stories signify meanings and values and in an age when abundant information regarding just about anything in the world is suddenly readily accessible, a much larger story will be re-weaved, bearing great influence for an audience curious of their Earth filled with mystery.