In 1979, Iarawoi Rezel Samana, a choir master from Onesua Presbyterian College on Efate Island, sat down with another 12 Ni-Vanuatu.
The task before them was to change the name of their country from ‘New Hebrides’ to something that represented the Ni-Vanuatu and to create a national flag, anthem and motto.
Now 40 years later, 78-year-old Samana, who is from the island of Futuna in the south of Vanuatu, is recalling that critical time.
He says it was a time when Indigenous New Hebrideans were struggling as they prepared for their country’s Independence in the following year of 1980.
They were casting off the colonial Governments of Britain and France.
He says the 13 Ni-Vanuatu led by Chairman Late Tele Taun from Erakor and Vice Chairman Pastor Vari from Santo came together as a sub-committee to take some important steps for their about-to-be-independent country.
“We came together at the former Parliament Building opposite the Port Vila Market building. We use chalk and a black board to write down our ideas,” he said.
Mr Samana remembers all of the 13 members of the sub-committee and an Englishman who participated. Barack Tame Sope from Ifira, Pastor Tom Tali from Tanna, Pastor Allan Nafuki from Erromango, choir master Iarawoi Rezel Samana from Futuna, the late Tele Taun from Erakor, the late Pastor Vari from Santo, the late Dr Titus Path from Santo, the late Johnson Seimo from Futuna, the late Chief Willie Bongmatur from Ambrym, the late Chief Graham Kalsakau from Ifira, the late Chief Tom Tipolomata from Tongoa, the late Chief Jean-Marie Leye Lenelgau from Aneityum and Charles Pierce from England.
“We started off trying to find the name, to change the name from New Hebrides,” he recalled.
“We all came up with names. But we were very careful in selecting these names. We tried to make sure that the name we put forward was unique. We didn’t want somebody else or another island to later claim that the name belonged to them.
“We looked at the name Vanua’aku because it means ‘my island’ in many of our mother tongues. But it was already being used by a political party, the Vanua’aku Party founded by Walter Lini, Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister.”
Mr Samana said the late Chief Tom Tipoloamata from Tongoa then came up with the name ‘Vanuatu’.
“We asked him what that name meant,” he said. “The late Chief Tipoloamata told us, ‘Vanuatu means an island that will stay, it will stay and stay forever’.”
Mr Samana said when the late Chief Tipoloamata came up with that name, they all believed it was a unique name that no other country or group of people could claim as theirs.
“So we all voted for it and because there was no competition, ‘Vanuatu’ was unanimously voted in as the name we should put forward,” he said.
The name as a first draft was put forward to the Constitutional Committee which was led at that time by the Government of National Unity which was headed by Father Gerard Leynang from Lamap in Malekula and Father Walter Hadye Lini from Pentecost. The committee was made up of many political parties, chiefs and churches.
On Independence Day in 1980, the name ‘New Hebrides’ was officially changed to ‘Vanuatu’.
Late Chief Tom Tipoloamata whose inspiration it had been to call the country ‘Vanuatu’, passed away in early 2020.
Mr Samana said his group then turned their minds to creating a national motto. He says there were 32 topics from the Bible put up on the board for the committee to use to create the motto for their new country.
“When I tried to come up with a motto for the nation, I felt we must find something that would have the same power as the name did,” he said.
“I found it very difficult, but I picked up words from all 32 Bible topics, and to create a motto, I summarised it as ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’ or ‘In God We Stand’.
“And ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’ just means – ‘God is everything to our nation’.”
He said ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’ was supported in a unanimous vote by all 13 members of the sub-committee.
The group put forward ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’ as a first draft to the Constitutional Committee and it was officially made Vanuatu’s national motto, sometime after Independence in 1980.
Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister, Father Walter Hayde Lini, explained what he believed the motto stood for in Vanuatu, a book published at the time of Independence by the Institute of Pacific Studies.
In the book, Father Lini stated, “In God is our history, in God is our victory and in God we shall have victory. Vanuatu stands in God, lives in God and moves in God. This is what we mean by ‘In God We Stand’ or ‘Long God Yumi Stanap’.”
Charles Pierce, the Englishman on the committee, now lives in Australia.
He recalls, “It was a consultative process and it was the whole committee that had to endorse the selections.”
“I remember being summoned to the meeting through a letter sent to the Principal of Malapoa College. I was the music teacher at Malapoa College and my particular role was with the national anthem.”