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House-Girls Remember

House-Girls Remember: Domestic Workers in Vanuatu

Margaret Rodman
Daniela Kraemer
Lissant Bolton
Jean Tarisesei
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    House-Girls Remember
    Book Description:

    Giving voice to the women who worked as maids—known as "house-girls" in the Pacific islands of Vanuatu—is the goal of this innovative work. The stories the women tell resonate with the experiences of domestic workers around the world; their histories contribute to theorizing intimacy and traveling culture; and their struggles with adverse working conditions help find solutions, which are outlined at the end of the book. In addition to contributions by the editors, workshop reports by eleven ni-Vanuatu women fieldworkers and ten others who spoke about their lives as house-girls are included. These reports detail ni-Vanuatu women’s experiences as domestic workers during the colonial period. One chapter presents an elderly French woman’s recollections of the Vietnamese orphan who grew up in her home and worked as a house-girl. Material from contemporary house-girls appears in a final chapter based on research conducted in Port Vila.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6287-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    ON A BRIGHT JULY DAY IN 2001, the unusual workshop on which this book is based convened in Vanuatu, a chain of eighty-three islands in the Southwest Pacific. The History of House-Girls Workshop was part of a collaborative anthropological research project that brought together Western and indigenous anthropologists, as well as indigenous women who had worked as “house-girls” in the colonial era, prior to 1980. The focus was on what house-girls remember of their unique cross-cultural experiences working for expatriate employers. Anthropological fieldworkers’ reports on their interviews with older women in their home islands provided many of the narratives in...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Tanna
    (pp. 27-36)
    Numalin Mahana and Mailie Michael

    MY NAME IS NUMALIN MAHANA, and I am a fieldworker from east Tanna. I will talk about the experiences I had with members of my family who were house-girls. This is a big topic, too big really, and I think a week-long workshop is far too short for the topic. That’s how it is with all the fieldworker workshop topics. It is like a house which has a treasure inside—you have to open the doors to see this treasure. I don’t know if the metaphor makes sense, but it is as if you have to open a door or...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Pango, Efate
    (pp. 37-45)
    Lena Kalmat, Eva Kaltapan and Edna Albert

    MY NAME IS LENA KALMAT, and I am a woman fieldworker from South Efate. I live in Pango Village, but I am not originally from there. I married a man from Pango and moved there, which is where I do my fieldwork.

    I think my research is slightly different. I want to explain that I did not begin this research right away last year. I only began to work on it this year when I announced the project to all the women one day when we were in the chief’snakamal. I told everyone that I wanted to talk to...

  7. CHAPTER 3 North Efate
    (pp. 46-58)
    Leisara Kalotiti, Lesaruru Tamearu, Netty Joseph, Sinlemas Kalo and Lonnette Tasale

    MY NAME IS LEISARA KALOTITI. I come from Mangaliliu village on Efate Island. I am a woman fieldworker for the Cultural Centre. I have collected information on two women who worked as house-girls: Toutiti Naviti and Leimala. But I also worked as a house-girl myself and so I’ll begin my report with my own story.

    I was born on May 17, 1956. I finished school in 1969 and I wasnt doing anything in particular. In 1970, Peter Taurokota (from Lelepa Island off North Efate) was transferred to Santo as the assistant education officer. He was married to Nellie (from Tongoa)...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Tongoa
    (pp. 59-68)
    Lewia Charlie and Lepakoa Dick

    MY NAME IS LEWIA CHARLIE, and I am from the island of Tongoa. I’m a woman fieldworker for the Cultural Centre.

    I’ve done a lot of research with many of the older women and aunties in my area. Some are still alive, but some are dead. All of us on the island of Tongoa know that there were many white men who came to Tongoa. I’m going to tell you about one of these white men. When he came to Tongoa he came and lived like a Tongoan man. He lived with one of my grandfathers and one of my...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Ambrym
    (pp. 69-75)
    Lucy Moses and Rachel

    MY NAME IS LUCY MOSES, and I am from North Ambrym. I am a fieldworker for the Cultural Centre. Last year we took our research questions home looking for some house-girls who worked before independence. I did my best to find some. I talked to lots of women, but they weren’t interested in supporting my research. In the end I only found two, three counting myself. One of them is Rachel. She is here with me today to contribute to the discussion.

    I also come from North Ambrym. I worked for George Mitchell at the Ranon plantation. He had many...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Malakula
    (pp. 76-89)
    Tanni Frazer, Estelle and Robin Ken

    MY NAME IS TANNI FRAZER. I come from Uripiv Island, Malakula, in central Vanuatu. I am a woman fieldworker at the Cultural Centre, and I have never worked as a house-girl. My “sisters,” yes, they have worked as house-girls, but me, I don’t want to be anyone’s house-girl. I think of it as slave work. In my opinion, I would hate working as a house-girl because I don’t want anyone to be my boss. I just want to be able to do what I like. I have experienced the work that house-girls do, even though I have not been a...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Ambae
    (pp. 90-93)
    Jean Tarisesei

    MY NAME IS JEAN TARISESEI, and I am a coordinator at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. I am from Ambae. I’m not really a house-girl, but I stayed at a place where there was a man who had lots of men working for him. There were also lots of house-girls, so I was able to see what was happening with them.

    My father worked for Master Stanley Breusch and his family. They had a lot of places in Vanuatu and had many house-girls working for them. The place where their house and store were is still there today at Longana area...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Pentecost
    (pp. 94-99)
    Siaban Denison and Françoise Molwai

    MY NAME IS SIABAN DENISON. I come from Vanrasini in East Pentecost. I am a woman fieldworker for the Cultural Centre. As part of my research I brought Françoise with me to the workshop. She used to work as a house-girl and will share her story with you.

    Our reports are quite short because in our area there were not many white people. We got a little information about some women and some men or boys who worked for masters.

    The woman I will talk about today is named Evelyn Grace. I wanted to bring her to the workshop, but...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Banks
    (pp. 100-107)
    Kate Ruth and Jocelyn Kibi

    MY NAME IS KATE RUTH and I am a woman fieldworker from the Banks Islands. I come from Veteboso village in Vanua Lava. At last year’s workshop we were given the topic of house-girls. I went back to my village and when I did my research I found women who worked as house-girls in town. I brought one of these women with me to participate in this workshop. Her name is Jocelyn Kibi. But before Jocelyn gives her report, I will tell you about the other women I spoke to.

    The first woman I spoke to was Pekitas Ramao, and...

  14. CHAPTER 10 A Vietnamese Orphan in a French Household
    (pp. 108-120)
    Jean Mitchell

    FROM 1996 TO 1999, I conducted doctoral research in Vanuatu focusing on issues facing young people living in urban areas, particularly Blacksands on the outskirts of Port Vila. I started the Young People’s Project at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre during this period. I received my PhD from York University in 2002 and am currently an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. This chapter is part of my larger research project on the history of Vietnamese in Vanuatu.

    Uwan is a Vietnamese girl who was orphaned in the 1930s...

  15. CHAPTER 11 House-Girls in 2001
    (pp. 121-142)
    Daniela Kraemer

    This chapter is composed of excerpts from interviews that Daniela Kraemer conducted in Port Vila and Pango Village in July and August 2001. All are translated from Bislama. This research followed the History of House-Girls Workshop and led to Daniela’s 2003 MA thesis, “In the House but not at Home: House-girls in Vanuatu,” where her methodology is described more fully. Here, she has organized edited excerpts from the interviews around themes of education, work, social relationships, and sexual abuse. Most of the interviews excerpted here are with house-girls, but comments from several officials and one employer are also included. Real...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-152)
    Daniela Kraemer and Margaret Rodman

    WRITING ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA, anthropologist Jacklyn Cock states that paid domestic workers are largely trapped: as black women they are trapped in a vulnerable and powerless situation, a situation within which they are subject to oppression and exploitation (1989, 4). Is this the case in Vanuatu today? To some extent, yes. House-girls are regularly underpaid, overworked, and harassed. While it could be assumed that the end of colonialism improved the circumstances for house-girls, quite the opposite has occurred. Indeed, the History of House-Girls Workshop and Daniela Kraemer’s research after the workshop suggest that house-girls feel worse off in today’s postcolonial...

  17. References
    (pp. 153-156)
  18. Index
    (pp. 157-162)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 163-166)