Vanuatu’s government has vowed to rebuild the paramount meeting place of the country’s chiefs – destroyed in a suspicious fire a week ago – before the Pacific island nation hosts a Melanesian arts festival in July.
The structure, known as Malvatumauri Nakamal, located in the capital Port Vila, caught fire about 1 a.m. on Jan. 30, according to information from police, firefighters and residents. It was one of the most significant cultural buildings in the volcanically active archipelago where custom and tradition can be more powerful than civil law.
“This house is a symbol of custom governance,” Chief Willie Grey Plasua, president of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, told a press conference the day after the fire.
“I call on all the chiefs and leaders of this nation to plan how we can rebuild this old wise man that has fallen, so that he will continue to uphold peace and respect in our community,” he said.
Vanuatu’s Minister of Justice John Steele Tariqwetu said Malvatumauri Nakamal would be rebuilt before July, when the country hosts a two-week Melanesian Arts Festival that will culminate in Vanuatu’s celebrations for its 43rd anniversary of independence from the U.K. and France’s joint rule.
The reconstruction budget will be determined in early March when the Council of Ministers meets to discuss the government's annual budget, he said.
Vanuatu Police Commissioner, Robson Iavro, told reporters that two forensics experts from the Australian Federal Police are helping Vanuatu with the investigation into the fire, and arson is suspected.
Some Port Vila residents said they heard a boom before the fire at the Malvatumauri Nakamal, which was made from local woods and Natangura palms.
“We were unable to stop it from spreading, the fire spread so rapidly,” a firefighter, who didn’t want to be named, told BenarNews.