Field notes from Efate Vanuatu

Ethnographic study notes

cyclone damage Port Vila

I am currently staying in Port Vila, on Efate island, Vanuatu. Port Vila is the capital port of Vanuatu. As part of my case study I have been surveying some of the local students studying on the TVET campus about  their use of technology for study and leisure.

I have decided to adopt an ethnographic approach as part of my qualitative research for this case study so that I can understand and describe the culture and how technology is part of their lives. This kind of inquiry will lead me beyond simply investigating the impact of technology in this part of Vanuatu, it will also contribute to my development as an insightful, and introspective cultural explorer.

Ethnography has been situated within cultural anthropology, early fieldwork scholars included Margaret Mead, Bronislaw Malinoski, and Clifford Geertz. Adopting ethnography as a qualitative research method helps to describe and to understand a way of life from the local people’s point of view. As Malinowski put it, is

The goal is briefly, to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world.” (Malinoski, 1922,p.25, 

According to James Spradley,

Ethnography offers us the chance to step outside of our narrow cultural backgrounds, to set aside our socially inherited ethnocentrism, if only for a brief period, and to apprehend the world from the viewpoint of other human beings who live by different meaning systems” (preface, 1979).

Field Note Saturday 05/09/2015

At the local restaurant at Port Villa Du Village I spoke with two waitresses . One who had completed the Cert III in hospitality. (W) had to move away from her family and young son to get work on a PO Cruise ship. She had found this very hard but was also grateful for the experience that she had gained. She is keen to study the Certificate IV in Tourism to further her education and move into management.

The other waitress (S) is completing the Certificate III in hospitality. She was excited to find out that my husband is a teaching the Certificate IV in TAE at the APTC college.

Field Note Sunday 06/09/2015

Walking around Port Vila I took photos of the reminders of the damage that Cyclone Pam had done. The damage is both physical damage to property in Port Vila as well as damage to the economy with the two major resorts closed (Iririki and Holiday Inn).

large tree root cyclone damage

H.A. Steele, 2015

Iririki is currently closed while repairs are underway for reopening. The resort was a major source of employment for many of the people. It is rumoured that the Holiday Inn will not reopen.

Iririki resort Port Vila

H.A. Steele, 2015

Taxi services

There are huge numbers of official (marked) and unofficial taxis which trawl the streets and toot at you. Apparently the taxi drivers are very well off. There doesn’t seem to be the same competition between the ‘Uber’ style taxis and the taxi companies here as we are having in Australia.

Field Note Monday 07/09/2015

1. Meeting with TVET Team Leader
TVET building Port Vila

H.A. Steele, 2015

I met with the Team Leader (F) in Port Vila. During our conversation he told me about the main goals of TVET training. TVET meets with the community to meet their training needs and link them with providers. Training is driven by economic outcomes such as better employment, growth of new businesses, increased income. TVET also follows up training my linking students with local industry to mentor and coach them. They are given action plans and the clients use these to develop and improve their business.

F mentioned that they also target women and those with a disability. He said that they have found that women are very good business managers.

I asked F how I could get some local history. He suggested the Cultural Centre and local library.

F is happy to distribute my survey to his team.

I thanked him for is time.

2. Conversation with waiter

In the evening I spoke with a waiter who told us that he was trained years ago at the college at Warwick, Vanuatu. He has over ten years experience in his job, but no current formal qualifications. He said he has his job at the Grand Hotel because of his extensive experience.

3. Conversation with N

N talked about the changes that are taking place on Vanuatu including training the locals for business. He said that they had not yet understood how to leverage tourism opportunities. For example, when the big Cruise ships come in the clothes and souvenirs are all mostly imported from China.

cruise ship port vila vanuatu

H.A. Steele, 2015

He also mentioned a woman from America who had worked with the local women to help them understand how to use ‘re-imagine’ how to sell their produce. For example, not letting the unsold tomatoes go rotten but to make the overripe tomatoes into chutney.

He also recalled how the local hospitality teacher had never eaten at any of the local restaurants and he was going to take her on a field trip.

N also mentioned that Digicel is a dominant player in the provision of internet and cheap mobile phones.  I had noticed that most of the younger locals have mobile phones.

digical booth

H.A. Steele, 2015

Field Note Tuesday 08/09/2015

Early mornings

Every morning I watch as the boats transfer people between the islands. Men going to work, children going to school, women grocery shopping.

boats Port Vila

H.A. Steele, 2015

My husband and I are up walking early in the morning before the main street gets busy. It is almost impossible to cross the road once the business day begins as there are no traffic lights. Walking up the hill we heard some beautiful singing of the hymn Those that wait upon the Lord. The harmonies were amazing. They were singing in Bislama. My husband and I joined in from the footpath with the English words. Later we were told it was the local prisoners doing their morning devotions.

Here are some of the words.

They that wait upon the Lord

Shall renew their strength

They shall mount up with wings as eagles

They shall run and not be weary

They shall walk and not faint

Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.

Field Notes Wednesday 09/09/2015

In Port Vila they have 24 hour markets where the local people sell their fruit, vegetables and flowers. I bought some beautiful flowers for 200vt ($2.00 AUD).  Fresh, local raspberries for 150vt ($1.50 AUD).The prices are so cheap compared with our local prices.The stalls have all the family in attendance young mothers, grandmothers, children, and men. In the local grocery store Au Bon Marche all the fruit and vegetables are imported. The quality of the produce at the markets far surpasses the imported fruit and vegetables.

markets Port vila

H.A. Steele, 2015

flowers at market Port vila

H.A. Steele, 2015

purple lilies Port Villa

H.A. Steele, 2015


Malinoski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific an Account of Native Enterprise, and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Retrieved

Spradley, J.P. (1979).The Ethnographic Interview. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Skip to toolbar