Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is the first site to be inscribed in Vanuatu. It consists of three early 17th century AD sites on the islands of Efate, Lelepa and Artok associated with the life and death of the last paramount chief, or Roi Mata, of what is now Central Vanuatu. The property includes Roi Mata’s residence, the site of his death and Roi Mata’s mass burial site. It is closely associated with the oral traditions surrounding the chief and the moral values he espoused. The site reflects the convergence between oral tradition and archaeology and bears witness to the persistence of Roi Mata’s social reforms and conflict resolution, still relevant to the people of the region.
© Vanuatu National Cultural Council
Outstanding Universal Value
The continuing cultural landscape of Chief Roi Mata’s domain, Vanuatu, has Outstanding Universal Value as an outstanding example of a landscape representative of Pacific chiefly systems. This is reflected in the interaction of people with their environment over time in respecting the tangible remains associated with Roi Mata and being guided by the spiritual and moral legacy of his social reforms. The landscape reflects continuing Pacific chiefly systems and respect for this authority through tabu prohibitions on use of Roi Mata’s residence and burial that have been observed for over 400 years and structured the local landscape and social practices. The landscape memorialises the deeds of Roi Mata who still lives for many people in contemporary Vanuatu as a source of power and inspiration.
Criterion (iii): Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is a continuing cultural landscape reflecting the way chiefs derive their authority from previous title holders, and in particular how the tabu prohibitions on the use of Roi Mata’s residence and burial site have been observed for 400 years and continue to structure the local landscape and social practices.
Criterion (v): Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is an outstanding example of a landscape representative of Pacific chiefly systems and the connection between Pacific people and their environment over time reflected in respect for the tangible remains of the three key sites associated with Roi Mata, guided by the spiritual and moral legacy of his social reforms.
Criterion (vi): Chief Roi Mata’s Domain still lives for many people in contemporary Vanuatu, as a source of power evident through the landscape and as an inspiration for people negotiating their lives.
The authenticity of Chief Roi Mata’s Domain lies in the continuing association of the landscape with the oral traditions of Roi Mata, continuity of chiefly systems of authority and customary respect for the tangible remains of his life evident in the continuing tabu prohibitions on these places.
he legal protection of the nominated areas and their buffer zones are adequate. The overall management system for the property is adequate, involving both traditional management through the chiefly system and tabu prohibitions and government legislation for protection of the site. The management system involves the local community and government administrative bodies. The integrity of the site is thus maintained.
The earliest settlement so far documented is on Efate Island where pottery can be dated to around 3100 BP. It is presumed that similar communities were also present across what became Roi Mata's domain, although the earliest date is 2900 BP.
The end of pottery production around 1500 BP seems to have preceded the introduction between 1200 - 1000 BP from outside the area of a chiefly title system, related to similar systems in western Polynesia.
Life in Vanuatu experienced a catastrophic disruption in 1452 AD with the eruption of the Kuwae volcano in the Shepherd Islands to the north.
In about 1600 AD a long period of persistent warfare known as the Great Efate War appears to have come to an end, with the resolution of conflict being attributed to Roi Mata. One result was the exodus of chiefs from Efate to the Shepherd Islands, some suggesting that Roi Mata instigated a kind of social revolution.
After Roi Mata's death and burial on Artok Island, the settlement of Mangaas was abandoned and never resettled. It is suggested that after his death, conflict could have resumed which proved fatal for his community who dispersed or moved elsewhere. At the end of the 19th century, descendents of the lesser chiefs were living on Lelepa Island.
European contact begun around 1840 and twenty years later there were numerous European settlements including missionaries. From the 1870s Fels Cave had become a tourist attraction with regular visits from British naval vessels.
By 1898 most people had been converted to Christianity. Epidemics subsequently decimated the population of Efate and surrounding islands forcing survivors into a few larger settlements, with European settlers acquiring the vacated land, which they held until independence in 1980. Since independence, 55% of the land on Efate has now been leased to foreign investors.
From 1957 research has been conducted into oral traditions of the area and into the archaeology of Mangaas, Fels Cave and the Artok burial site. In 2005 a brief reconnaissance survey of Artok island was undertaken.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation