Tourism bisnis and “making ples”: An ethnography of ni-Vanuatu bungalow and tour owners on Malekula
Since tourism has become a leading contributor to growth in Vanuatu, local entrepreneurs on outer islands have been starting their own small bisnis (business) to take greater part in the industry and the cash economy. This has involved new and challenging negotiations with ples – a Bislama word that refers to land, history, and kastom (traditional values and practices) so integrally entangled with personal and group identity for indigenous ni-Vanuatu. This thesis documents the lived and told experiences of a number of ni-Vanuatu tourismentrepreneurs living on Malekula Island. These accounts are based on seven weeks of ethnographic fieldwork when I stayed at seven bungalows and conducted participant observation and storian (semi-structured interviews) with the owners and other members of the surrounding community. I argue that when building and running a tourismbisnis, ni-Vanuatu engage in a process of ‘making ples’ with a unique purpose of attracting tourists, one which involves a continuous dialogue with their environment, history and community, and ultimately results in a “politics of value” during the tourist encounter. Using participant stories, the ethnographic account explores owners’ motivations to start a bisnis and the building process, the ples-based challenges they face, and how different kinds of value are mediated between tourists and locals when they meet. This thesis reveals that understandings of tourism and its values are interwoven with understandings of, and relationships with, ples.