The word vanua – meaning "land," "home," or "village" – occurs in several Austronesian languages, and derives from the Proto-Austronesian banua. The word has particular significance in several countries.
In Fijian and in Fiji English, vanua is an essential concept of indigenous Fijian culture and society. It is generally translated in English as "land", but vanua as a concept encompasses a number of inter-related meanings. When speaking in English, Fijians may use the word vanua rather than an imprecise English equivalent. According to Fijian academic Asesela Ravuvu, a correct translation would be "land, people and custom". Vanua means "the land area one is identified with", but also
- "the people, their traditions and customs, beliefs and values, and the various other institutions established for the sake of achieving harmony, solidarity and prosperity within a particular social context. [...] It provides a sense of identity and belonging. [...] The vanua [...] is an extension of the concept of the self."
An indigenous Fijian person is thus defined through his or her land; the concepts of personhood and land ownership are viewed as inseparable. This is also the case for other indigenous peoples of Oceania, such as Australian Aboriginals (see: Dreaming) and New Zealand Māori (see: iwi).
A vanua is also a confederation of several yavusa ("clans" established through descent from a common ancestor). A vanua in this sense is associated with its ownership of an area of vanua in the sense of "land"; the various meanings of vanua are, here too, interrelated.
In the Malay language (both Malaysian Malay and Indonesian language), benua means landmass or continent. The word for 'land" in these languages and nearby Austronesian languages are tanah or tana. For example in Tana Toraja, Tana Tidung or Tano Niha.
In the Banjar language, banua means "village" or "homeland".
In the Kapampangan language, banwa or banua means "sky" or "year".
- Thomas Anton Reuter, Custodians of the Sacred Mountains: Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali, University of Hawaii Press, 2002, p. 29
- Thomas Anton Reuter, Sharing the Earth, Dividing the Land: Land and Territory in the Austronesian World, ANU E Press, 2006, p. 326.
- Asesela Ravuvu, 1983, quoted in: Stephanie Sienkiewicz, "Ethnic relations in Fiji: Peaceful coexistence and the recent shift in the ethnic balance", Union College Department of Anthropology, June 2000
- Sienkiewicz, ibid
- Fiji Native Land Trust Board glossary
- Fonua in Tongan Cosmology, Chapter 15. People and Place in Tonga: The Social Construction of Fonua in Oceania, http://epress.anu.edu.au/austronesians/sharing/mobile_devices/ch15s02.html
- Sabine C. Hess, Person and Place: Ideas, Ideals and the Practice of Sociality on Vanua Lava, Vanuatu, Berghahn Books, 2009, p. 115.