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The word banua or vanua – meaning "land," "home," or "village" – occurs in several Austronesian languages. It derives from the Proto-Austronesian reconstructed form *banua.[1][2][3] The word has particular significance in several countries.

In Western Malayo-Polynesian languages[edit]



In the Kapampangan language, banwa or banua means "sky" or "year".


In the Hiligaynon Visayan language, banwa means "people", "nation" or "country."


In the Tagalog/Filipino language, a similar word bansa also means "country", "nation" or "country."

Malaysia and Indonesia[edit]


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 — e.g., in Tana Toraja, Tana Tidung or Tanö Niha – are tanah or tana.[4]


In the Banjar language, banua means "village" or "homeland".


In the Buginese language, banua means "village", "country", "land" or "homeland".


In the Toraja language, banua means "home".


In all Minahasan languages, wanua means "village", "country", or "land". The word Kawanua means land of the Minahasan people.


In Iban (used by the Dayak people), menua means "place", "country", "land" or "homeland". In many other Dayak languages, the word has the form binua.

In Melanesia[edit]

In Oceanic languages of Melanesia, the root *banua has sometimes become vanua.

In Vanuatu[edit]

In Vanuatu, vanua also means "land", "island" or "home."[5] The name of the Vanua'aku Pati literally means "The party of My Land". Hence also the name of Vanuatu itself, and the place name Vanua Lava (literally ‘big island’ in Mota language).

In Fiji[edit]

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."[6]

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.[7][8]

The word vanua is found in the place names Vanua Levu and Vanua Balavu.

Indigenous land ownership is a key issue in conservative and indigenous nationalistic Fijian politics. Several right-wing, essentially indigenous parties refer to vanua in their names:

Polynesian languages[edit]


In Māori language, whenua means homeland or country. The Māori people call themselves Tāngata whenua, or people of the land.


In Tongan, fonua[9] means land or country.

Other Polynesian languages

Elsewhere, the form of the word is generally fenua.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Entry *banuaRobert Blust. 2010. Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD). Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
  2. ^ Thomas Anton Reuter, Custodians of the Sacred Mountains: Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali, University of Hawaii Press, 2002, p.29
  3. ^ Thomas Anton Reuter, Sharing the Earth, Dividing the Land: Land and Territory in the Austronesian World, ANU E Press, 2006, p. 326.
  4. ^ From PAN *taneq ‘earth, soil, land’. — Robert Blust. 2010. Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD). Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
  5. ^ Sabine C. Hess, Person and Place: Ideas, Ideals and the Practice of Sociality on Vanua Lava, Vanuatu, Berghahn Books, 2009, p. 115.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Sienkiewicz, ibid
  8. ^ Fiji Native Land Trust Board glossary
  9. ^ Fonua in Tongan Cosmology, Chapter 15. People and Place in Tonga: The Social Construction of Fonua in Oceania.