The Black Widow

The man gets off scot free in virtually every domestic crisis. If he runs off on his wife and kids, people will ask, ‘What did she do to drive him away?’ If he fools around with someone else, it’s usually the wife who’s forced to find the other woman and beat her into submission. It’s the only way she can publicly demonstrate that she’s not at fault. If a man beats his wife inside his own home, nobody will do anything. Ever. Here in Vanuatu, a man’s home really is his castle. Even if it’s his wife’s money that pays for it, her labour that maintains it, and her life that suffers just so that he can feel in control.

Why should we be surprised then, if one or two desperate women feel driven to poison hubby’s evening meal? When he pauses for grace before supper, more than one husband in Vanuatu would do well to

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I heard a fascinating tale the other day. A woman of my acquaintance, happily married with children, had apparently been married twice already. Each time, the husband had become abusive and, each time, had died suddenly, without explanation. Word was that she was adept at ‘posen’ – subtle potions that kill suddenly, hours or even days after their ingestion.

Whatever his motivation, her current husband was the model of good behaviour; he never ‘passed behind’ (the Bislama term for adultery) and looked after the children as if they were his own.

Doubtless polished and embellished in the telling, the story remains, at its core, perfectly credible. Spousal abuse is rampant in Vanuatu society, and the police, courts and kastom do almost nothing to protect women. It’s not at all beyond imagining that a woman might take matters into her own hands and act to stop her own suffering using whatever means necessary.

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Protecting the Family

On Thursday, Parliament at last ended more than a decade of indecision and passed the Family Protection Act. For the first time in Vanuatu history, victims of domestic violence have comprehensive protection under the law. The bill was passed by a divided house, with members of the opposition storming out before the vote, ostensibly over a lack of due process.

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition. The events described here are all true. Names have been changed for obvious reasons.]

I never saw it coming.

I was with my adoptive brother Frank, his wife Marie-Anne and some friends, sitting on the porch one Saturday evening, chatting and sharing a little kava. Some other family members were hanging about in the compound. A dog barked once, punctuating the silence.

I didn’t see Jerry’s wife arrive, nor did I notice when she began her whispered tirade against him. So when he leapt up and cut her down with a right hook, I sat frozen, lightning-struck. He kicked her once in the ribs, picked her up, threw her full force into the cement wall. He hit her with two more right hooks before I could intercede.

His wife never made a sound.

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