Photo courtesy Sophie Hollingsworth.

Photo courtesy Sophie Hollingsworth.

Of the tens of thousands of chiefs in Melanesia, there exist only 150 to 200 who are women, most of whom live on Maewo Island. Sophie Hollingsworth and her team will carry the WINGS World Quest flag on an expedition to the island while they observe a multi-day festival during which the women chiefs will request membership in the National Council of Chiefs of Vanuatu.

The Malvatumauri, the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs, has refused to recognize women as “real” chiefs. In performing the first and only ethnographic study on the women, Hollingsworth’s work may help the female chiefs gain official status.

Hollingsworth will meet and interview these women chiefs to learn about their customs and ceremonies. During the festival, the women will demonstrate their practices and powers, undertake grade promotions, engage in traditional dancing and perform secret ceremonies, including the use of black and white magic. Afterward, Hollingsworth will visit nearby villages to learn more about both female and male chiefs.

Hollingsworth’s desire to carry the WINGS flag is in line with our mission: to support extraordinary women.

Women in Vanuatu typically have low rates of education and employment, low rates of political participation and suffer from high rates of domestic violence.

“By documenting the female chiefs of Maewo Island, I will be helping provide the women of Maewo with a voice, of which they have been stripped of in the past,” she writes.

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