Historic cemeteries are places of veneration, wonder and often mystery. Such is the case with the small cemetery located on the southwest coast of Efate Island, at Mele, an area once known as Faureville. Its origins relate to the arrival of Catholic missionaries on the island in 1887 where they ‘purchased’ land at Mele. The project was short-lived as it was abandoned in 1889 but reinstated again some 10 years later. The beginnings of the small cemetery date to this period with the earliest grave identified thus far (1903) being that of Pere Faure who taught at the mission school. Mele or Faureville was an area of early European settlement on the island and a number of those pioneer families are buried there, including even a descendant who was the last of the burials at the site in 1991. From the early part of the twentieth century the church at Mele became a place of worship for Catholic Vietnamese on Efate and many are also buried at the cemetery. The church was no longer active at the site following Independence in 1980 and consequently the cemetery itself became forgotten by most people, lost in a forest of wild cane, only to be cleaned occasionally for various commemorations. However, things are looking up following a recent initiative by a group called the Friends of Faureville, whose plans are to restore the cemetery and maintain the grounds. Funding has been received from the French Embassy in Vanuatu to begin the restoration. To celebrate this new beginning for the cemetery, the Friends of the Vanuatu Museum, along with the ASHA representative in Vanuatu organised a visit and picnic (sponsored by ASHA) at the site just before Christmas to both raise awareness and gain any local knowledge as to who was buried at the site. It was a great day, bright sun during a period of constant rainfall, with many people coming along to simply visit or others who shared information about the people buried there. The new French ambassador to Vanuatu was in attendance as was historian Howard van Trease visiting from the US.
Compiling information on the cemetery and those buried there is an ongoing project. About half the graves can be identified to individuals but many of the others remain unidentified. Much more liaison with local families, archival research and archaeological investigations are required to establish the full number of burials within the cemetery grounds along with their various histories. It is certainly an inspiring initiative by the Friends of Faureville which seems likely to secure the long-term preservation of this slice of Vanuatu history.