This paper critically examines local reactions and responses to the design and implementation of the buffer zone for a World Heritage property held under customary tenure, Chief Roi Mata's Domain (CRMD) in the Republic of Vanuatu. The primary goal is to consider the apparent contradictions and ambiguities inherent in the highly dynamic and contested process of rendering the globalised theory and praxis of buffering in a local context. Our case study brings to light some of the ways in which this process has enabled the landowning community of CRMD to rethink, and begin to remake, the buffer zone as an entity that incorporates both development and conservation concepts under the terms of the local idiom of bafa zon. Internal and external voices compete for influence in determining the local form and further evolution of the bafa zon at CRMD, and the first phases of this contested process are charted here. By supporting locally valued and accepted buffering measures, it may prove possible to realise simultaneously the objectives of World Heritage conservation and local economic development.