- History of Vanuatu
The history off Vanuatu begins obscurely. The commonly held theory of
Vanuatu's prehistoryfrom archaeological evidence supports that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. [ [http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/fadt_ctte/completed_inquiries/2002-04/png/report/index.htm "A Pacific engaged: Australias (sic) relations with Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest Pacific"] , Australian Senate, August 12, 2003, p.288] Potteryfragments have been found dating back to 1300 B.C. [Ron Adams, [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-53977 "History (from Vanuatu)"] , " Encyclopædia Britannica", 2006] What little is known of the pre-European contact history of Vanuatu has been gleaned from oral histories and legends. One important early king was Roy Mata, who united several tribes, and was buried in a large mound with several retainers.
The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Spaniards was
Espiritu Santowhen, in 1606, the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernández de Quirós, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainvillerediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cooknamed the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence. In 1825, trader Peter Dillon's discovery of sandalwoodon the islandof Erromangobegan a rush that ended in 1830after a clash between immigrant Polynesian workers and indigenous Melanesians. During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoan Islands, in need of labourers, encouraged a long-term indentured labour trade called " blackbirding." At the height of the blackbirding, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked abroad.
It was at this time that missionaries, both
Roman Catholicand Protestant, arrived on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, they switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, coconuts. Initially, British subjects from Australiamade up the majority, but the establishment of the Caledonian Companyof the New Hebrides in 1882 soon tipped the balance in favour of French subjects. By the turn of the century, the French outnumbered the British two to one.
The municipality of Franceville (present-day
Port Vila) on Efatewas established during this period. In 1878 Britain and Francedeclared all of the New Hebrides to be neutral territory, but the lack of a functional government led to rising discontent among British and French colonists. The French were especially inconvenienced because French law recognized marriages only when contracted under a civil authority (the nearest being in New Caledonia), whereas British law recognized marriages conducted by local clergy. On August 9, 1889, Franceville declared itself independent under the leadership of mayor/ president Ferdinand Chevillardand with its own red, white and blue flag with five stars. [Bourdiol, Julien (1908), Condition internationale des Nouvelles-Hebrides, p 107] [Simpson, Colin (1955). "Islands of Men: A Six-part Book about Life in Melanesia", p 133.] This community became the first self-governingnation to practice universal suffragewithout distinction of sex or race. Although the district's population at the time consisted of about 500 natives and fewer than 50 whites, only the latter were permitted to hold office. One of its elected presidents was a U.S. citizen by birth, R. D. Polk. ["Wee, Small Republics: A Few Examples of Popular Government," "Hawaiian Gazette", Nov 1, 1895, p1]
The jumbling of French and British interests in the islands brought petitions for one or another of the two powers to annex the territory. The Convention of
16 October 1887established a joint naval commission for the sole purpose of protecting French and British citizens, but claimed no jurisdiction over internal native affairs.
In 1906, however,
Franceand the United Kingdomagreed to administer the islands jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a unique form of government, with separate governmental systems that came together only in a joint court. The condominium's authority was extended in the Anglo-French Protocol of 1914, although this was not formally ratified until 1922. Melanesians were barred from acquiring the citizenshipof either power and were officially stateless; to travel abroad they needed an identity documentsigned by "both" the British and French resident commissioners.
Many called the condominium the "Pandemonium" because of the duplication of laws, police forces, prisons, currencies, education and health systems.
Overseas visitors could choose between British law, that was considered stricter but with more humane prisons, or French law and French prisons, which were somewhat uncomfortable but with better food.
In their book, "Vanuatu" by Jocelyn Harewood and Michelle Bennett, is this memorable passage referring to the 1920s: "Drunken plantation owners used to gamble... using the `years of labour' of their Melanesian workers as currency. Islanders used to be lined up against the wall, at the mercy of their employers' dice. Long after America's
Wild Westwas tamed, Vila was the scene of the occasional gunfight and public guillotining."
Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans with their informal demeanour and relative wealth during
World War IIwas instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figurenamed John Frumwas the basis for an indigenous cargo cult(a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a religion and a political party with two members in Parliament.
Perhaps the final political impetus towards independence was the central issue of land ownership which arose during the 1960s. The ancient customs of the "Ni-Vanuatu" meant that land was held in trust for future generations by the current custodians; Europeans viewed it more as a commodity and owned about 30% of the land area. This European-held land had been mostly cleared for
coconutproduction, but when they began clearing more land for coconut production, protests began in both Santo and Malekula led by Jimmy Stevens and his "kastom" movement called "Nagriamel".
In the 1960s France opposed Britain's desire to de-colonize the
New Hebridessouth of the Solomon Islandsfearing that the independence sentiment would be contagious in their mineral-rich colonial possessions in French New Caledonia.cite book |last=Fischer |first=Steven |authorlink=Steven Roger Fischer |title=A History of the Pacific Islands |origyear=2002 |publisher=Palgrave |location=Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS |isbn=0-333-94975-7 |pages=pp. 249-250 |chapter=Reinventing Pacific Islands |quote= ]
The first political party was established in the early 1970s and originally was called the
New Hebrides National Party. One of the founders was Walter Lini, an Anglican Priest, who later became Prime Minister. Renamed the Vanua'aku Partyin 1974, the party pushed for independence. A Representative Assembly was created in 1975 but dissolved in 1977 after demands for the elimination of government-appointees and immediate independence. In 1979 foreign owners were dispossessed and received compensation from their own governments and a date set for full independence.
France was unhappy. A couple of significant rebellions occurred on Tanna and Espiritu Santo and paperwork revealed the direct culpability of France in its desire to see Espiritu Santo become a separate French colony.
31 July 1980, the Republic of Vanuatuwas created.
"Whereupon French officials - not British - tore out telephones, air-conditioners and all equipment and furnishings from administrative offices so as to burden the new public service and its budget. Vanuatu was alone in Pacific Islands ("sic") in attaining independence at the perceived cost of defeating a more powerful, and openly antagonistic, adversary. Had it not been for Britain, independence would still have been a dream today in Vanuatu.".cite book |last=Fischer |first=Steven |authorlink=Steven Roger Fischer |title=A History of the Pacific Islands |origyear=2002 |publisher=Palgrave |location=Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS |isbn=0-333-94975-7 |pages=pp. 249-250 |chapter=Reinventing Pacific Islands |quote=Whereupon French officials - not British - tore out telephones, air-conditioners and all equipment and furnishings from administrative offices so as to burden the new public service and its budget. Vanuatu was alone in Pacific Islands ("sic"} in attaining independence at the perceived cost of defeating a more powerful, and openly antagonistic, adversary. Had it not been fro Britain, independence would still have been a dream today in Vanuatu. ]
Since independence, only "kastom" owners and the government can own land; foreigners and other islanders who are not "kastom" owners can lease land only for the productive life of a coconut palm - 75 years.
History of present-day nations and states
* [http://www.vanuatutourism.com/vanuatu.htm Vanuatu] " [http://www.vanuatutourism.com/history6.htm Colonial History] "
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