Independence

Land, from the perspective of native New Hebrideans, was not something that could be owned. And therefore it could not be sold. It is held in trust by families, from one generation to the next, as has been the tradition for many since before Christ was born. One might give away, or sell the use of land, but not the land itself. Europeans, however, take an entirely different viewpoint. By the mid 1960's European settlers claimed ownership of almost 30% of the county's land mass. There are places around Santo where more land was claimed than existed - unless one measured a fair distance underwater. Settlers had, for the most part, cleared land to grow coconuts - copra being the mainstay of the economy for some time. But as the price of copra fell, planters began to look at alternatives. With the idea of expanding into cattle production, planters began clearing jungle adjoining their properties. This led to immediate protests in Santo and Malekula from local villagers who objected strongly to yet more of their 'custom' land being pilfered. The objections grew and natural resentment that started at the end of W.W II sparked the formation of political parties. One the one hand were French backed parties such as the supposedly custom-oriented Nagriamel movement. Led by the colourful, Charismatic Jimmy Stevens, it claimed to protect Melanesian's claim to traditional lands. On the other hand, in 1971 when Stevens petitioned the U.N. for early Independence of the archipelago, the Anglican Minister Father Walter Lini formed the Anglophone backed Vanua'aku Party.

As the country became more politicised, the (minority) Anglicans joined the Vanua'aku Party, but the (majority) French fragmentised. Many mixed race and educated Melanesian Francophones considered themselves more French than Melanesian and were adamantly opposed to the British declared aim of early Independance. Some wanted the Condominium to remain, whilst others simply wanted the British out and France to annex the country entirely. This division amongst the Francophones and the added confusion of Jimmy Stevens push for Santo autonomy (with Malekula and Tanna making similar overtures) was the stage upon which the first general election was set.

Photo of Father Walter LiniAfter enough wrangling and accusations to fill several books, in November 1979, Father Walter Lini's (photo above) Vanua'aku Party emerged the clear winner. But being the winner did not mean everyone agreed. It should be remembered that the archipelago is made up of over 80 islands and over 113 languages.It is one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth. Trying to govern it had given the Condominium more grief than it could have imagined. With virtually no preparation for Independence under the British/French rule, Father Walter Lini was not going to have an easy time of it.

The French are notoriously possessive about their colonies, but despite their objections, Independence was set for mid 1980. However in May of that year, just a few weeks prior to the end of Condominium rule, an insurrection on Tanna split the island in two. One faction supported the new government while the other supported the French. In Santo, Jimmy Stevens seized the opportunity to blockade the airport, run the police from their small station and declare Santo independent of the about to be born country of Vanuatu, and raised the flag of the independent country of Venerama.

If pandemonium was thought to exist during the Condominium, then it reigned sovereign for the next few weeks. France would not agree to British troops intervening and French troops did nothing. Jimmy Steven's men were armed with only bows and arrows yet they held the about to be born country to ransom. Father Walter Lini was given virtually no support from the exiting colonial powers, except verbal sympathy and assurances that all would be taken care of. With Independence Day fast approaching, Lini was clearly at a political impasse. Officially he could do nothing because Vanuatu was not yet his to govern. However, he asked the politically and racially nuetral Papua New Guinea troops to step into what the world farcically began to call, the Coconut War.

There are many in depth political treaties and historical documents written on the Coconut War. Although it was not an amusing situation for an ill prepared country struggling with the pangs of birth, the events surrounding this 'War' are perhaps best understood in the light of recent colonial history and Melanesian culture. A short, witty and very readable account, by Sydney journalist Richard Speers titled the "The Coconut War" is available through Penguin books or from most libraries.

It was a strange war, of words and diplomatic double talk, bows and arrows and Francophone shrugs. It ended suddenly when Steven's son was shot and killed as hesat in the rear of a utility that ran through a PNG troop roadblock. Following Steven's statement that he had meant no-one to be harmed, he surrendered and was arrested. Documents came to light that clearly indicated the French administration had played a double game. Whilst officially backing Lini as the duly elected representative of the people of Vanuatu, they had secretly supported the secessionist citizens and Jimmy Stevens.

On midnight June 1980, the French and British flags were lowered for the last time, amidst tears and brave salutes and the flag of the Republic of Vanuatu was raised in celebration at the birth of a new nation, finally freed of the colonial yoke. The vast majority of French nationals left Vanuatu, who were compensated by their lost lands by the French Government, and land ownership reverted entirely to indigenous ni-Vanuatu with a land leased long term of 60 years or so.

National Flag and Emblem of Vanuatu

Vanuatu National Flag
Vanuatu national flagThe Pig's tusk and the Namele leaf represent Prosperity and Peace respectively.

Yellow is a bright colour that is full of light, and it symbolises the light of Christ which shines over the whole of the Republic of Vanuatu, the letter "Y". Designer of the National Flag of the Republic of Vanuatu - Malon Kalontas. At school Malon had learned that Vanuatu was shaped as a "Y" and I wondered what colours might have a symbolic significance for his compatriots, as citizens of a newly independent country. So Malon drew a "Y" and played around with different colours. He selected the following colours as having a special meaning for Vanuatu: Black: for Melanesia and the Melanesian race, Red: for unity through blood, Green: for agriculture, the basis of Vanuatu's economy. Yellow: for Christianity
The Coat Of Arms

Vanuatu coat of armsThe Coat of Arms has incorporated the Vanuatu Emblem, which is the pig's tusk and leaf namele in the background. Hon. Walter Hayde Lini (is the statue) who fought for the country to become Independent and was the first Prime Minister. He declared on Independence Day to all the people that "Long God Yumi Stanap" (In God we Stand) to be Vanuatu's motto meaning from 30th July 1980 (the Country's Independence Day), all people of Vanuatu must stand together as one nation.

The Vanuatu Emblem
The Pig's tusk and the Namele leaf represent Prosperity and Peace respectively.