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THE UNTOLD | THE STRUGGLE TO BE FREE

Written By Richard Kaltonga

I decided to do a little research and put some information together for the 40th Anniversary of Independence to enable our younger generation to have a sense of what was experienced in the struggle for our country’s independence.

This has been gleaned from various old reports and from stories told.Most of the information is accessible on the internet if one knows where to look or people will have some knowledge of it.

There may be some inaccuracies in chronology and some information may need to be corrected by those who were better informed but below is a synopsis of why in my opinion, the sentiments for independence arose and how the country finally obtained independence in a single post.

If there any errors then please accept my apologies and provide corrections so that our younger generations may obtain a true picture.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE INDEPENDENCE INITIATIVEOver different times in our history, there have been clashes with the colonial invasion and there are oral and written records of indigenous leaders and individuals seeking to remove the overwhelming foreign influence.

These were all never successful because of the simplistic approach which could not counter the challenges they faced from the foreign presence both in the colonial administrations and the then influential private sector.

Very few people in Vanuatu today are aware of the civil restrictions faced by our forefathers in the old days.

Indigenous were prohibited from acquiring and consuming alcohol, and you only have to go to Pac Lii historical case records to see the amount of indigenous people charged and convicted for possession of alcoholic beverages.

I think even some foreigners were convicted for giving alcohol to indigenous locals.

They were not allowed to even register their own lands and historical registration records show that registration records of land titles was of some indigenous person transferring title to some foreigner or foreign commercial entity.

Sadly in many cases, there was never any documentary proof of identification of the true landowner and some of the so called transferors of the lands were often just people picked up off the side of the road and offered trinkets such as an axe, blankets or bottles of alcoholic drinks to write their initials or more often than not put their thumb or finger prints on the land deeds.

I know of one story which I was told of some land in the Port Vila area being sold to a foreigner by someone who was not from Ifira.

Some men from Ifira went looking for him, they caught him and killed him then hung in on a tree with a chain.

The body was removed the next day by the authorities and the chain was kept at Iririki.

On the establishment of Talua Christian College, the chain was sent there and I was advised that it is still kept there.

There are many stories of indigenous people and communities being forcibly executed or the water sources which they depended on being poisoned to pave way for settlers and foreign interests wishing to acquire land.

This occurred in some islands in Vanuatu and even here in Port Vila. I have heard of such cases involving former indigenous residents in Port Vila, Tanna, Malo, Santo and possibly Malekula. Some of you will be able to put together some of these stories from what you may have heard from your elders.

The people most affected where the people of Ifira whose lands for gardens in and around the town area was acquired by the colonial authorities and the local business houses at that time which I think were mainly the francophone company – CFNH or Ballande as it was known and the anglophone company – Burns Phillip or BP.

Their main centres of operation were where for Ballande – what is now the Centrepoint carpark is and for BP – the area where Vila Mall is located to the bar opposite the Grand Hotel.

The wharf which was located on the waterfront from Café de Village to the Waterfront Restaurant and their main warehouses were located on the opposite side of the road.

There may have been others by other names but these two are the ones I was most familiar within the stories that I heard and in my youth.

When planters took over the land near the airport all the way to Salili and the river at Prima, they moved in whilst indigenous people still had their gardens there and their local gardens were trampled and the natives chased off with horses and whips.

Some of the natives had not seen cattle and horses before and took off. I think a few brave ones might have killed some planters’ cattle and were reported to the authorities.

The Chief of Ifira then took a delegation of some of his elders which included my grandfather and went to the authorities.

I was told that their response made him so angry that he took out a matchbox, showed it to the authorities and threatened to have his people burn down the Ballande Building in what was then the centre of Port Vila.

Concluding from the stories I was told, it was probably then that the authorities stepped in and decided to create a native reserve for the people of Ifira which was around Malapoa and extended to Tebakor and Blacksands.

The community then met and divided the land to be shared for all to benefit as some had lost access to their land to plantations. This was to allow local natives to have some land for their gardens without being disturbed by the colonial farmers.

It was simply a partitioning of land already owned by indigenous natives.This did not just happen on Efate but was probably also happening on other islands especially Santo and Malekula where there was land and opportunity for colonial planters to develop large plantations.

In the early sixties to late seventies probably because indigenous were getting better educated and aware, the political mentality changed drastically with natives starting to feel the sense and the need for self-determination and improving the life and opportunities for the indigenous natives.

Nagriamel as a party was established in January 1966 at a meeting of chiefs in Espiritu Santo convened by Chief Buluk of Big Bay.

The first territory-wide political movement in the New Hebrides, by 1969 it was estimated to have around 10,000 members (around one in eight of the population), mostly in the north of the territory.

Soon after its establishment, Jimmy Stevens became involved with the party after offering to sell guns to the chiefs. He used much of the funds donated to the party to build an agricultural complex in Vanafo.

Nagriamel called for the return of all European-owned land that had not been used for agricultural development, it also held the view that the New Hebrides was not ready for independence and the modernisation it would bring, though the party was reputedly manipulated by anti-independence French factions and the Phoenix Foundation.

In the 1975 elections, the party won two of the 29 seats in the new Assembly.The first real sign of the process that would bring about change happened in the early seventies when the New Hebrides National Party was formed in 1971 and started a nation-wide movement to facilitate change and seek independence.

They enlisted many others and the movement swept the colony.In 1971 returning ni-Vanuatu graduates began to work for political change, while French officials encouraged land sales to settlers supporting colonial rule.

The British (anxious that France supports their bid to join the EEC) colluded with French authorities to delay political progress.

It was also around this time that one started to see protests and demonstrations over land in Port Vila by the community of Ifira masterminded by Barak Sope and Kalpokor Kalsakau and endorsed and supported by Chief Graham Kalsakau of Ifira and his Council which was probably the public catalyst that encouraged many other indigenous natives in Port Vila and spreading to the islands to support the move for independence.

The New Hebridean Cultural Association was founded on 17 August 1971 by Peter Taurakoto and Donald Kalpokas and amalgamated later that same year to form the New Hebrides National Party with Walter Lini as its leader, and was one of two parties formed during the country’s move towards independence.

The NHNP was able to generate a widely nationalist sentiment and brought together public servants, leaders of the church, traditional chiefs and communities.

However, it was publicly perceived as a predominantly Anglophone movement.The NHNP went on to win the 1975 elections and in 1977 it was renamed the Vanua’aku Pati. While the NHNP was supported by British interests, the Union of New Hebrides Communities (UCNH) formed in 1973 was supported by French interests which consisted of predominantly francophone natives and French plantation owners.

The UCNH had similar views to Nagriamel and formed alliances with Movement Autonome de Nouvelles Hebridais (MANH) also formed in 1973, Tan Union from Pentecost, Namangi Aute from Malekula and Kapiel and John Frum Movement from Tanna.

In the 1975 election of the first Representatives Assembly, the largely anglophone New Hebrides National Party (NHNP), led by Father Walter Lini, won most ni-Vanuatu votes but was denied majority control by six members appointed by the Resident Commissioners. The NHNP boycotted the Assembly.

When requests for a more democratic system were refused, the party refused to take part in the 1977 election.The New Hebrides National Party changed its name to the Vanuaaku Party started to gear up its intentions for independence with the establishment of a proper office, and consolidation of its public support base all over the country.

A minority government was installed after the 1977 elections and public protests were quelled with teargas. French officials encouraged disruptive groups on the island of Tanna and Nagriamel, a northern secessionist movement which would continue to cause trouble after independence.This precipitated the formation of the Vanuaaku Peoples Provisional Government.

On November 29, 1977 the most popular political group, the Vanua’aku Pati, declared the formation of a People’s Provisional Government (PPG) which was a declaration of independence from the British and French colonial administrations, who were still trying to rule the country at that time.

The formation of the PPG came as a high point in six years of struggle since the Vanua’aku Pati commenced its intentions for self-determination and independence.Having been ruled by the British and French since the early 1900s, the 80 or more islands which comprised Vanuatu presented a fairly typical colonial picture.

Eighty percent of the arable land was owned by a few hundred European planters, on whose plantations many Ni-Vanuatu worked for around $5 a week.

All aspects of the economy are controlled by Europeans. Many firms had also moved in with the establishment of a tax haven in 1971. Such businesses, along with the big plantation owners, had a vested interest in preventing real independence. Some of the plantation owners came from the former French colonies of Algeria and Indochina.

They regard their copra plantations as their kingdoms and, possessing arms caches, were determined to hold on to what they have stolen from the Melanesian people.

The British and French governments also tried to delay independence. The French, in particular, were worried that it might further inspire the growing movements for independence in New Caledonia and Tahiti.

Therefore, the colonial powers and big business interests worked to create divisions amongst the Melanesian people by building up parties which they could easily manipulate.

Whilst they had some success in this, the VP was clearly the most popular party. It won around 60 percent of the vote in the 1975 elections but, because of an unfair voting system, received only 21 of the 42 seats. Following this, it persistently tried to democratise the so-called Representative Assembly by calling for, among other things, the abolition of the six seats reserved for the Chamber of Commerce.

When it became obvious that the administration would not relent and reform the Assembly, the VP withdrew from it, and boycotted the November 1977 elections, raised independence flags and announced the formation of the Vanuaaku Peoples Provisional Government.

The Vanuaaku Peoples Provisional Government exerted control over a wide area of the country with hundreds of villages were refusing contact with any official oi the British or French administration.

Colonial Administration officials conceded Vanuaaku Party’s control of about half the archipelago and considerable restrictions in the movement of their officials.

The provisional government commenced to build up a stable administration.It was in this situation that the British and French did what on the surface appears a complete about-face – granting self-government on January 11.

However, the government recognised by the colonial powers was one formed by the anti-independence forces who took part in the November elections led by Tan Union, MANH, UCNH, Natatok and other francophone groups.

In the 1979 Representative Assembly election, the Vanuaaku Party (formerly the NHNP) won 62% of votes and 26 of the 39 seats. Believing the country’s future should be determined at home, it boycotted constitutional meetings in Paris but attended discussions in Port Vila until a new constitution, restricting land ownership to ni-Vanuatu and entrenching French culture, was agreed by ‘Melanesian consensus’.However, Vanuatu’s Independence Day – like its 74 years of Condominium history – was soured by its colonial masters.

On 30 July 1980, cheering crowds filled the capital. But the flag-raising in Luganville on Espiritu Santo was jeered by Nagriamel supporters.

Also there were British and French troops, sent at the insistence of the French until the new government guaranteed protection to French interests.Beginning in June 1980, Jimmy Stevens, head of the Nagriamel movement, led an uprising against the colonial officials and the plans for independence.

The uprising lasted about 12 weeks. The rebels blockaded Santo-Pekoa International Airport, destroyed two bridges, and declared the independence of Espiritu Santo as the “State of Vemerana“. Jimmy Stevens was supported by French-speaking landowners and by the Phoenix Foundation, an American business foundation that supported the establishment of a libertariantax haven in the New Hebrides.

On 8 June 1980, the Prime Minister elect – Walter Hadye Lini asked Britain and France to send troops to put down a rebellion on the island of Espiritu Santo. France and Britain sent troops but the French refused to allow them to take any effective action against the rebels.

As date of July 30th set for independence neared, the Prime Minister-elect, Walter Lini, asked Papua New Guinea if it would send troops to intervene. As Papua New Guinean soldiers began arriving in Espiritu Santo, the foreign press began referring to the ongoing events as the “Coconut War”.However, the “war” was brief and unconventional.

The residents of Espiritu Santo generally welcomed the Papua New Guineans as fellow Melanesians. Stevens’s followers were armed with only bows and arrows, rocks, and slings.

There were few casualties, and the war came to a sudden end when a vehicle carrying Stevens’s son burst through a Papua New Guinean roadblock in late August 1980, the soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, killing Stevens’s son.

Shortly thereafter, Jimmy Stevens surrendered, stating that he had never intended that anyone be harmed.At Jimmy Stevens’s trial, the support of the Phoenix Foundation to the Nagriamel movement was revealed.

It was also revealed that the French government had secretly supported Stevens in his efforts.

Stevens was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment; he remained in prison until 1991.

WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SAFE 40TH ANNIVERSARY INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATIONS.