Printer Friendly

A political history of Nagriamel on Santo, Vanuatu.

The political movement known as Nagriamel that developed after World War II on Santo Island in Vanuatu is a particularly good example of how the liberating dimension of an 'indigenist' movement can evolve into the traditionalist reinvention of a pre-existing form of social organization. Nagriamel was preceded on Santo by less well known syncretic and millenarian movements (Avu Avu, Rongofuru, Naked Cult, cf. Guiart 1958; Miller 1948; Raft 1928), from which it drew opportunist and selective inspiration. For former anthropologists in the post-World War II period, indigenist movements like the Nagriamel in the northern islands of Vanuatu, or the John Frum movement on the island of Tanna, were intended to generate new forms of collective identifications. (1) From the point of view of these scholars, ritual means to ascertain identity were doomed to be overtaken by new modes of pragmatic action and rational organisation. Cultic contest emanating from 'prerational' politico-religious movements would dissolve during the political process of decolonisation and nation-building. Peter Worsley (1957) who, with Jean Guiart (1951), was one of the main propagators of this argument, adds to his thesis that the factor of 'proto-nationalism' in Melanesian post-contact societies sums up an integrative or centralisation process, which encompasses different traditionally non united social groups. According to Worsley, this federative process is central to the dynamics of most Melanesian pre-World War II politico-religious indigenous movements. Historically, their rationality is supposed to lie in their becoming, in their transformation into bureaucratic forms of organization and unification. This ineluctable process of secularization, which leads from lower class religions to anti-colonialism, should also open the way to the invention of a wider identity based on shared feelings of a community of culture. Anthropologists like Jean Guiart (1983), Bernard Hours (1974) or Erich Kolig (1981) have adopted this theoretical framework to present and understand the historical shift of the Nagriamel.

In an old fashioned socio-evolutionary perspective, Jean Guiart proposed to establish a typology of nativism. He praised good nativism as based on a preserved identity and assumed political autonomy, and opposed it to a nasty will to power, based on irrational anti-White feelings: a neurotic attitude following a strong culture contact traumatism, for which past acculturation is held responsible. Both cases of nativism are seen as forerunners of nationalism, but only those movements that anchor their identity in preserved traditions could positively support the future of an enlarged cultural community. At the end of the 1950s, as a French government anthropologist in the New-Hebrides, Guiart strove to identify the first type of nativism with the indigenous movement that appeared in the island of Santo prior to the Nagriamel, and he identified the second with the John Frum movement in Tanna: 'For people who never received any education, we could observe curiously, that the man Santo's behaviour is far more rational than those of its Tannese counterparts; there's no more messianism left in the Santo's inland, and there's also no more trace of the strong anti-Whites feeling nor any will to power which impregnates so deeply man Tanna's spirit. The man Santo thinks in terms of secularised autonomy, and he feels able to negotiate with Europeans without any complex of inequality. Today, the man Santo act in a political manner, not like a neurotic' (Guiart 1958:223).

Thirty years after having expressed this contemptuous judgement, Guiart surprisingly changed his mind. The indigenous movement in Santo turned at the eve of Vanuatu's independence into an overt rebellion and followed a secessionist scheme. Guiart, forgetting all former considerations about 'secularised autonomy', judged as criminal this secessionist attempt, and described Jimmy Stevens, its leader, as a great manipulator in kastom matters (Tabani 2002). To justify the repression of Santo's rebels by the Papuan army, of which intervention was officially asked by the new independent government of Vanuatu, Guiart makes an astonishing use of the Tannese John Frum myth: 'Papuan [soldiers] have reacted much better than Whites. For Vanuatu's government viewpoint, solving this secession problem with the help of a black army against the white manipulators of Santo's rebels, fits in with John Frum's old prophecy of black soldiers coming out of the volcano to drive the Whites out of the country' (1983:208).

This proto-nationalist theory, which used to deal with different kinds of indigenous movements usually classified as Cargo cults, is contradicted by the facts, even if today in Vanuatu modern politicians could officially assert such a legacy. (2) It s a matter of fact that the observed direction of most of these movements since the World War II period goes from immediate political reaction (disobedience to colonial and mission domination) to sophisticated religious developments. The more virulent the initial spontaneous opposition is (seen as irrational by a former generation of anthropologists), the more prolific and complex is the following syncretistic process that extends it.

Keesing's contributions to the theme of the politics of identity and traditions are more efficient in grasping fast changing social realities in contemporary Melanesia. This is particularly true when he considers kastom as a political symbol that can be used simultaneously at different socio-political levels by stubborn traditionalist groups, secessionist movements, millenarian cults leaders and state politicians. Among the types of customary identity assertion movements that he identifies in the context of a nationalist wave in Melanesia during the 1970s, Keesing explicitly refers to Nagriamel to illustrate how the combination of a discourse on tradition (kastom) and political choices is distilled into a force capable of triggering separatist crises in the context of nation-building in Melanesia: '... the rhetoric of custom (kastom) is invoked with reference to a particular region or island or province within a postcolonial state. This may take the form of competition for state resources and political power, regional separatism, or even secessionist demands' (Keesing 1989:21).

Among Pacific scholars in anthropology, the kastom issue has become an endless debate. Kastomology is now integrated into most theoretical analysis of culture change in Melanesia. (3) Not so much because of its heuristic aspects, but because this topic has certainly raised more questions than it has answered. Whenever it is related to the past, to the state or to culture, the kastom and identity pairing is still very puzzling for anthropologists. Many disagree about speaking of kastom as 'invented traditions' because the word would encompass 'traditional traditions' and 'traditionalist traditions' (Otto and Pedersen 2005). However, nowadays traditionalist ideologies can make political use of any selected kastom, and even reject or deny other traditions that don't concord with Christianity (Bolton 1998). Traditionalism corresponds with deep transformations of indigenous cultural representations of continuity, links between the past and the present, and ideas about 'cultural revivals'. In a context of rapid change, traditionalism became foremost a theory of action. According to the philosopher Eric Weil, 'tradition [in the strict sense of the word] has moved away, and even unwillingly the traditionalist must admit it; if not, why should he like to return to a point he would never have left?' (Weil 1991).

In Max Weber's language, the traditional order, or, in the context of former colonies, pre-colonial customs, are ruled by 'strict traditionalism' (Strengen Traditionalismus) (Weber 1956): 'a traditionalism prior to the rising of the dichotomy between tradition and traditionalism' (Eisenstadt 1973). Max Weber's analyses are still very useful for our concerns, notably the theoretical value he gives to the concept of charisma. Charisma is an 'extraordinary' (Ausseralltagliche) and 'extra-traditional' (Traditionfrei) capacity to change tradition dramatically, a 'revolutionary force linked to the era of tradition' (Weber 1956); but charisma can also experience revivals in present legal-bureaucratic order through his extra-traditional transformative capacities.

In Keesing's typology, regionalist traditionalist movements should be situated at an intermediate level of engagement, between a kastom movement based on traditionally adapted syncretic foundations (like the John Frum millenarian movement on Tanna, cf. Tabani 1999 and 2008) and State neo-traditionalism (or post-colonial traditionalism) ideologically oriented towards nationalism (cf. my analysis of State custom in Vanuatu, Tabani 2000 and 2002). On Santo, the early impetus given by an awareness of a decline in longstanding traditions in still living cultures intensified significantly during the World War II interlude and the successive arrival on the island of hundreds of thousands of American troops, with all their technological power, and the singular presence of black soldiers as 'equals' to Whites. (4) Only with the emergence of a post-colonial period did Nagriamel deliberately engage in a traditionalist mobilisation which, in contrast with the preceding cults, did not make it possible to mitigate the cultural contradictions between the past and the present; on the contrary, it accentuated them. The separatist aspirations of Nagriamel would appear to correspond in this regard to the tipping point at which the incompatibilities between the ancestral lifestyle specific to cultural enclaves and their modern articulation in a broader context cease to be expressed through primarily ritual avenues.

In discussing the Nagriamel kastom movement, we must bear in mind both the nature of the movements that it stemmed from and the distinctive features of its political history in a colonial setting. Similarly, whether before the challenges of modernity and the issues of cultural adaptation in the diversity of its sociological reformulations, or faced with the weight of outside influences in its ideological orientations, the features of Nagriamel's strategy would remain unintelligible without reference to the central role played by its historical leader--Jimmy Moses Tubo Pantuntun Moli Stevens--more generally known as Jimmy Stevens. Analysis of Nagriamel's kastom demands should be viewed in the light of Stevens' autobiographical contribution to Nagriamel's profile for the greater personal benefit of his autocratic power and status as a prophetic leader. (5) This individual and charismatic aspect of the kastom demands will give me an opportunity to stress how, on a local or national, traditionalist (colonial) or neo-traditionalist (post-colonial), historical or contemporary level, this invariably raises the issue of the action of the 'inventors' of traditions, in other words of the relationship of independent subjects to their 'tradition' and the charismatic--extra-traditional--personifications of the pro- kastom identity discourse.

Lastly, I will view Nagriamel through the prism of a traditionalism which, despite its transformations and secessionist tendencies, never really achieved a nationalist dimension. As we will see further on, as a precursor of 'customary modernism' (cf. Babadzan 1988) or 'customary progressivism', Nagriamel was nativist second and syncretic in a marginal way. However, although it was traditionalist and selective, the movement raised no dogmatic objection to change, thus retaining some of its traditional flexibility. In wanting to symbolically present itself as the officially recognised perpetuator of the syncretic cults that preceded it, Nagriamel took on a nativist (anti-White), revivalist (anti-colonial and then anti-national) and millenarian (cargoist) heritage. I will also insist on the personal influence of Jimmy Stevens upon the main ideological orientations of his movement. If his action fundamentally relies on his very own charismatic power, like the stereotyped Sahlinian Melanesian big man, he became at the end of his life a forerunner of the contemporary traditionalist representation of ascribed kastom jifs (chiefs), whose authority is not anymore and necessarily linked to charismatic forms of leadership. As Lindstrom and White have observed:
 Pacific leaders making claims to traditional authority, nowadays,
 are 'chiefs'. From Bougainville to Efate to Papeete, the esteemed
 title today is 'chief' (or jif or chef)--and this is the term that
 we, too, adopt to refer to Pacific leaders who claim traditional
 authority. Islanders thus echo sociologist Max Weber's language:
 'In the case of traditional authority, obedience is owed to the
 person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctioned
 position of authority and who (within) is sphere bound by
 tradition' (Weber M. The Theory of Social and Economic
 Organization.) (White and Lindstrom 1997:6).

However, the syncretic features incorporated into Nagriamel's nativism only offered a feeble counterweight to the external influences and manipulation that this movement underwent. Nagriamel only really freed itself of its colonial francophile affiliations at the times when it collaborated with neo-colonial hyper-liberal and radically anti-customary operations of the Phoenix Foundation, itself inspired by the Austrian ultra-liberal Ludwig Von Mises Institute. (6)


The political history of the kastom movement on Santo featured singular developments. The rebellion that occurred in the biggest and richest of the group's islands when Vanuatu proclaimed Independence entered Nagriamel's adventures as a footnote to the history of decolonisation. The news circulated in the major capitals; a strange struggle was unfolding in these far-flung islands. John Beasant, a former adviser to Walter Lini, described the cliche thus: '(...) a one-time bulldozer driver and self-styled chief with 'twenty-five wives', leading a 'stone-age army' in a 'bow-and-arrow rebellion' against the forces and concepts of an insensitive outside world' (Beasant 1984:1).

Far from such phantasmagorical allusions, it was a major indigenous land dispossession process that first gave impetus to Nagriamel. Conducted under the prompting of European settlers on Santo, this endeavour gathered pace after the war, mainly because of the roads that had been built by the Americans into the island's interior, towards areas vacated by their inhabitants because of their proximity to the military camps. The most coveted land was along the upper Sarakata River in an area known as 'Luganville Estate'. Ownership of this area was assigned to 'SFNH' (Societe Francaise des Nouvelles-Hebrides--French New Hebrides Company) for ninety-nine years under two Condominium court rulings in 1951 and 1959.

Indigenous protest was initiated during the 1960s by Buluk Paul, a 'custom chief' from the Santo interior, who claimed land rights over some of the SFNH land, which he intended to prove had been occupied by his own forefathers. This was the period when he first met Jimmy Stevens, who a few years previously had been a bulldozer driver. In this job, on the orders of the company that was employing him, Stevens himself had destroyed the remains of Buluk's ancestral village, including his parents' graves. Stevens had been approached by the man bus for an account of his participation in this activity and his possible ability to provide them with arms, as trading was his main activity at that time.

Buluk's approaches to Stevens soon went beyond a mere request for support. They became a proposal to lead an indigenous land claim movement. (7) The exact date of Nagriamel's founding remains inaccurately known. The movement was officialised in 1965. The 'Act of Dark Bush' was proclaimed in the back room of a Santo bar in order to assert the principle of the return of annexed indigenous land and to challenge any extension to the French settlers' plantations. The creation of Nagriamel completed the convergence of Stevens' ideological intentions and the mobilisation of Buluk and his supporters from the bush.

The movement's estimated few hundred members in the period before the 1970s subscribed to Buluk's and Stevens' plans to move into the highly coveted SFNH estate. This decision multiplied the conflicts that Buluk had occasionally started in the form of damage to fencing on settlers' plantations. He had already served six months in prison in 1964 for such acts. Now endowed with a founding charter and militant supporters united in support of collective land tenure, the subsistence economy and a form of social organisation perpetuating a way of life inherited from pre-colonial times, Nagriamel lacked a territorial base. It was agreed that it was necessary to possess an area symbolic of the new federating authority, as represented by the alliance between Buluk and Stevens, which would have to be a sufficiently extensive territory to enable the founding of a new kind of community. This community was to strive for the emancipation of the natives, rise up against colonial alienation and prepare the downtrodden dakbus people for their political emancipation. This 'New Jerusalem' was established in a bend of the Sarakata River and called Vanafo. (8)

Sitting in the very heart of the SFNH estate on the high flatlands behind Luganville, in a deforested area upstream from the falls and rapids of the Sarakata River beyond which stretches thick jungle, the Vanafo community originally amounted to a few traditional houses in a hamlet built on land claimed by Buluk. The name Vanafo, 'fruit basket' in the local language, came to symbolise the richness of the land meant to feed the people of Nagriamel. This hamlet rapidly grew to reach the size of a village and became the headquarters of Nagriamel's administration. This move was decisive for the future success that Nagriamel achieved, especially from the point of view of its expansion beyond the boundaries of the island. The name of Nagriamel was also designed to mark a transition from small isolated traditional hamlets to a major community concentration enjoying centralised organisation. Its etymology came from the names of two plants with various ritual or utilitarian uses: nangaria (Cordyline fruticosa) and namele (Cycas circinalis). To a question on kastom on Santo, Stevens responded: 'Namele leaf is our taboo, our law, our custom. Nagria is peace for us, is our body.' (Beasant 1984:17).

From the strategy devised by Jimmy Stevens based on the founding of an 'indigenous community headquarters', emerged the need to broaden the movement's base and secure the resources required for it to mobilise. Circumstances favourable to the movement's success offered themselves to Stevens after he was sentenced to six months imprisonment in 1968 with Buluk after an attempt to extend Vanafo village. Stevens took advantage of his detention to rethink his prospects. He convinced himself that Nagriamel needed to open up, by associating a number of factors: 1/ the clear relinquishment of opposition to French colonialism and, with the prospect of French support; 2/ the geographical extension of Nagriamel towards communities in the northern islands of the group and a plan to favour their emigration to Santo; and 3/ the taking of power over Nagriamel by Jimmy Stevens and the legitimisation of his authority by the man bus on a customary basis. The imposition of these three policy directions aimed to make this movement a permanent feature by making it into more than just the land claims of man Santo. Such were the avenues pursued by Stevens in order to initiate economic development, on the basis of modern technology, for the benefit of his sympathisers with their reclaimed land rights.

The Vanafo community experienced some difficult times in its early history. However, Nagriamel's membership rapidly increased. At a meeting held on Santo in January 1966, Stevens gathered 600 participants, including a number from other islands] At this time, Stevens still restricted himself to his role as a general organiser and modern ideologist, through whom progress should benefit the man bus of the island represented by Buluk and extend its contribution to all the Melanesian rejects of the colonial system. The idea of an inter-island extension of Nagriamel was the true key to its success. It created circumstances favourable to the lone ascension of its leader, who had the skill to press the whole movement into his own service, although the opposite relationship initially prevailed. The French administration grasped this opportunity to conduct negotiations with Stevens. A tacit agreement was found on the issue of redistribution of the land in the possession of SFNH. But, over and above an agreement on this, which was not translated into practice until 1975, these compromises introduced the reciprocal recognition of the French colonial authority and that decreed to be customary by Stevens. The traditionalist dimension of his leadership was reinforced by this move. His connivance with the French administration would gradually intensify towards full cooperation and lead to the 'complete transformation from an isolationist custom land movement to a francophile political party on western lines' (Beasant 1984:31).

Initially, this agreement made it possible to make a success of Stevens' immigration policy by guaranteeing the impunity of Nagriamel's land recovery moves and the self-interested neutrality of the French authorities with regard to the extension of the movement's propaganda to other communities in the group. It made it possible to envisage the establishment of a political federation of the northern islands under Nagriamel's banner; drawing strength from its claim to customary legitimacy, such a political entity would have extended into a religious affiliation.


Gradually power became increasingly concentrated in the hands of Jimmy Stevens. Enjoying the aura of his recently acquired prestige, Stevens gradually freed himself of the indigenous guarantee that Buluk represented, by vesting in his own person the attributes of customary legitimacy. The kastom demands of Nagriamel did not aim to revert to the past, but, according to Van Trease (1987:160), represented a force to unite the New Hebrideans in positive action against the structure of condominium power, as well as a basis for constructing a new socio-economic order. These accumulated contradictions were often found in Stevens' speeches too:
 Nagriamel is not the party. Nagriamel is not the politic. It's the
 people's heart, it's the people's custom. But to lift it up must use it the proper way ... Nagriamel is been before
 me. But to reform him again--grip it together and put it on the
 flag and we fly it up. That's my job. People ask me--we want our
 Nagriamel to be fly ... and for our coming children. I said I will
 do my best ... (Stevens, in Van Trease 1987:160).

Van Trease states that this emphasis on custom as a source of strength and revitalisation for Melanesian society made Nagriamel attractive outside Santo and united Stevens' supporters once the land issue had been resolved, in other words once the rights of the Melanesians over unused bush were recognised. On the strength of his dual administrative and kastom legitimacy, Stevens devised a social, economic and political structure to govern community life in Vanafo. A traditionalist order was to provide the foundation for a modernist momentum. Observations by Hours, reported from Santo in the early 1970s, offer a precious account of life in Vanafo during Nagriamel's hour of glory. The population at that time was estimated to be five hundred. Nagriamel was claiming 15,000 members throughout the group at this time. The singularity of this village and the prevailing atmosphere is described as follows by Hours:
 Vanafo's various communities represent a new event on a significant
 scale. The federal nature of the movement is found in the
 'capital', but this varied population, although cooperating, does
 not mix a great deal, except among the young people. In fact, the
 organisation into areas or villages gives the impression of an
 assemblage, each component of which retains some independence on
 the basis of island of origin and then religious affiliation, which
 is the second most important factor in defining allegiance (Hours

Aside from some community activities of daily life, the collective organisation of production mainly revolved around cash crops and sharecropping activities. Work in the traditional gardens remained an independent activity and was conducted under practices prevailing in the home island of the farmer concerned. In 1977, according to Van Trease (1987:163): 'It was clear that Nagriamel was more than a figment of his imagination. It was physically well organized and included an office complex and meeting hall and several well developed agricultural projects including forestry, oil palm and peanut production.'

Hours stressed the highly formalised organisation of daily activities in the village.' (10) But this way of organising production is thought to have been rather inefficient, as participation was unequal and irregular. Profit distribution was egalitarian. Each plot user had to pay over half of his cash income to the 'Union Labour Board Office', while being entitled to his say on redistribution (cf. Van Trease 1987:164).
 The 'Union Office' occupied a building (concrete-built, in Vanafo)
 which acted as a town hall and a headquarters, at the foot of the
 flag post, in the politico-administrative centre of the village, as
 opposed to the traditional centre situated at the foot of the huge
 banyan tree that marked the public centre, the venue for the big
 meetings (...) (It) was a sort of ministry of public works and work
 in general. Its main function was the collective working of land
 for commercial agricultural purposes (...) the Union had a register
 of workers either operating in the village or hiring their labour
 to some of the island's plantations and businesses (Hours

Stevens received a share of the profits which was left to the discretion of each member, while another share was used to cover the administrative organisation of Nagriamel. From the members of the movement working outside the village, a 10% salary stoppage was recovered (cf. Van Trease 1987:165). This administrative system was supposed to be backed up by a bank, the construction of which never went beyond the foundation stage. However, according to Hours (1974:232): 'This form of organisation should be seen as a partly abstract structure, with both symbolic and real significance, with more cultural and ideological than economic value'.

The defining features of Nagriamel are directly related to the rationale of its leadership, in other words the way in which Stevens had designed Nagriamel's administrative organisation in order to strengthen his personal power. The exacerbated hierarchy and federalism were two of the pillars of Nagriamel from the outset. Behind Stevens' autocratic position unfolded a complete organisational structure for Nagriamel based on a strict order: 1/ Chief President (Jimmy Stevens) 2/ Assistant Chief 3/ Landowner (Buluk) 4/ Chief Committee 5/ Committee members 6/ Secretary Committee 7/ Union Secretary, followed by some 30 titles of decreasing importance (ibid:232). Each of these qualifications boasted a badge on which the holder's rank was written. All the Santo man bus were however to refer to each other as 'brother' and 'friend' when addressing other islander members of the movement (ibid:238).

The committee was the decision-making body, formed of representatives of each island, to talk about day-to-day matters as well as Nagriamel's major policy directions. The meetings took place according to a modernist protocol with a secretary and note-taking, and also acted as a customary court (ibid:232); each islander was judged according to the traditions of Santo. In addition, Van Trease also stressed substantial administrative development as one of Nagriamel's characteristics. This committee was subsequently divided up into several deliberating bodies. The 'Land Committee' was the most comprehensive institution. Composed of 21 custom chiefs from Santo, it set the movement's rules on indigenous land with regard to settlers and foreign investors (of. Van Trease 1987:162). The 'Upper Committee' was formed of 15 members from the 15 islands covered by Nagriamel. Their function was to supervise the implementation of projects approved by the Land Committee. The highest administrative body, the 'Ten Head Committee', exercised executive power and only comprised members acknowledged as holding 'custom chief' status, and who had lived in Vanafo for at least five years. (11) All decisions regarding the Vanafo community were referred to this body. But in any event as Hours states (1974:232): 'The major options were decided by the Chief President and discussed in committee if need be'.


Nagriamel's external alliances were established by Stevens alone. They reinforced his autocratic tendencies over the Nagriamel, accentuated the modern political and ideological nature of its action and, by extension, led to its headlong pursuance of separatist goals. Nagriamel's first external contacts were established with Andre Leconte, a New Caledonian millionaire anxious to extend one of his plantations on the island. The arrangement entered into by the two parties related to the granting of 1 hectare of land to Leconte for each hour of use by the villagers of mechanical equipment belonging to Leconte. This initial move revealed one of the many ambiguities in Stevens' strategy: to fight for the protection of indigenous land ownership while facilitating the development of the same land by foreign investors. Nagriamel's alliance with Leconte was also a test for the French administration in its strategy to achieve land redistribution and to be favourably viewed by the Melanesians, through the development of Francophone infrastructure and administration. (12) This agreement however did not materialise as Leconte withdrew from the arrangement during 1970 and the profit from this alliance was not what was expected. The consequence was that Stevens had to face the first signs of dissent in his movement, which did not prevent him from forcefully repeating this type of alliance. (13)

For Nagriamel, this period also corresponded to Stevens' first attempts to adopt a militant attitude on the international stage. In 1969, the first contacts were established between Stevens and Fijian nationalists, who considered that he lacked credibility. However, the intermediary through whom these contacts had been established, the Fijian lawyer Karam Ramkhara, continued to make representations to the United Nations on Nagriamel's behalf and in 1971 tabled a petition with the decolonisation committee, condemning the Condominium and requiring an enquiry on the independence aspirations on Santo. Stevens had justified this approach to the Fiji Times: 'Natives are being imprisoned and in many cases they have been terrorised off their land' (in Van Trease 1987:149). Stevens had also in 1967 contacted Eugene Peacock, an American land speculator wishing to invest in the New Hebrides. This was one of Nagriamel's most sensational alliances. Peacock, whose commercial activities were based in Hawaii, operated on a huge scale with very substantial resources. He had acquired vast areas of land, on Santo in particular. His plan was to subdivide these properties into small plots in order to sell them on to former American servicemen in Vietnam (cf. Beasant 1984:45).

During the 1970s, Nagriamel's leaders became concerned by the competition coming from the very recent National Party (NHNP, the future Vanuaaku Pati) in the land claim area. (14) Stevens thought he had to raise the stakes and adopt a confrontational approach with the Condominium, in order to accelerate land redistribution and increase development assistance in favour of Nagriamel. Peacock experienced a major setback when the Condominium authorities decided to adopt two retrospective laws, one on the indivisible nature of land and the other to introduce a major increase in tax on the commercial exploitation of undeveloped land. The explicit purpose of these laws was to counter Peacock's manoeuvring, but also to set an example and mitigate the effects of the Condominium law which, in 1971, had given the New Hebrides tax haven status (on the history of Vanuatu tax haven see Rawlings 2005). (15) Peacock's opposition to these decisions led him to develop the political dimension of his collaboration with Nagriamel through his associate Jean Jacques Henin. Economically speaking, this took the form of an agreement on the activities of SODEPAC, a cattle farm and logging company belonging to Peacock, located 6 km from Vanafo, for which members of Nagriamel provided labour.

The National Party's petition to the United Nations in 1974 for independence in 1977 was a powerful catalyst. It confirmed Nagriamel's alliance with the island's French settler party--Mouvernent Autonome des Nouvelles-Hebrides (Autonomous Movement of the New Hebrides--MANH)--and a closer relationship with the John Frum movement on Tanna, Union des Communautes des Nouvelles-Hebrides (Union of Communities of the New Hebrides--UCNH) and the Francophone party in Port Vila. This coalition of parties which subsequently came to be known as the 'Moderates', completed the transformation of Nagriamel into an anti-nationalist, anti-anglophile and crypto-colonialist movement, because, in falling into line with the positions of MANH, it no longer even disputed the right of settlers to exploit land on Santo (cf. Beasant 1984:28). Peacock, destabilised by a legal battle that he lost against the Condominium authorities, placed all his hope in Stevens and Nagriamel. The idea was to form a nationalist force favourable to Peacock's speculative endeavours, or in the words of Plant (1977:51) a 'native faction' with the 'right philosophy', by urging Stevens to toughen up the strategy of confrontation with the Condominium. This cooperation was total and major transfers of funds to Nagriamel took place (see Abong 2008). Jean-Jacques Henin was appointed 'Development Adviser' for Nagriamel. As for Peacock, he received from Stevens the powers of 'Financial Chief' of the movement (cf. Beasant 1984:48-49).

The failure of the Moderates at the first general elections in November 1975 and the poor performance of the alliance between MANH and Nagriamel on Santo, prompted Peacock to give up his remaining illusions, despite participating in the organisation of various shows of force in Luganville in December the same year. These in fact resulted in the deportation of Peacock from the New Hebrides. As for Stevens, these trials and tribulations prompted him to move in an increasingly separatist direction. Only belatedly, at the very moment when the first violent demonstrations were occurring in Luganville, did the colonial authorities realise that Peacock was not the only strong source of foreign support for Stevens. Since 1975, the most active support for Nagriamel had been coming from the American millionaire Michael Oliver and his Phoenix Foundation. (16)

Oliver's influence over Stevens and the logistical support provided by the Phoenix Foundation led to the establishment of a 'Federation of Self-governing Settlements of Nagriamel' on 27 December 1975 and planning for the independence of the northern islands. This federation was supposed to include Santo and the surrounding islets, but not the urban centre of Luganville; all the neighbouring islands, Aore, Malo, Aoba and Maewo; all the islands belonging to the Banks and Torres group; and all the other groups in the New Hebrides wishing to join the federation as a free and independent people. To this end, with the assistance of lawyers from the Phoenix Foundation, Stevens had prepared a Constitution, (17) and also received from the Foundation all the tangible symbols of a sovereign state. Currency was struck, passports and constitutions printed and a flag chosen (Van Trease 1987:153). Radio Vanafo received technical assistance and resources to develop its broadcasting. Lastly, transfers of funding to develop Nagriamel's administrative structure and establish a federal bank became more substantial.

Nagriamel deferred its declaration of Independence twice before this goal was suspended until the events of 1980. Oliver was then deported but continued his active support to Nagriamel, in continued pursuance of the goal of secession for Santo. As Beasant accurately stressed (1984:51): 'Nagriamel's outbursts had been the culmination of Peacock's political manoeuvres, but were only the departure point of Oliver and the Phoenix Foundation's attempts to make Santo an independent state.'


In the transitional period leading up to Independence for the New Hebrides, France lent its support to the idea of a firmly confederate structure for the future Republic. This was supposed to leave open the path to a close association between this island group and New Caledonia, in order to avoid any pro-Independence overspill into the other Pacific territories and thus guarantee the French nuclear testing programme in French Polynesia. Among Vanuaaku Pati supporters, the French authorities were suspected, in their insistence on the idea of a confederation, to be encouraging the possible secession of Santo.

This potential secession of the island of Santo, or of any other island in the New Hebrides group, was never officially admitted by the French Government and its representatives. However, the contradictory statements by the two main French representatives present in the New Hebrides during the rebellion, i.e. Jean-Jacques Robert and Yves Rodrigue, respectively Delegue extraordinaire and Ministre plenipotentiaire, did no more than to strengthen doubt over France's official position. According to Jean-Jacques Robert, the French Government had always held to the prospect of indivisible territorial integrity for the group, although he admitted that there had been attempts to destabilize the independent government of Vanuatu and manipulate the Santo settlers by the Noumea-based authorities over which he himself claimed to have no control. In contrast, Yves Rodrigue admitted the involvement of the French secret services in the organization of the Santo rebellion and the setting off of violence on Tanna, for the purpose of creating a diversion and negotiating a French future for Santo and its integration into New Caledonia, letting go of Tanna in exchange (remarks recorded during a series of interviews I was granted by the parties concerned in Paris in November 1997 and May 1988). At the very least, the French authorities were kept closely informed of Stevens' plans, because when he visited Paris in the first quarter of 1980 with Michael Oliver with whom he had just stayed in Carson City, Stevens offered Paul Dijoud, the French Secretary of State for Overseas Departments and Territories (DOM-TOM), his pledge of an association of Santo with New Caledonia and handed him a copy of the Constitution of Nakatoro, signifying the partition of the 15 northern islands of the New Hebrides (cf. Beasant 1984:68).

The Phoenix Foundation continued to participate in Nagriamel's separatist manoeuvres from a distance, by including it in a network of international influence around the Santo affair and by funding the administrative structure of Nagriamel. The most widely reported instance of this partnership was Oliver's plan to transfer 100,000 Vietnamese boat people to Santo under the umbrella of the Fatima International organisation. This proposal led to a press conference in Sydney in January 1979 and was confirmed by Stevens over Radio Vanafo at the same time. In this jumble of tacit alliances and stated collaborations, miscellaneous speculation and colonial endeavours with no real coordination, the 1979 elections would really shake things up. (18) Nagriamel's allies found themselves facing a fait accompli with regard to the failure of their 'legalist' strategy. The French authorities themselves also then began to agree on forked-tongue language, accepting the prospect of independence under the authority of the Anglophone elite while leaving the door open to the most extreme solutions with the intention of preserving all kinds of more or less incompatible interests (the 'short-term interests' of small settlers, the French position in the medium term in the Pacific and the long-term maintenance of French language and culture).

The loss of these elections was a big shock to the French-speaking camp. The situation deteriorated very fast. In the hours following its announcement, the first reactions occurred on Santo: Jimmy Stevens stated on Radio Vanafo that the elections had been rigged and proffered a number of threats to members of the Vanuaaku Pati living on Santo. Shows of force and intimidation by Nagriamel and the Tabwemassana party towards their political opponents became widespread. The Francophones and their infrastructure were completely spared during the looting and destruction of the administrative offices and commercial premises of Anglophones.

The sending of troops was blocked by Inspector-general Robert, against the convictions of the British and their VP proteges. This opposition by the French authorities to any armed intervention on Santo would persist over the next six months, until the eve of national independence in July 1980. All the ensuing discussions and attempts at reconciliation week after week failed. Stevens avoided these negotiations as far as he possibly could (although he accompanied the Moderate Party delegation to Paris in late February) (cf. Beasant 1984:84) and stated, in January 1980, that the path towards separate independence for the islands of Santo and Tanna would from then on be an irreversible fact. On 21 January, he called upon the British administration to cease its activities on Santo and gave its public servants seven days to leave the island.

The response by the central government to the proclamation of a Government of the Republic of Vemarana at the end of January (ibid:82) did not come until early in May and took the form of a Council of Ministers decision setting 30 July 1980 as the latest date for independence. In return, on the night of 27 May, this decision triggered the destruction of the British administrative offices, the taking of hostages and the theft of ammunition and dynamite by Nagriamel sympathisers. This time they took control of the Luganville municipal area. This troubled night was followed in the early morning by a speech by Stevens on Radio Vanafo, which in the meantime had been renamed Radio Vemarana:
 This is the voice of freedom and liberty, protected and defended by
 the NaGriamel Federation Independent Government in Tanafo, Santo,
 New Hebrides. This is the Broadcasting Service located
 approximately 25[degrees] latitude south and 168[degrees] longitude
 west, planet Earth or Urantia, on the edge of the Milky Way cluster
 of stars. Today Vemarana is born. Santo people put the name and
 Santo people are working in the office. Come and join Vemarana no
 matter what race you belong to, join hand in hand to help take
 Vemarana government out of the land of Vanuatu Government.
 NaGriamel was Independent in 1976, but, as we understand, the
 Independence of Vanuatu Government will be at the end of July 1980.
 You must all be careful as independent Vanuatu is not the same as
 Independent Vemarana (Stevens, ibid:94).


In the following days, the elected Government of Vanuatu imposed a total blockade on Santo, a decision which led to the departure from the island of 2000 British residents and anglophone Melanesians. On 2 June, a Vemarana Cabinet was installed. On 6 June, Stevens ordered the liberation of all the hostages. For the whole month, the capital, Port Vila, also experienced an increase in tension, following a major demonstration by the Francophones. Various signs of the emergence of violent dissidence were recorded, including the appearance of 'OAS' graffiti (Organisation Armee Secrete--'Secret Army Organisation', a reference to loyalists in the Algerian war) on walls in Port Vila. This situation led to reinforcements being sent to Port Vila on 15 June, with 200 British Marines arriving after France had sent 55 gardes mobiles (Mobile Force soldiers). These manoeuvres aggravated an already threatening atmosphere. The previous days had seen new troubles erupt on Tanna in June with the assassination of Yolou. (20)

On Santo, on the other hand, Vemarana had in fact experienced two months of effective independence; the administrations were reopened, the public servants paid, and the blockade generally avoided thanks to logistical support from many sources in New Caledonia. But with the approach of the fateful date and under pressure from the demonstrations organised by the VP and supported by the British, a demand was presented by Andrew Stuart, the representative of the Queen of England, that the scheduled 30 July Independence date be respected. On 14 June, Walter Lini, as the head of the legitimate government, attended the South Pacific Forum meeting in Tarawa, Kiribati and on the 17th signed an agreement with the PNG authorities for action by their troops on Santo in order to bring the secession to an end.

Faced with this new turn of events, the intransigence of the Santo settlers and the determination of Nagriamel, the French authorities realised that any attempted secession could now only be in vain. The British and French therefore agreed on re-establishing law and order on Santo by 30 July by means of a mixed contingent of 100 marines and 100 parachutists, even if the French justified their decision on the sole basis of the protection they wished to afford their citizens and refused to consider any form of crackdown. A joint force under French command was sent to Luganville on 24 July. The day before, Inspector General Robert had gone to the island to deliver a speech which, in its attempts to be reassuring, had subsequently contributed to creating an atmosphere of panic, when three weeks later the patent failure of this action led to the departure of the Franco-British troops and the consecutive arrival of Papua New Guinea soldiers. (21)

The Kumul Force, consisting of 300 men, two patrol boats and four aircraft (cf. Bernard 1983:117), took up positions on Santo on 18 August. On the first day of the operation, the transfer of command to the PNG Commander, Colonel Tony Huai, took place unopposed, with the PNG troops taking control of Luganville's strategic points. But from the very next day onwards, checks and arrests began. As from 23 August, a number of acts of sabotage were committed by settlers who had fled into the bush, which strengthened the response and offered an excuse to send for PNG reinforcements, consisting of commandos with special jungle combat training (of Beasant 1984:113). On 30 August, Stevens' eldest son was killed by the PNG troops when shots were fired at the vehicle in which he was travelling with two settlers.

The next day, the PNG troops moved into Vanafo and Port-Olry (another bastion of the resistance), where they found Stevens, sitting on a chair under the great banyan tree of the village, with behind him a gathering of several hundred man bus, men, women and children. Of the few Europeans still present in Vanafo or who had taken refuge there, some tried to escape or defend themselves against the soldiers, but most were prevented from so doing. A few hundred Vemarana sympathisers were detained during these operations and, despite the arrest of Jimmy Stevens, the skirmishes with the PNG forces continued in northern Santo for several days.

From September to November, the crackdown continued through joint action by the PNG forces and the Vanuatu Mobile Force (mostly formed of VP militiamen), using aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force to ferry prisoners to the capital. Much brutality was recorded and many arrests were summary in character, despite a range of protests from the Vanuatu Christian Council and Amnesty International (cf. Bernard 1983:122-125, 179-181). The official figure given by the government for the number of arrests was 2774 (ibid: 125). The heaviest sentences were from five to seven years imprisonment. Several hundred French citizens escaped all prosecution by fleeing to New Caledonia and 127 foreign citizens were declared persona non grata, including 110 French citizens (cf. Beasant

1984:143). The Condominium laws contained no provision for the crime of high treason and 11 charges were therefore laid against Jimmy Stevens on 21st November by the British judge Cook. (22) The rulings illegally took the form of an accumulation of sentences. After assuming full responsibility for the rebellion throughout the trial, Stevens was given a 14 1/2 year prison sentence and a 220,000 Vatu fine. In his defence, he stated:
 I am one of the high chiefs of Nagriamel custom and I would like
 the Chief Justice to consider me as such. Because my people have
 asked me to do some things, I have done them; I did not foresee all
 the trouble that could happen; Today, I can see all the harm I have
 done and I realise that I made a mistake by accepting the role of
 Prime Minister of Vemarana. I have listened to too many people, the
 representatives of France said that they would not let me down,
 Inspector General Robert promised that to me. They all promised it
 to me. I have been the leader of Vemarana for twenty years, no-one
 has ever been killed because of me, but Vanuatu has killed three of
 my men: Alexis Boulouk, Alexis Yolou on Tanna and one of my sons,
 not long ago. That's all I have to say (Stevens, in Bernard


After almost eleven years of imprisonment, Jimmy Stevens, who was in very poor health, was released prematurely in 1991, just before the first change of majority government in the recent history of Vanuatu. Walter Lini, before being removed from office on 6 September 1991 by decision of his own party, had decided to free Stevens three years before the general elections, in return for a customary reconciliation between the two men (cf. Henningham 1992:404-405), and thus to sow discord in the opposition. But a severely ill Stevens passed away in 1994, leaving Nagriamel in the state in which it had been since the sudden end to the rebellion on the island.

Nagriamel was never banned, but was constantly kept under surveillance, meaning that all its foreign support completely dried up. Vanafo was considered throughout Walter Lini's reign as a dissident village. However, Nagriamel had since moved back to a 'legal' position, taking part in the 1983 and 1987 elections, at which it obtained limited votes at the scale of the whole group but which were substantial for Santo. The only seat won by Harry Karaeu for Nagriamel in 1983 was however lost in 1987. Karaeu, the son of a custom chief from Tasmalum, stood for election in 1987 on a UPM (Union of Moderate Parties) ticket, advocating a merger of Nagriamel with this party and the relinquishment of its specifically local kastom platform. This strategy caused a division within Nagriamel, which was profitable for Karaeu because he was elected over Franky Stevens, the youngest son of the Vanafo patriarch.

The release of Stevens gave new impetus to Nagriamel, which had Franky Stevens elected to Parliament in 1991. This victory was obtained courtesy of the latest political manoeuvre of Jimmy Stevens: the conclusion of an alliance between Nagriamel and the brand-new Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP) of Barak Sope, Walter Lini's former right-hand man, who had started his own party after his disagreements with the Vanuaaku Pati. (23) The two men had prepared this agreement in 1989, when Sope had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment and met Stevens behind bars. The electoral success of this new Nagriamel alliance demonstrated that Stevens' influence and sway over the man bus remained intact. (24)

Franky Stevens was elected in 1991 and then re-elected in 1995. In the meantime, the soil on Stevens' grave was still fresh when more serious dissent emerged within Nagriamel on Santo. Franky was accused by the traditionalist leaders of Nagriamel of being a man skul (Christian) too ignorant in customary affairs and therefore illegitimate in terms of his authority. A schism occurred and Nakato Stevens, Frankie's younger brother, drawing inspiration from his father's practices, was selected as the leader of a dissident list representing true Santo kastom, when Franky decided to fall into line with the government. While creating dissent, this group did not however cause a split in the Vanafo community. Its electoral failure was patent, even if Frankie's legitimacy emerged in a weakened state.

In 1994-1995, Franky claimed both the legitimacy of a modern politician, as his father's successor at the helm of Nagriamel, and as a Vanafo custom chief. The village has in fact been elevated to the rank of a symbol. It has become a kind of 'Sleeping Beauty' village. It continues to be quite populous and its inhabitants seem active, but part of the site has been spectacularly 'museumified', with its new role as a tourist attraction. From Luganville, visitors travel to Vanafo by taxi or minivan between dives on the wreck of the USS President Coolidge (a former cruise ship converted into a troop carrier during the war, which sank at the entrance to Luganville harbour). Franky always warmly welcomes tourists who can attend a Nagriamel flag-raising ceremony every day in an area planted with namele and nangaria, maintained by women in grass skirts, although the rest of the community is in western dress. When the tourists arrive, Franky and the former personal bodyguards of Jimmy Stevens hasten to don their Nagriamel badge and then guide visitors to the deliberately unrestored ruins of the former Office Board of Nagriamel, from where Radio Vemarana used to operate before being destroyed by the PNG troops. The main attraction of the visit to Vanafo is Jimmy Stevens' tomb, dug in his own house, where his body lies in state after undergoing a drying process, laid on a bed of flowers. In the house are displayed Stevens' personal effects: his modern suits are carefully hung from the partitions, flanked by scarves in the Nagriamel Confederation colours indicating Stevens' position as Chief Minister. An iconic portrait of Stevens, making him look like a Christian saint, is hung on the central post; all around are arranged pig jaws with curving tusks, symbols of Stevens' 'customary rank'. At the entrance, a visitors' book contains the signatures of many worthy representatives of the political world of the South Pacific states. Jimmy Stevens' tomb at Vanafo has become an important pilgrimage destination, a Mecca for Melanesian style traditionalism.

Nagriamel's current feeble state, accelerated by pseudo-customary disputes and purely outlandish events, again confirmed that the political history of Nagriamel was broadly determined by Jimmy Stevens' own personal story, by the rise and fall of this character who was full of contradictions and who would live with all the paradoxes in the private and public spheres of his life, as an individual and as a group member, in the traditional and modern worlds. Because, for his man bus sympathisers, Jimmy Stevens was the person through whom the last links with the pre-colonial past were severed. The feverish burst of activity initiated by Nagriamel's adventure in the Levi-Straussian 'cold history' of the remote communities of Santo enabled them, through Stevens and Phoenix Foundation's ventures, to take an irrevocable place in universal history. The fundamentally new ideological contribution by Stevens for the man bus as for all his compatriots is perfectly captured in Beasant's conclusions on the decolonisation of this piece of the confetti of empire that came to be known as Vanuatu: 'The Rebellion, in its genesis, its brief and doubtful reign and its after-math is, in essence, the story of how single individuals can affect world politics.' (Beasant 1984:151).

Our remaining task is to see how, through his personal story, Jimmy Stevens was the first ni-Vanuatu to use the process of indigenisation of the traditionalist colonial legacy, a technique which was subsequently broadly adopted at every level in the country's social and political life.


An insight into the innovatory dimension of Nagriamel's ideology can be gained from Stevens' personal life story and the highly specific nature of his power. With the benefit of the many documents and commentaries about him, his life story can only be seen in terms of a political career. He saw himself as explicitly having a destiny, a mission in life. Jimmy Stevens spoke a lot and often placed himself at the heart of his favourite themes: whether in relation to his position as a 'custom chief', his identification with his 'custom people' or his action for a 'customary renewal' through the creation of Nagriamel. Even if Jimmy Stevens may never have exclaimed 'custom is me', this was the idea that his external sources of support had of him. This was how the Santo settlers came to call him the 'Prince of the man bus', and how in a more abstract way he became the "Prince of Custom' for the French representatives of the Condominium administration (cf. Hours 1976:227). These fabrications were taken up and only slightly deformed by the press at the time of the Santo rebellion, making Jimmy Stevens 'the Leader of a Stone Age Army' (London Observer, 2nd June 1980). On the primary basis of comments by Beasant, Van Trease and the ethnologists Kolig, Guiart, Hours and Bernard and written addresses that Stevens left us, I will undertake my own interpretation of the successive inventions of Stevens' unprecedented leadership style, Nagriamel custom and the unprecedented traditionalist exploitation of a kastom ideology for political purposes.

About Stevens and Nagriamel, such analytical concepts as 'prophet', 'Cargo cult', 'indigenous movement' and almost always 'big man' frequently recur. What can also be found is a series of terms about what they are not: a politician, a political party, a church, a nation. Let us begin by immediately refuting the Cargo cult idea with reference to the syncretic movements which preceded Nagriamel (cf. Tabani 2002). This rejection was indeed also expressed by Stevens himself: He spoke with contempt of Jon Frum--with whom it was quite evident he did not intend to associate--and of Cargo-cultists in general. 'I no waiting for steamer. I rather have black steamer than white steamer. Land my steamer.' (Stevens in Lindstrom 1993:163). If Stevens' positions seem quite clear, the problem of categorizing Nagriamel as a Cargo cult is still complex, especially with reference to his followers and advisors (especially Albert Reret, cf. Abong 2008). Such a movement could be considered as being closer to modern utopian socialism, for which the legitimating founding event or revolutionary coup already happened. It doesn't prophesy any return of supra-natural figures, nor does it promise any definitive eschatological abundance obtained through ritual means. In the following quotation, Stevens formulates a quasi master and slave dialectic, in which the alliance between the US army's organizational aspects and indigenous labour force play the role of a liberating power:
 I can tell to all of you that America was really enlightened when
 it came to our country. I don't speak about a light like
 torchlight, but a light that you can use to build up something.
 That means that when every hand uses to work, things are changing
 very quickly. Everyone works. Nobody idles. In this place I assert
 that America brought us a light when it came here. Before, we could
 see here the white men learning that the master is the master and
 that we are just boys, workmen. He is the master. But with the
 arrival of America, there is no more master. Everybody is equal. In
 this time, never mind you are a big man or someone else, you must
 work with all the other ones to let the work go fast (Jimmy
 Stevens, interview by James Gwero when Stevens was in the hospital
 at the time he moved there from the prison. (Lamont Lindstrom,
 personal communication).

The Nagriamel was neither clearly cargoist nor really nationalist. As Marcellin Abong astutely argues, the more this movement strove for a nation-state attitude, the more it revealed some unexpected cargoist aspects (cf. Abong 2008). This remark also relates to Nagriamel's interactions with utopian and manipulative foreigners. One of the late cargoist dimensions of the Nagriamel is linked to its association with the Phoenix Foundation which used to play with cargoist symbols such as valuable gifts brought by new foreign benefactors.

Stevens may have presented himself as the articulator of the frustrations and hopes of his sympathisers, but his external alliances pushed him into going beyond the land struggle for which he was initially mandated: 'Their goal was what land meant to rural people-access to material wealth and a higher standard of living through its development.' (Stevens in Van Trease 1987:156). Stevens' purpose was to enable the Melanesian people to enjoy the benefits of colonial society and emancipate them by means of a black consciousness: 'Nagriamel is been before me. But to reform him again--grip it together and put it on the flag and we fly it up. That's my job. (...) Nagriamel will be for you black pikinini' (ibid: 160)

Of the most thorough studies on Nagriamel, which other commentators have drawn upon, the study by Hours emerges in a leading position. Starting with an autobiographical account of several stages in the life of Jimmy Stevens, Hours draws a psycho-sociological portrait of the man. He describes three dimensions of Stevens' life through the three patronymics by which he was known. The first two seem well-chosen while the third would appear to be more tendentious and I will address it last.

Hours depicts Stevens' life with emphasis on the apparent schizophrenic dimension of the individual, that he basically attributes to his original status as a mixed-heritage person in a colonial universe where he was refused access to the education of the superior culture, that of the dominant group. Jimmy Stevens is the name that relates to the first part of his life. He descended from a Tongan grandmother and a Scottish grandfather, a sailor who did not recognise his descendants. His mother was the daughter of a chief from the Banks Group and Stevens was born on Santo, in Rongofuro village at Tasmalum, before his family lived in various places in the northern parts of the group, where his father exercised all the subordinate plantation tasks for the English. The Stevens family settled in the Banks before Jimmy left, taking advantage of the arrival of the American troops who recruited him.

Jimmy, the 'boy', mixed-heritage born of mixed-heritage and unassimilated, managed to free himself from the strict straitjacket of family authority and the even stricter one of the social order of colonial society. In this way, Jimmy gained technological knowledge and could exercise a qualified activity. His enjoyment of a recognised social identity through the American nickname Jimmy enabled him to identify with his mixed-heritage status. Through this, and contact with black American soldiers, he gained a consciousness of 'black identity' or 'negritude', which subsequently played a major role in influencing his interpretations of the man bus culture.

The end of the war nevertheless threw him back into the universe of segregation of the white and mixed-heritage society of Santo. He experienced the oppressive repercussions of an urban and modern life, because in working for other whites, he was given the task of taking part in the exploitation of the land resources of the indigenous communities. Standing at the crossroads between two worlds, his professional experience came to the end of the road as the result of a serious work accident. Stevens became aware of the 'cultural ghetto' (Hours 1976:219) in which he found himself, while admiring the unity that the communities of the interior could maintain through their relative isolation. About the end of Stevens' youth, before the Nagriamel adventure and its accompanying disillusions, Hours concluded:
 Lacking a sound cultural identity, victimised more than any other
 by the condominium situation, such was the way Jimmy Stevens
 appeared in local society. Having been accustomed from a very young
 age to living in precarious circumstances and under abstract
 dependency on the two omnipresent powers, he retained something
 from each of the environments he lived in and each component of his
 status as a mixed-heritage person (ibid. 219). (25)

When he discovered custom, Stevens would devise a way of turning the law to his own advantage. He relinquished his status as a 'British Optant', aligning himself with the Francophone mixed-heritage camp. The establishment and development of Nagriamel was his prime concern throughout the second part of his life, when as Chief President of the Federation of Nagriamel he became J.T.P.S. Moses, with which name he signed all the official documents. Before fully appearing to his sympathisers as the man of their destiny, Stevens launched his political career with the status of a kind of observer/participant of Santo custom. But he quickly measured the benefit in terms of prestige that he could gain through kastom demands and their political exploitation. Tubo, his father's name, gave him a local identity marker through the relationship maintained by his father with the prophet Rongofuro, who had been a cult leader on Santo in the 1930s. This same patronymic had also enabled him to claim Tongan ascendance (Tubu = tupou) and the noble title and blood inherited from his grandmother. Pantuntun was the name of his mother and this gave him a Melanesian, New Hebridean and customary identity foundation as his maternal grandfather had been a Banks Islands notable. (26) Lastly, Moses was the name he took when he converted to the Church of Christ faith, the first to have been entirely run by Melanesians. (27) It was on the basis of the multiple identity references making up this patronymic assemblage that Jimmy Stevens forged a political identity as a modern leader claiming customary legitimacy.


Of all the dimensions of Stevens' personality, the most problematic and most ambiguous one that was that symbolised by the name Moli. This name corresponds to a high grade in the hierarchy system, which is the major ritual institution in this part of the group. It was given to him as a child, when he was in contact with the Rongofuro family, as a tribute to the late son of the eponymous last man to carry it. Stevens revived his Moli identity when he took over from Buluk as the leader of Nagriamel. He then undertook to restore to this name its true traditional significance 'by staging annual pig-killing ceremonies' (Beasant 1984:19), based on traditional grade-taking ceremonies.

Hours' comments are not clear on this point. They depict Stevens as holding a leadership dependent on a traditional dimension that he himself helped to invent. Because, elsewhere, Hours also criticises the spectacular expressions of this customary claim, and these 'pig-slaughtering ceremonies performed before condominium delegates or other high-level political leaders are not custom, they are buffoonery and stage-managed' (Hours 1979:19), when they do not subside into violence and 'customary terrorism' (ibid: 18).

From his hypothesis about the traditional nature of Stevens' power, Hours draws theoretical extensions on the secularisation of millenarian cults comparable to those put forward by Worsley (1957) and Guiart (1951). Stevens' action is thus portrayed as being part of a process of transforming cults into forms of modern political organisation, that Nagriamel's leader would not have been able to conclude. Nagriamel is presented as having remained a Cargo cult and Stevens is not said to have achieved the dimension of a politician capable of incorporating a nationalist vision of the future of the New Hebrides. In his interpretation, Hours puts forward a number of theoretical factors related to Weber's (1956) typology of legitimate orders, prompting him to say that Stevens, through the dissent he would engender, never achieved the revolutionary or nationalist dimension of the charismatic leader. He rather restricted himself to a traditional role as a Melanesian big man while following a reactionary path because of external influences.

Revisited and modified by Kolig, this argument led to Stevens being portrayed as a true charismatic leader (an idea to which he seems to give the connotation of non-traditional), who nevertheless retains some of the specific Melanesian dimensions of the big man of the Sahlins model (achieved versus ascribed) (cf. Kolig 1987:193-196). Reference should also be made on this point to Guiart's interpretation, because he expressed a much more radical position than those of the two previous commentators. He stated that it was not under any circumstances possible to describe Stevens' power as charismatic or to give him any form of traditional legitimacy. His view was that the ascendance of J.T.P.S. Moses to the rank of Moli was pure charlatanism, lies and opportunism (cf. Guiart 1988:1983). (29)

What can be levelled against Hours' analysis is that it endeavours to describe a modern context and its ideological components, while introducing ethnological concepts relating to a specifically traditional setting. Through such a traditionalisation of the power of Jimmy Stevens, what is lost from view is the idealised charisma of the modern providential man, and Weber's 'plebiscitary president', which is a consequence and not a cause of the rationality of its organisation (cf. Weber 1956). His political career is symptomatic of the colonial and post-colonial trajectories of anthropological classifications relating to forms of leadership in the Pacific:
 There is an instructive progression in some five centuries of
 political terminology in the Pacific. This begins with 'kings' and
 moves down to 'chief', then to 'bigman', and now has reversed back
 up to 'chief' ... And some leaders, like Vanuatu's Jimmy Stephens,
 have ennobled themselves and returned the way back up to king--or
 alternatively, to 'paramount chief' or 'president', the latter
 title trumping even the progressive claims of the civilized kings
 (White and Lindstrom 1997:10).

What should be focused on is this ability of Nagriamel to mobilise, which enabled Hours to reduce Nagriamel to the level of a neo-Cargo cult. According to Howard Van Trease, 'Hours' reduction of Nagriamel to a neo-Cargo cult only serves to remind us that the New Hebrides, from its very beginning (maybe even earlier, we do not know, yet), was a land of movements and Nagriamel also needs to be situated within that context' (Van Trease 2008, personal communication). The development of its administration and external support grew as Stevens reinvented kastom and strengthened his personal power. It was this combination of claims both customary and autocratic that really represented the traditionalist exploitation of traditions. They gave Stevens the status, at a local level, of an ideological precursor of cultural practices now in general use and codified at the national level in Vanuatu (cf. Tabani 2002).


Jimmy Stevens was trying to make custom into his own law. To assert the legality of Nagriamel he often resorted to totally imaginary social and political constructions:
 Nagriamel is part of a federation, a State that we call Natakoro.
 In the Nagriamel Constitution, Natakoro represents the whole of the
 New Hebrides. Unfortunately, when the Whites arrived, they replaced
 the name and idea of Nakatoro with 'New Hebrides'. Before the
 Whites came, there was a law that some people called Natamata or
 Namangi that excluded all others to rule over the country (Stevens,
 in Bernard 1983:73).

While expounding democratically inspired claims (to be found for example in slogans such as 'individual rights for everybody' uttered at public events by members of Nagriamel) (cf. Beasant 1984:61), Stevens was also seeking to preserve the community aspect of Nagriamel at all costs, by placing custom above every other consideration: 'If you see somebody going naked, this man is one of yours, the naked people of Santo. Somebody who goes naked, you can vote for him' (Stevens in Phillibert 1990:458). The goal for Stevens was to protect the man bus from politics (politik), by assuming this 'contagion' alone. This position was a determining factor in the reactionary orientation pursued by Nagriamel and Stevens' ultimate strategy to introduce a kind of dictatorship of custom:
 I noticed at the time (about the changing political situation in
 the New Hebrides before Independence) that there were lots of
 political parties beginning to be established, each with a
 different point of view. I was worried that this would spill into
 the headquarters of Nagriamel at Tanafo and suggested, therefore,
 that a separate body be established in Luganville. (...)The purpose
 of the Vemarana office was to deal with politics and to ensure that
 it did not come into the headquarters of the custom movement. I
 was, therefore, the leader of Nagriamel and at the same time
 President of Vemarana (Stevens 1995:227).

When applied to practical situations, Stevens' position as an individual organically embodying his people enabled him to justify his most arbitrary acts, such as the expulsion of Melanesians from other islands:
 Because this is custom. Nakatoro has spoken! Nakatoro says: 'you
 can stay here if you respect custom, but if you want to set up your
 power against custom, you must go back to where you came from
 straight away'. This is not one man's talk, this is the voice of
 custom, of custom that has always existed ... So, today, the people
 who live on Santo must vote for Santo custom. If they want to vote
 for politics, they must go back to the Vanuaaku people. I believe
 that this party comes from New Zealand or Australia, but you see
 the Blacks cannot go and live in New Zealand or Australia ...
 (Stevens, in Bernard 1983:73).

The cultural contradictions which undermined the coherent development of this movement and the incompatibilities in its alliances prevented it from ever achieving a nationalist dimension from an ideological point of view, leading to the fiasco of the rebellion. In this regard, the true turning point in the political development of Nagriamel occurred around 1976 when the final break with the Vanuaaaku Pati and its emerging westernised elites occurred. The VP would from then on never cease to denounce Jimmy Stevens for having joined the French and reciprocally he never ceased accusing the members of the VP for having 'left custom and joined the white man' (cf. Van Trease 1987:168). It was certainly no more due to custom either, as suggested by Hours, that Nagriamel did not manage to 'sublimate (the daily life experience of the man bus) into a romantic nationalist myth', than because 'Nagriamel was a grouping of bush people and its political concerns were primarily oriented towards the political organisation of the man bus' (Hours 1974:238).

Stevens' inability to form or rally a Melanesian modern elite around Nagriamel or indeed to find arrangements with the churches which suspected him of encouraging and wanting to revert to paganism (cf. Beasant 1994:24), (30) did not enable him to perceive any other solutions other than focusing in his hands alone an amalgamation of modern authority and invented traditions, while assigning himself quasi-monarchical power. His rejection by the Anglophone elites led him to multiply his external alliances, to rely on settlers and foreign managers and to seek the benevolence of the French colonial authorities. In the same way as the Nationalist Vanuaaku Pati, but on a different basis, Nagriamel remained within the dependency on Whites: 'I want my people to come out from the joint regulation - not an independence to push out the white man, but the people should be out from under their control' (Stevens, in Van Trease 1987:163).

The large sums of money received by Stevens from his external supporters were never used to put in place a productive development plan or to build lasting infrastructure, but only to develop the administrative structure of Nagriamel, and to organise it into a customary pressure group to support Stevens' autocratic power. There is merit in recording that it was on the aspect of control over Nagriamel's finances by Stevens that the latter achieved recognition of his true status as a politician, through the jealousy that he triggered off in his peers who saw in him 'the most corrupt individual the country has ever known and everybody knows it' (in Van Trease 1987:165). (31) The most objective opinions on Jimmy Stevens are certainly those of Van Trease, who while criticising Stevens' separatist manoeuvring and the manipulation he experienced from his external allies, honestly acknowledged the absence in the man of any wish to swindle his sympathisers. He is seen as allowing himself to be dragged into a political game without really understanding the rules, having at the outset an ambition to achieve personal power in the same way as so many other modern political leaders. Because of its value in this context, I will now include a verbatim extract from Van Trease's commentary on this point:
 Moreover, before simply dismissing Jimmy Stevens as a 'corrupt'
 politician, it is necessary to examine whether his conduct could be
 termed more dishonest than any other individual in a similar
 position of power, and the degree to which he made seemingly
 unethical decisions based on ignorance and inexperience, rather
 than out of a conscious effort to deceive or defraud. (...) His
 lifestyle was by no means extravagant. (...) It would appear that
 the large grants received from abroad were spent primarily on
 running the organization and assisting Nagriamel members with small
 development projects rather than the personal comfort of its
 leader. Indeed, with his numerous wives and children he would have
 had higher than average living expenses, which could only have been
 met with financial support from Nagriamel--his age, poor health and
 commitment as President of the organization would not have enabled
 him to produce his own food or grow cash crops. In any case, it
 should not be surprising that his followers, numbering more than
 20,000 would have wanted to support their leader and give
 recognition to his status by providing him with a basic livelihood.
 Indeed, the common pattern is that political leaders often find it
 difficult to live up to their ideals once they get into a position
 of power (Van Trease 1987:165-167).

On an ideological level, this movement shows the cultural accents of Afro-American 'black identity' assertion or 'negritude' (its African counterpart) tendencies which, if Nagriamel's endeavour had succeeded, could have provided the foundations for the development of an ethnicist ideology. In the universe of French colonialism, Jimmy Stevens could be situated between Bachaga Bouelem and Leopold Senghor, and not compared to Castro as was suggested by Kolig (1987) (except perhaps for his beard). Stevens saw himself as a king of the islands, black and progressive, the guarantor of colonial patronage with a human face. We must grant him some sensitivity and indeed even a degree of tolerance, in comparison with the attitude of the nationalist elites of Vanuatu. He raised his traditionalist conceptions to the rank of a personal utopia and not a state ideology.

Let us grant the last words to the patriarch of Vanafo who, during his movement's finest hour, was praised on the airwaves of Radio Vemarana, where Australian disc jockey Bob Schnell, alias 'Lord Paw-Paw', carefully made sure that, the disco hit 'Daddy Kool' by the group Boney M was played as the station shut down every evening in homage to Stevens (cf. Beasant 1984:97):
 As for Nagriamel, I think the organisation itself will go ahead as
 before. However, to ensure that the standard of Moli Stevens
 remains, I have killed one hundred pigs plus another ten pigs to
 make the name of Stevens royal. In Bislama, the term for royal is
 natamata. Once I am dead, my natamata will be guaranteed for future
 generations to come. (...) This plan is tied up very closely with
 my family. (...) Before my arrest, I had 25 wives, but the Mobile
 Force created many problems with them and I decided to take a new
 group. I have many children, including 15 sons. The number 15 is
 significant for me. I was born on 15 June. The day the chiefs at
 Tanafo placed their hands on me was 15 January. For white men, a
 set is 10. For Israel, it is 12. For me it is 15. I organise my
 life and work in 15 steps. And there are, of course, 15 islands in
 Nagriamel. One day, I hope to put one boy with his family in each
 of the 15 districts (Stevens 1995:233).


The case of Jimmy Stevens is exemplary in more than one regard. It demonstrates the secularisation of charisma, in other words its rationalisation so as to eradicate from it all elements alien to the economy, and the accompanying of bureaucratic development by a traditionalist ideology. The individual dimension of Stevens' power no longer corresponded to the prestige and personal power of the big man but to an ideological personification of his movement, Nagriamel. Jimmy Stevens was much closer to those white 'kings of the islands' that these island groups had experienced in the last century than to the charismatic big man of the ethnological tradition formalised by Sahlins (1962). The symbolism invented by Stevens for his action seemed more to obey the model of a traditionalist feudal system under colonial supervision.

With regard to the invention of traditions relating to power and the naturalisation of modem domination relationships, Nagriamel and its instigator's actions represent the colonial stereotype of a familiar traditionalist ideology, taken over and adapted to the post-colonial context. The prolegomena of its constructions have been turned into folklore and museum attractions and are now part of the tourism curiosities offered by the new State. The liberation movement of the dakbus people, the 'resistance' of the man blong daknes, are today open to visitors to Jimmy Stevens' tomb in the house/mausoleum of a tropical Colombey (birthplace and last resting place of Charles de Gaulle). When he was buried in 1994, the homily by the official press depicted him as the 'King of the Nagriamel Movement' and as the 'Elder of the Royal Family of Vanafo' (Vanuatu Weekly, 5 May 1994).

Marc Tabani

CNRS CREDO--Marseilles


(1.) One of the main objectives of my PhD thesis was to compare Nagriamel and John Frum movements on Santo and Tanna, and to lay stress on both their similarities and differences in relation to their pro-customary involvement or kastom politics. My field research in Vanafo, the headquarters of the Nagriamel, has consisted in two short two-weekly stays in 1994, a few months after Jimmy Stevens' death, and in 1995. My fieldwork investigations in Tanna have been much longer, 20 months over the last 15 years. My library research about the Nagriamel have also been longer. For these reasons, the main sources for this paper are statements by Jimmy Stevens, newspapers, retrospective interviews with some French officials about events leading up to the independence of the New-Hebrides, and a literature review in French and English. The issues of this paper have also been extensively discussed with Marcellin Abong, Director of the Vanuaku Kaljoral Senta (VKS) and first ni-Vanuatu author of an history of the Nagriamel (La pirogue du dark bush: apercus critiques sur l'histoire du Nagriamel. Port-Vila: VKS Publications, 2008).

(2.) The real interest of the proto-nationalism theory is to analyse the way actual political elites reshape a thesis that has no more sociological value. That point could be illustrated by the following exerpts of Barak Sope's official talk, held among the John Frum people in Sulphur Bay, in February 2000 when he still was Prime minister of Vanuatu:

'The constitution of Vanuatu declares clearly that there is enough space left under the sun of Vanuatu for all of our customs, or for the John Frum movement or for the Nagriamel movement, or for any movement or organisation. And any movement has the right to go on. Everybody has the right to follow them, as well as to vote, to go to school, to use roads or to go to the hospital. The constitution is the guarantee for these rights and everybody must respect it.

I came for the first time at Sulphur Bay when I was at the university, writing my book, to speak with Mweles and some other old leaders of the John Frum movement. In these times, the Vanuaaku Pati didn't exist and neither did the National United Party nor any other political party. No-one but the John Frum and Nagriamel movements were yet present. And in those times, these old peoples had already spoken about Independence, about this Independence which has become our present' (Barak Sope, Sulphur Bay, 15th February 2000).

(3.) Although it becomes ever more difficult to survey exhaustively the anthropological literature on kastom and reinvention of tradition in Melanesia since 1982 (Keesing and Tonkinson 1982), it can be useful to pay attention to the last main issues raised by this topic. Some leading authors, in the wake of Marshall Sahlins (1999), support his attempts to replace the concept of 'culture' in the center of the anthropological debate, to deal with 'kastom as culture' (Akin 2004) instead of considering kastom as reified aspects of contemporary cultures. Robbins' remarks about the tenants of this 'continuity in change' argument show how it is 'double edged': if Sahlins argues that 'cultural self consciousness [can be used by people] after an initial period of humiliation [...] as a basis from which to resist further Western dominance, ... an empirical example of it can be found in the literature on kastom movements in the Pacific .... [he]has also taken pains to argue that self-conscious culturalism is a way of carrying an integral culture in the present, once humiliation gives rise to it we are no longer dealing with radical, Westernizing cultural change' (Robbins 2005:12). For other views relying on the opposite 'rupture in change' argument see Babadzan in his comments about the 'twilight of State-kastom ideology' in the post-9-11 'arch of instability': 'The post-independence period [in the Pacific], characterized by the absence of direct intervention of former colonial powers, is now something of the past. Gone with it are the reification and essentialisation of kastom as an emblem of national identity ... The invocations of traditions are henceforth considered as an obstacle to the rationalization of [Melanesian] politics ... It is as if political legitimacy could no longer come from anywhere but the outside: international funding agencies and former colonial powers are the only ones authorized to award certificates of 'good governance" (Babadzan 2006:61).

(4.) A study by Lindstrom on the huge American presence in Melanesia during the Battle of the Coral Sea shows that, at this time, customary movements tended to retreat in favor of an apprenticeship to modernity and a discovery of the Americans' egalitarian practices, to the detriment of the colonial authority (of Lindstrom 1996:17).

(5.) It is unintentional that this bio-antbropological approach of Jimmy Stevens as leader of the Nagriamel presents some similarities with McClancy's recent analysis, also formulated in a problematic and critical manner, of the life-history of Nakomaha, one of the main former leaders of the John Frum movement (McClancy 2007).

(6.) See Ludwig Von Mises Institute's website bttp://

(7.) In the same way as with every manifestation of kastom, it all started with a 'gift': 'When I asked them what power they had to hold onto the land (...), they replied that they had nothing but their traditional customs. But they didn't know bow best they could utilize their custom, and looked to me for an answer'. (Stevens, in Van Trease 1987:139).

(8.) While using the 'New Jerusalem' toponym, I suggest drawing a parallel between the eschatological dimension of Fernando Quiro's colonial project (see Luque and Mondragon 2005; and also Barbe 2007) and Jimmy Stevens' concrete utopia of founding an ideal community. In the history of Western expansion and modern missiology, new founded communities have been very rarely baptized 'New Jerusalem'. That is why it seems quite significant that this name has been claimed in Tanna after the year 2000 by the prophet Fred and his followers, to refer to a deeply escbatological, or even apocalyptic agenda (see Tabani 2008).

(9.) 'At the meeting Jimmy Stevens and Chief Buluk were introduced as the two head chiefs of Santo. Stevens addressed the meeting and stated that be (...) intend(ed) to get everyone to work together to improve conditions in Vanuatu. In future, if anyone had problems with land, they were to see Jimmy Stevens or Chief Buluk.' (Van Trease 1987:140).

(10.) 'The day begins at 6am with the raising of the colours. This is announced by the beating of the Ambrym drums. The flag is raised to the top of the flagpole before a gathering of men and women lined up to either side in a stance close to attention. This is followed by a stirring speech urging the people to work or addressing a current problem or aiming to create a desire for emulation. This speech by the committee secretary is extended into prayers by the leader of the Church of Christ and a Presbyterian preacher when one is present. During this ceremony the public sings the Nagriamel hymn.

From 7am and until 11 am, each villager attends to his or her business or takes part in collective work, and the same arrangements prevail after the break from l lain to 1pm. The day ends at 4pm and continues with bathing in the river, the women at 3pm, the men at 5pm. A notice refers to night beginning at 10pm. The daily routine is marked by a bell for the two days of community work. Late on Monday afternoons there is a meeting of all the villagers under the banyan tree in the village square and where the open public meetings take place.' (Hours 1974:233).

(11.) Marcellin Abong's book (2008) provides more details with regards to the organizational aspects of the Nagriamel.

(12.) After 1974, land redistribution speeded up; 8 000 hectares were given back at the end of the 1970s. A school and French dispensary were built at Vanafo between 1973 and 1974 (cf. Van Trease 1987:149). A road across the island towards the north was also built from Vanafo to Matantas.

(13.) Greater dissent would emerge in 1974 with the formalisation of Stevens' approach and the signing of an electoral alliance with the Mouvement Autonomiste des Nouvelles-Hebrides (MANH). As a reaction to his dishonest compromises, two small parties would be set up while remaining marginal, the Natuito (Children of the Land) Party, which would become the customary appendix of the future Vanuaaku Pati on Santo and Tabwemassana (after the name of Santo's highest peak) created by a French planter for the very purpose of countering Natuitano (cf. Beasant 1984:30-31).

(14.) Nagriamel's opposition, according to Hours (1974:238), was that of 'the bush people as opposed to the most advanced indigenous individuals, Anglicans, the school-educated, minor urban employees or public servants, small landowners, i.e. the Melanesian 'white-collar workers' and the emergence of a politicized local Petitbourgeoisie.'

(15.) In his article on Santo, Plant recalls that Santo had become at that time a true Mecca for speculators. He refers to some of the press comment from the period: the New Hebrides emerge as the 'Last Paradise', 'the most recent and most reliable of the tax havens', 'if you want laisser-faire capitalism go to the New Hebrides' (Plant 1977:49-50).

(16.) Moses Olitsky, to use his real name, (cf. Van Trease 1977:149), was a Lithuanian Jew who bad survived the Nazi camps and made a fortune in the United States, and used his wealth to pursue his single-minded cause: the creation of a State associating libertarian ideological principles and the ultra-liberalism of the market economy, because for him, the United States of the nineteen-seventies had definitely become a 'fascist socialist State'. Before he took an interest in the case of Santo and Nagriamel, he twice attempted to get control of an island to found a new state in which the legal provisions in his book published in 1966 and entitled 'New Constitution for a New Country' would prevail. His first attempt took the form of the proclamation of a 'Republic of Minerva' on a coral reef belonging to the Kingdom of Tonga. The second involved launching a secession of the island of Abaco in the Bahamas. But for Oliver, on Santo, the chances of success looked promising: 'In contrast to Abaco, we found that the people of Nagriamel have been exceptionally well organized ...' (Oliver, in Plant 1977:54).

(17.) 'The Constitution comes in the form of a short document of seven pages. The cover reproduces the movement's emblem: a black hand and a white hand gripping one another, above which sits a pentangle topped by a bunch of namele and nangaria leaves. The title reads as follows: 'Constitution of Confederation of Natakoro (formerly New Hebrides Islands)'. it contains nine articles, ratified by Jimmy Stevens' own hand, with the stamp of 'Nagriamel Chief President Union Council'. The text states that each grouping (geographical and social unit) controls its own territory and has authority over its own laws, customs and traditions. The government of the Federation is restricted to some basic tasks such as protecting and defending the life and rights of each member. Electoral arrangements by grouping are used to appoint the members of the upper chamber, the Senate, and the lower chamber, the Nasara (name in the northern islands to describe the 'house of the initiated men'). Executive power is exercised by the Chief President of the Nagriamel Federation. Military organization is subordinate to civil power. Lastly, the statement of rights stresses the defense of life and all the freedoms (of conscience, of worship, of speech, of gathering and of representation)'. (Bernard 1983:52).

(18.) A non-consensus-based Constitution had been adopted in October 1978 by a government of national unity from which the VP had intentionally excluded itself pending a popular ballot. On 16 November 1979, when the results of the elections held two days previously were announced, it emerged that not only the VP had claimed victory, but also that this victory was more convincing than expected: 26 of the 39 seats in the new assembly had been won by the VP, with a total of 62.3% of the votes; this was a 2/3 majority, giving the party the right to modify the constitution.

(19.) Urantia seems to refer to the name given by the followers of the 'Book of Urantia', an American neo-Christic sect, to the planet earth. What the real link is between the mystical claims of that brotherhood and Jimmy Steven's neo-customary cosmology is still for me a complete mystery (for more details about that sect see the website of Urantia Foundation:

(20.) The death of Yolou was considered an irremediable loss by the francophone camp. Jean-Jacques Robert, for whom there was no doubt that Yolou was deliberately killed by a VP militant, disputes that France had the slightest intention of taking advantage of this murder to overthrow the government of Walter Lini (of Paitel 1985). In contrast, he was refused permission by his minister, Paul Dijoud, to carry out a similar action for the purposes of reprisals (personal interview, May 1997). More officially, Robert stated 'Alexis Yolou had studied at tertiary level in France and his abilities should have enabled him to play a prominent part in the history of his country. His murder gave rise to unanimous condemnation. The refusal of the Public Prosecutor, Graeme Mackay, an Englishman, to prosecute those responsible on grounds of insufficient evidence, unleashed the fury of the dead man's friends, and the custom people of Tanna. Faced with denial of justice in a country where lex talionis had not yet completely disappeared, some people thought that, in order to redress the balance, a leading VP member, and preferably a Presbyterian, should be sacrificed. Being in charge at that time of the French Residency, I succeeded but very reluctantly, in persuading them to abandon their project' (Robert 2002:433).

(21.) For a complete transcription of the text of Jean-Jacques Robert's speech, see Paitel (1985:234-235).

(22.) Jimmy Stevens pleaded guilty to the eleven charges laid against him by the Public prosecutor. These were: 1/ Military action with the use of arms; 2/ Dispatching of men to damage the British Paddock; 3/ Arbitrary detention of district agents and policemen; 4/ Possession of stolen goods: dynamite, ammunition, etc.; 5/ Organisation of an illegal movement; 6/ Incitement to break the law; 7/ Illegal production of passports; 8/ Illegal reproduction of a constitution; 9/ funding of an illegal association; 10/ Conduct prejudicial to law and order; 11/ maintaining and operating an illegal radio station (Paitel 1985:262-263).

(23.) Rejected by UPM, Stevens signed this alliance with Barak Sope who in return offered him hospital care in Noumea (cf. Stevens 1995:241-242). His justification was suffused with that perpetual mixture of customary reasons and political opportunism that also proved a great success at the national level, and for which Stevens had been the pioneer. On Stevens' orders, Sope was to be considered by the members of Nagriamel both as a dissident brother and a customary ally, through an obscure kinship arrangement (ibid:241).

(24.) Van Trease explains the content of this astonishing political stroke: 'Nagriamel itself did not publish a separate platform, using that of the MPP, and simply appealed to followers to rally behind their returned leader, Jimmy Stevens, by supporting Nagriamel candidates. There was little time for Jimmy Stevens or his associates to consult with Nagriamel supporters outside of Santo, resulting in significant confusion--understandable, in view of past history. Members of the Nagriamel Movement were being asked to join in an alliance with someone who had been one of the most powerful individuals in the Vanua' aku Pati at independence and was instrumental in putting down the rebellion and imprisoning many of their own leaders, including Jimmy Stevens. (Van Trease 1995:139).

(25.) Howard Van Trease adds that there is a true ambiguity which derives from the ambiguity of Stevens persona: 'On the one hand there is celebration of mixed and multiple identities--Banks, Santo, Tongan, Scottish, Biblical--on the other there is a reliance on the language of black people and dakbus ... The latter seems a more proximate connection to Black Americans in World War Two ... (but we should note after Lindstrom [1981] that Jimmy like most ni-Vanuatu saw the Americans as representing equality of races, despite the segregation of Black American soldiers). This oscillation between a stress on binaries of black and white versus celebration of mixing may of course relate to the poignant situation of individuals like Jimmy in a colonial world (rather than being a symptom of 'schizophrenia' after Hours) but the tension needs to be acknowledged ... It may partially explain some of the seeming contradictions in his political practice and alliances (pro-indigenous land rights versus alliances with French and American interests alienating such land); (Van Trease 2008, personal communication).

(26.) Vienne states that, through his mother, Jimmy Stevens came from the village of Veverau on the island of Mota. The name Pantuntun there is a personal ancestral name, which recurs in the line to which it is attached (cf. the genealogies given by Codrington (1891) and Vienne (1972), to which a certain amount of prestige is attached (personal communication).

(27.) For a an extensive analysis of Stevens' collaboration with the Church of Christ and more broadly with people of Ambae, see Abong 2008, chapter II, 'Pourquoi avoir fair venire les gens d' Ambae?'.

(28.) The ritual pig-killing events were a practice that Stevens was the first to divert from their true significance. In public life in Vanuatu they have become the inevitable forerunner to all official events involving kastom. Stevens' grade-taking ceremonies apparently coincided with Nagriamel's annual celebrations and consequently its founder's accession to power. The frequency of the ceremonial pig-killing events that he organized was determined by the official visits, the inauguration of various forms of modern infrastructure, the conclusion of political alliances, etc. We should mention Derrida's comment on the expression 'small bisnis blong pig' that Stevens used to describe pig sacrifices at these secondary occasions, knowing that all kinds of "bisnis blong pig' are labeled as kastom: 'The expression 'bisnis blong pig" usually refers to the traditional grade-taking ceremony or the whole hierarchy: 'the Aobans call the grade-taking system 'business belong pigs' (Bonnemaison 1972:95). A prestigious big man's career often starts with the conversion of a memorable warrior or magician, according to an expression that refers to the economic competition aspect taken on by the grade hierarchy (Vienne 1984:308). Here (at a secondary official occasion), the 'smol bisnis blong pig' apparently refers to the killing of pigs only, with no direct link to the traditional ritual' (Derrida 1990:172).

(29.) The interpretation proposed by Guiart on Nagriamel and the events on Santo in 1980 deserve some comment. Some of his points of view are not without relevance, such as when he writes 'Jimmy Stevens staged a remarkable public relations operation to be recognized as 'Moli', i.e. as a dignitary in the grade hierarchy, which word the Europeans translate as 'chief', with all its connotations of uncontested authority' (Guiart 1983:175). In fact, (Jimmy Stevens) was not very familiar with the old Melanesian society of Santo. He was however capable of devising some principles, of varying validity depending on the island concerned, that he expounded in public and that he illustrated as parables of what kastom was supposed to be, thus constructing from this concept a kind of pure science fiction social image (...) Nagriamel was neither custom nor tradition, but by using it on a daily basis to play a belief-fabrication role, it became politically dangerous.' (Guiart 1988:201).

But it should particularly be stressed that Guiart gave no theoretical intention to his comment, which is mainly made up of invective. He accused Stevens of massive fraud and even murder and compares Vemarana to a bunch of gangsters: 'The so-called police (established by the Vemarana leaders 'formed of incompetents' was used to rape in public two young women who were Vanuaaaku Pati assistants or to rough up official policemen who bad been taken prisoner at dawn or to play around with and damage official vehicles or those of the sympathizers of the majority party or to defecate in Protestant places of worship or to break into private houses or businesses' stores; or to lay on big drunken parties with stolen alcohol and wine, while spit-roasting slaughtered cattle belonging to the supposed enemies of Vemarana. There was no coherent effort at management, apart from using threats and violence to make all the local inhabitants pay their due to Vemarana' (Guiart 1983:203). Lastly, it should be said that Guiart's statements in general emerge discredited when he showers praise on the crackdown by PNG troops as 'mythical participation' to use the expression of Leenbardt, his former teacher: 'The Papua New Guineans had done better than the whites. From the point of view of the Government of Vanuatu and the reinforcement of national unity, the solution to the secession problem through the use of a black army, against Europeans mostly, (...) corresponded to the old Jon Frum prophecy of black soldiers coming out of the mountain or the volcano to chase the Whites out of the country' (ibid:208).

Such ideologico-ethnological fiction can be found in the work of ethnologists having supported either camp. The only example I will refer to is the traditionalisation that Bonnemaison inflicts on the Santo secession in his interpretation: "The 'moderate' groups, on the grounds that Melanesian tradition is based on consensus, refused the verdict of the ballot box. In traditional society no decision can be taken until everyone's agreement has been obtained. If a minority continues to object, it has no choice but silence or self-exclusion. In the former case, it implicitly acknowledges the supremacy of the arguments it rejects and, in the latter case, it secedes' (Bonnemaison 1986:454).

(30.) According to Bernard Vienne (personal communication): 'Contrary to the statements of Nagriamel--and its leader--and the allegations by its supporters in the world of 'petty whites' and mixed-heritage people on Santo, Jimmy Stevens and his movement never succeeded in having any real influence over the Anglican communities of the northern islands and in particular the people of the Banks Islands; not even over the communities of Man Bankis at Mango in Luganville or who worked on the European plantations on the east coast. This 'failure' is a whole issue in itself. Jimmy Stevens was under no illusions about such a prospect. He tried to capitalize on some dissent in the Vanuaaku Pati to polish up his 'political aura' with 'potential supporters' within colonial administration circles who were ready to hear what they wanted to believe. Analysis of the election results--even if they were challenged--confirms the limited and local nature of Nagriamel's influence and the charisma of its leader'.

(31.) From the 'Monthly Review of the French Residency' dated January 1975, it emerges that it was again this aspect of Stevens personality that was the most attractive to the French colonial authorities: 'Stevens' behavior, his costly journeys, his mistresses (who are honored in the movement's calendar as 'ladies who gave themselves to the cause') are giving the slow-thinking Melanesians doubts as to his integrity and the sincerity of his concern for the interests of his half-brothers by race. As for me, I am not in a hurry to see him disappear from the scene, as there is the danger of his being replaced by tougher, more sincere leaders who will not have the same weaknesses of greed, venality and knavery, which make him in the end, a valuable party to deal with for investors who are not excessively worried by moral scruples' (in Van Trease 1987:165).


ABONG, MARCELLIN. 2008. La Pirogue du Dark Bush. Apergus critiques sur l'histoire du Nagriamel. Port-Vila: VKS Publications.

AKIN, D. 2004. Ancestral Vigilance and the Corrective Conscience: Kastom as Culture in a Melanesian Society. Anthropological Theory. 4(3): 299-324.

BABADZAN, A. 1988. Kastom and Nation-Building in the South Pacific. In Guidieri, R. et al. (eds.) Ethnicities and Nations: Processes of Inter-Ethnic Relations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 199-228.

2006. Culturalism, Neo-liberalism and the State: the Rise and Fall of Neotraditionalist Ideologies in the South Pacific. In Rata E. and R. Openshaw (eds.), Public Policy and Ethnicity. The Politics of Ethnic Boundary Making. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 54-65.

BEASANT, J. 1984. The Santo Rebellion, an Imperial Reckoning. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press.

BARBE, D. 2007. Le bapteme du Jourdan. Les toponymes de Santo, temoins de l'eschatologie franciscaine de Quiros. In Angleviel F. 17. (ed.), Pedro Fernandez de Quiros et le Vanuatu. Decouverte mutuelle et historiographie d' un acte fondateur. Noumea: Editions du GRHOC/Delegation de l' Unions Europeenne, pp. 97-110.

BERNARD, P. 1983. Le Nagriamel." tradition et nationalisme au Vanuatu. These de 3eme cycle. Paris: Universite Paris-X-Nanterre.

BOLTON, L. 1998. Praying for the Revival of Kastom: Women and Christianity in the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. Paper to the 'Women, Christians, Citizens: Being Female in Melanesia Today' workshop, 11-13 November 1998. Conferences and Workshops: 1998. Canberra: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project, Australian National University.

CODRINGTON, R.H. 1891. The Melanesians, Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

BONNEMAISON, J. 1972. Systemes des grades et differences regionales en Aoba. Cahiers ORSTOM 11 (1): 87-108. 1986. Les fondements d' une identite. Territoire, histoire, et societe dans l' Archipel de Vanuatu (Melanesie): L'Arbre et la Pirogue, essai de geographie culturelle. Paris: ORSTOM.

DERRIDA, J. 1990. Les etapes du processus de secularisation au travers de l' analyse comparative de deux syncretismes melanesiens: Tanna, Santo ; Vanuatu. Memoire de Maitrise. Paris: Universite Paris-X-Nanterre.

EISENSTADT, S.N. 1973 Post-Traditional Societies and the Continuity and Reconstruction of Tradition. Daedalus 102(1): 1-28.

GUIART, J. 1951. Forerunners of Melanesian Nationalism. Oceania 22(2): 81-90.

1958. Espiritu Santo (Nouvelles-Hebrides). Paris: Plon.

1983. La terre est le sang des morts, Nouvelle Calddonie du passe au present. Paris: Anthropos.

1988. Reponse a l' article de E. Kolig. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 85: 201-204.

HENNINGHAN, S. 1992. Vanuatu. Political Review. The Contemporary Pacific 4(2): 403-406. HOURS, B. 1974. Un mouvement politico-religieux neo-hebridais: le Nagriamel. Cahiers ORSTOM 11 (3-4): 227-242.

1976. Leadership et Cargo cult: l' irresistible ascension de J.T.P.S. Moise. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 32(2): 207-23l.

1979. Custom and Politics in the New Hebrides. Pacific Perspectives 8: 15-20.

KEESING, R.M. 1989. Creating the Past: Custom and Identity in the Contemporary Pacific. Contemporary Pacific 1: 19-42.

KOLIG, E. 1981. The Paradox of Santo, Vanuatu. Pacific Perspective 10(1): 57-61. 1987. Kastom, Cargo and the Construction of Utopia on Santo,Vanuatu: The Nagriamel Movement. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 85: 181-204.

LINDSTROM, L. 1981. Cult and Culture: American Dreams in Vanuatu. Pacific Studies 4:101-123. 1993. Cargo Cult. Strange Stories of Desire from Melanesia and Beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

1996. The American Occupation of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). Christchurch (N.Z.): University of Canterburry, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.

LUQUE M. and C. MONDRAGON. 2005. Faith, Fidelity and Fantasy. Don Pedro Fernandez de Quiros and the 'Foundation Government and Sustenance' of La Nueba Hierusalem in 1606. The Journal of Pacific History 40(2): 133-148.

MCCLANCY, J. 2007. Nakomaha: a Counter-Colonial Life and its Contexts. Anthropological Approaches to Biography. Oceania 77(2): 191-214.

MILLER, G.J. 1948. Naked Cult in Central West Santo. Journal of Polynesian Society 57(4): 330-341.

OTTO, T. and P. PEDERSEN. 2005. Disentangling Traditions: Culture, Agency and Power. In Otto 12 and E Pedersen (eds.), Tradition and Agency. Tracing Cultural Continuity and Invention. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, pp. 11-50.

PAITEL, E 1985. L' enjeu Kanak. Paris: Editions France-empire.

PHILIBERT, J-M. 1990. The Politics of Tradition: Toward a Generic Culture in Vanuatu. In Manning, F. and J-M. Philibert (eds.), Customs in Conflict: The Anthropology of a Changing World. Peterborough: Broadview Press, pp. 251-273.

PLANT, C. 1977. The Nagriamel Federation: New Country Old Story. Pacific Perpective 6(1): 49-57.

RAFF, E. 1928. Extract from a Letter from Rev. E. Raft, Vila New Hebrides, 10 janvier 1924. In Williams, F.E., Orokaiva Magic. London: Clarendon Press, pp. 100-101.

RAWLINGS, G. 2005. English Laws and Global Money Market: the Rise of the Vanuatu Tax Haven. Center For Tax System Integrity. The Australian National University. Working Paper 61: 1-29.

ROBBINS, J. 2005. Humiliation and Transformation: Marshall Sahlins and the Study of Cultural Change in Melanesia. In Robbins J. and H. Wardlow (eds.) The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia. Humiliation, Transformation and the Nature of Cultural Change. Aldershot/Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 3-22.

ROBERT, J-J. 2002. Un paradis perdu. In Bresnihan, B.J. and K. Woodward (Eds), Tufala Gavman: Reminiscences from the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies/University of the South Pacific, pp. 420-440.

SAHLINS, M. 1962. Poor Man, Rich Man, Big-Man, Chief: Political Types in Polynesia and Melanesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 5: 285-303.

1999. Two or Three Things that I know About Culture. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5(3): 399-421.

STEVENS, J. 1995. Le mouvement Nagriamel. In Van Trease, H. (ed.), La politique melangsienne: stael blong Vanuatu. Christchurch/Suva: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies and Institute of Pacific Studies, University of South Pacific, pp. 237-244.

TABANI, M. 1999. Kastom et traditionalisme: Quelles inventions pour quelles traditions h Tanna, Vanuatu. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 109(2): 121-132.

2000. Walter Lini, la coutume de Vanuatu et le socialisme melanesien. Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 111(2): 173-194.

2002. Les pouvoirs de la coutume a Vanuatu: traditionalisme et edification nationale. Paris: L' Harmattan.

2008. Une Pirogue pour le Paradis: le culte de John Frum a Tanna. Paris: Editions de la MSH.

VAN TREASE, H.N. 1987. The Politics of Land in Vanuatu: from Colony to Independance. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.

1995. Les elections. In Van Trease, H.N. (ed.), La politique melanesienne: stael blong Vanuatu. Christchurch/Suva: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies and Institute of Pacific Studies, University of South Pacific, pp. 127-168.

VIENNE, B. 1972. Les formes du pouvoir et de l' autorite clans les communautes paysannes des iles Banks (Nouvelles-Hebrides). Noumea: Centre ORSTOM.

1984. Gens de Motlav. ldeologie et pratique sociale en Melanesie. Paris: ORSTOM/Musee de l'Homme.

WEBER, M. 1956. Witshaft und Gesellshaft. Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie. Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr.Economie et societe. Paris: Plon.

WEIL, E. 1991. Tradition et traditionalisme. In Weil E., Essais et conferences. Paris: J. Vrin, tome 2, pp. 9-21.

WHITE, G.M. and L. LINDSTROM (EDS). 1997. Chiefs Today: Traditional Pacific Leadership and the Post-Colonial State. Stanford: University Press.

WORSLEY, P. 1957. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A study of 'Cargo' Cults in Melanesia. New York: Schocken Books.
COPYRIGHT 2008 University of Sydney
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Tabani, Marc
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8VANU
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Previous Article:Heroic history and chiefly chapels in 19th Century Tahiti.
Next Article:[The Sabbath of the Fireflies: Sorcery, Shamanism and the Cannibal Imaginary in New Guinea]/le Sabbat des Lucioles: Sorcellerie, chamanisme et...

Related Articles
Leading lights in the 'mother of darkness': perspectives on leadership and value in North Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Pacific quakes spark tsunami fears.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |