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Kago, Kastom and Kalja: The Study of Indigenous Movements in Melanesia Today

Marcellin Abong
Marc Tabani

Chapter 3. Metamorphoses of Nagriamel

Marcellin Abong

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1Nagriamel or the New Union of Custom Chiefs (NUCC) is a customary movement that emerged in 1965 on the island of Santo in what was then the New Hebrides. Nagriamel was the initiative of chief Paul Tari Buluk, a traditional island leader, and of Jimmy Stevens, the son of a Tongan mother and Scottish father. Comparable in many ways to other sociopolitical movements in Vanuatu and elsewhere in Melanesia, such as the John Frum movement on the island of Tanna (Tabani 2008), it encouraged a return to “custom” (kastom) and the restoration of indigenous land rights, particularly land that Europeans had appropriated but not yet commercially developed. Nagriamel was the first political movement to command a national audience in the New Hebrides which became Vanuatu upon its independence in July 1980.

2The name “Nagriamel” was derived from common north New Hebridian words for two plants, ngaria (Santo), a croton, and mel (Santo) or mwele (Ambae), a cycas palm, which were regarded as sacred and powerful ritual symbols. Croton represents the fruitful earth and cycas serves to cement traditional agreements, alliances, and transfer of property. There can be little doubt that the multiplicity of important and traditional meanings associated with its name has had much to do with the success of the movement. At its high-point in July 1980, when movement leaders attempted to establish the independent state of Vemarana rather than recognize an independent Vanuatu, supporters came from “15 islands” including Espiritu Santo, Malo, Aore, Tutuba, Mavea, Ambae, Maewo, Pentecost, Pele, Malekula, Banks, Torres, Ambrym, Paama/Epi and South Tanna.

3Both the John Frum and Nagriamel movements challenged practices and social policies imposed by the Condominium as well as the values of Christianity. But, unlike the John Frum movement, Nagriamel ideology was less millenarian and less influenced by Christianity. Most of its members consider that its main message is to advocate an “authentic” return to tradition. It reacted against mission and colonial measures that sought to dishonour ancestral spirits and obliterate “dark” customs and ancestral practices including singing, dancing, drinking kava, wearing our feathers and other physical decorations, or to force us to hide our nudity by means of rags and to impose on women the wearing of austere mission dress. The aim of most missionaries was to abolish custom, to destroy the lifestyle we had inherited from our ancestors. On some islands like Tanna, Presbyterian missionaries established a strenuous church government known as Tanna Law. Their repression of kastom was assisted by certain local chiefs. They established church courts to punish our brothers who had remained “heathen”.

4The anti-custom politics of early mission Christianity were paradoxically eased by competition among denominations. Some converts left the Presbyterians, for example, to join the Seventh Day Adventist church which taught the Bible in English rather than in vernacular languages. Others followed often more tolerant Roman Catholic priests who were less opposed to kava drinking and ceremonial display. In the Northern Islands, the Church of Christ was the first to advocate indigenous autonomy within a mission. But it was the eventual emergence of diverse indigenous movements which forced the missionaries to change their attitude towards traditional values. In the first half of the twentieth century, movements hostile to stricter forms of Christianity multiplied in several Northern Islands. On Santo, for example, these included the prophetic movements of Rongofuro and Avu Avu, and the Naked Cult, the movement of Mol Valivu. On Malakula, other movements emerged such as the Malakula Native Company, the Tavala cult of Albert Reret, the Natakaro cults of Joseph, the Vuinamwangwe cult and the Saratangaulu cult. And Ambae was the home of the Tavala Prophetess.

5Our islands fell under the guardianship of foreign powers between 1906 and 1980. This exercise of co-sovereignty between France and Great Britain was unique in the annals of colonization. The inefficiencies of a “Condominium” colonial government, with two languages, were often parodied as a “pandemonium”. But even worse than its ineffectiveness was the Condominium’s endorsement of the legal inferiority and submission of Melanesians who were relegated to the status of noncitizens. By 1940, the indigenous population of the New Hebrides was about 40,000, living alongside a few hundred European settlers. Some have estimated that the population was six times as numerous before the coming of the Whites. Most Melanesians continued to live off the fruits of their lands and seas, although much land had been alienated.

6Colonial control began to weaken during the Second World War. The entry of the United States into the war against Japan and strategic wartime developments greatly changed a stagnant colonial situation. Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen landed in the New Hebrides between 1942 and 1946. Thousands of islanders were recruited by the US Army to build and fit out its bases on Efate and Santo. Where once there was only bush, within a few months the military built a multitude of roads, airstrips, ports, hospitals, barracks and other amenities to enhance the daily life of soldiers including restaurants, cinemas and playing fields. In hundreds of warehouses, enormous quantities of goods, military equipment and vehicles accumulated. This new vision of the world paralleled a concomitant decline of the French-British authority.

7To the great surprise of our grandfathers, a significant number of the US soldiers who were based in the New Hebrides were African-American. This striking fact offered proof that potential equality between Whites and Blacks was possible; that we were not eternally condemned to being the simple boys of the masta. The road towards this ideal was very long and it is still far from being fully achieved. But a new collective consciousness had appeared. Whereas for millions of people around the world the war brought terrible slaughter, for us it marked the beginning of liberation. Wartime experience sparked indigenous movements that precipitated our fight to win back our lands or, at least, to prevent the additional alienation of our land. Well before the birth of the first modern political parties, the Nagriamel movement was the first to enunciate these claims and to demand dignity for all, regardless of skin colour.

Beginnings and Structure

8The beginnings of Nagriamal was centred around Vanafo, along the Sarakata river, and the adjoining village of Moru, where associated gardens and plantations were located. Buluk had lived in Veliara, further inland, but Moru had been his ancestral land for generations, although his family had shifted due to hostilities with another group. He returned to Moru when the opposing faction had been killed, and the proximity of the river permitted him to get closer to the plantations. These combined areas subsequently became known as the ‘headquarters’ of the movement and simply as Vanafo (Hours, 1974). Prior to 1964 there were only limited numbers of people living at Vanafo, primarily man-Santo and Buluk’s distant relatives, who had all been living here since the foundation of the Nagriamel. From 1965, however, this began to change and by the start of the 1970s there could be found a greatly increased number of people from many different islands: 40 huts belonging to people from Santo, 24 man-Aoba huts, 12 man-Paama huts, 14 man-Ambrym huts, 2 man-Pentecost huts, 3 man-Epi huts, and 1 hut each of man-Malo, Efate and Malekula. Many of the inhabitants from outside Santo tended to leave their families on their own islands, which promoted frequent travel to and from their home islands. The population at Vanafo, therefore, fluctuated greatly. During quieter periods there were some 300 individuals but during events such as the twice-annual meetings this increased to 800 people. Nagriamal’s full membership throughout the archipelago was much greater with some 15000 people who had enrolled and paid for membership (Hours, 1974).

9Due to the mixed origins of the people at Vanafo, the movement can to a certain extent, be seen to be a non-traditional movement, a new and different form of political development. It had its nominal ‘capital’, but the varied population at Vanafo tended to retain a certain autonomy, with the placement and grouping of huts organised around particular members’ island of origin and religious beliefs, i.e. man-Aoba from Ndui Ndui and members of the Church of Christ all lived in the same area. Nevertheless, the movement’s politico-economic organization reveals a specific character, being hierarchical and federalist. The seven most senior indigenous titles were:

1/Chief President (Jimmy Stevens)
2/ Assistant Chief
3/Land Owner (Buluk)
4/ Chief Committee
5/ Committee members
6/ Committee Secretary
7/Union Secretary

10These titles were followed by a list of a further 30 titles of decreasing importance, with guard of school children and women’s club at the end. Each of these titles was represented by a badge that noted the initials of the grade, and it was worn on the left arm or on the chest. Everyone in Vanafo wore a badge. The same badges were also worn at Nagriamel’s other centres on other islands (Hours, 1974). The committee was the deliberating body; it settled disputes and made sure that respect for law and order was upheld. The committee acted according to custom and had a highly traditional character. Important decisions were taken by the Chief President and discussed in the committee if necessary.

11Both Custom and the Church played central roles in the socio-political structure of Nagriamal. Symbolic references to the Holy Bible and the Church were frequently used in tandem with or melded with customary practice, although generally perceived as of secondary importance. The bible was generally referred to less as a Holy book than as a book providing a civil code. Numerous notices in the village with the chief’s signature were preceded by the mention ‘Witness’ or ‘by witness’. This attestation points to a charismatic element that clearly developed at Vanafo. The name Jimmy T. P. S. Moses stands for Jimmy Tubo Patuntun Stevens, with the addition of the messianic name ‘Moses’, after being baptized and entering the Church of Christ in 1967 in Vanafo. This political move was hugely successful as it brought a large important community from Ndui Ndui on Aoba to Vanafo. Many man-Santo converted to this religion at the same time, including Buluk and his men. They developed into the chief’s most faithful supporters. The choice of the name Moses suggesting that he had great skills; he carried the law, he freed his people, and he was baptized at a certain age (Hours, 1974).

Why Ambae?

12A significant number of Nagriamel supporters on Santo came from the neighbouring island of Ambae (Aoba). What was the reason for their support of the movement? Jimmy Stevens called upon the inhabitants of Ambae for several reasons. At the time they were the best educated population within the New Hebrides due to the success of Anglican schooling. Jimmy Stevens was a good strategist and he decided to have a church built in Vanafo in order to evangelize the malmal (“malmal” means “penis-holder”) or man bush. Stevens wanted to expand access to education, then still controlled by the missions, and he wished to accelerate the process of emancipation by encouraging parents to send their children to school. At first he wanted to seek help from the Catholic mission, but he hesitated to do so since opting for Catholicism would imply his support for the French side. He also considered asking for the establishment of an Anglican school, but he had the same concerns in that this might privilege connections with the British administration. Instead he started negotiations with the more local Church of Christ which had become independent of foreign mission networks and any connection with France or Great Britain. The Church of Christ was by then exclusively run by native pastors. Stevens decided that he would invite this church to Vanafo to evangelize the malmal from all over Santo. Accordingly, he sent a letter of invitation to Pastor Abel Bani, church leader on Ambae. Even though Stevens had a previous connection with Ambae (his mother came from there), his request for pastors and teachers for Vanafo was at first declined.

13Many Church of Christ pastors hesitated to ally themselves with a man who wanted to re-establish polygamy and who thought that custom was more important than the church’s message, but eventually Pastor Abel Bani decided to set up a church in Vanafo. Bani sent one of his elders, Charley Ngole, with his son Wilson Viratamboel, to Santo. In 1967, they were the first to take charge of educating the malmal and of teaching them the word of God and the Bible. Shortly after their arrival, Charley Ngole and his son were joined by a group of people from Ambae who also moved into Vanafo. For four years, Ambae settlers continued to flock to Nagriamel’s headquarters. Daniel Ngole, a close relative of Charley Ngole, remembered:

“When we first came to Vanafo, we slept under the trees, under the nakatambol (Dracontomelon vitiense) trees. We didn’t bring anything with us, but we had faith in this movement, as we have faith in our Highest Lord. When it rained, we hid under trees to protect ourselves from the rain with banana or laplap leaves.” (personal communication)

14Charley Ngole died in 1974 after having done much for Vanafo’s population and especially for the malmal; his body was buried there, according to his last wish. The elder James Garae Bakeo was also active during this period. Pastor Bani had assigned him responsibility for the communities of Vunamele, Malo and the small islands next to Santo. Later, the settlers from Ambae proposed that he be appointed the Republic of Vemarana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Manager of Finances because of his natural abilities, his experience and his excellent contacts on Santo. Charley Ngole had to offer part of his land and his nieces to Jimmy Stevens in order to allow James Garae Bakeo to quit his post as elder of the Church of Christ. Bakeo came to Luganville to occupy an intermediate position between the Ambae church, directed by Abel Bani, and the Vanafo mission, managed by Charley Ngole. Jimmy Stevens himself was eventually baptized by Pastor Abel Bani. This baptism was symbolic because Stevens wanted to demonstrate that he, like his followers, was a supportive member of the church.

15During his tours of the fifteen Northern Islands where his movement had influence, Jimmy Stevens preached his message and revolutionary kastom philosophy. He was most successful on Ambae. In 1968, people from the large village Nduindui on Ambae’s west coast built a big nakamal (men’s house) measuring 20 metres in honour of Nagriamel. They called this Fonda Onebulubulu which means “to come and add something”. In front of this large structure, they piled up stones to symbolize the gathering of several clans and tribes into one organization. Jimmy Stevens was invited to its inauguration, but he did not attend. Instead he travelled to Longana on East Ambae for a meeting with Walter Lini, leader of the Vanuaaku Party, who would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Vanuatu. Stevens made it a priority to hear Lini’s views on Nagriamel.

16On his numerous tours around the islands, Stevens learned a great deal about indigenous societies as people told him their histories and the myths of their islands. On Ambae, people shared the story of Anqa Tagaro, a tradition of a civilization that existed in an earlier time. This was identified as “Bali Hai” in the novel Tales of the South Pacific by the American writer James Michener. These myths are connected to beliefs about the island’s Manaro volcano. They tell the story of the kidnapping of the guardian of wisdom and knowledge, someone by the name of Moltare. Moltare was later said to be kidnapped by the Americans during World War II. He was taken to America and it was thanks to his knowledge that the United States succeeded in becoming the world’s most powerful nation.

17When Jimmy Stevens heard this story, he wanted to obtain this power and to make the Americans and Man Ambae his allies. The elder Albert Reret from the Ambae village of Tavala became his adviser. Reret considered himself to be a holder of traditional wisdom. He had a strong personality and had aroused the hostility of several missionaries. He was also a man of exceptional character; he emphatically refused any relationship with the Western world and its educational system. The only thing that mattered to him was the powers of kastom. But he interpreted kastom according to his own philosophy, one that Europeans generally described as a “Cargo Cult” (see Lindstrom, 1993). One of Reret’s companions remembered: “He was the first one who wanted to obtain the goods from the store. But in order to buy them, he was not obliged to work. What he ate, he got from nature: sugar, biscuits, cans of food, etc.”

18Without ever going to Vanafo, Reret became Jimmy Stevens’ long distance adviser, his spiritual guide, his ears and eyes. But in 1974, when he finally decided to visit Vanafo, he was beaten by Stevens’ guards who had warned this diehard heathen not to prophesy in Vanafo. A year later he died from his wounds. Before he died he predicted Jimmy Stevens’ and Nagriamel’s ultimate failure.

Nagriamel and Vemarana on the International Scene

19Nagriamel’s actions motivated the awareness of indigenous ni-Vanuatu about land alienation. However, as former president of Vanuatu Georges Ati Sokomanu (or Kalkoa) observed in 2005: “Jimmy Stevens’ real problem at this time was that he hadn’t transformed his movement into a political party.” When Nagriamel was founded, it was not an organized party but rather an indigenous land rights movement, one that also wanted to reform agriculture. Subsequently it took many forms including that of a secessionist state and later a political party, even though Stevens once denied this:

“The Nagriamel is not a party. The Nagriamel is not politics. It is the heart of our men, it is their custom. But, in order to make it glow again […] we have to use the right method […] the Nagriamel existed before I did. But we have to reform it once more – to make it ours and to put its emblem on the flag we will hoist. That is my work. People ask me: we want the Nagriamel to become strong for our future generations. I tell them I will do the best I can […].” (Stevens, quoted in Van Trease, 1987: 160)

20Many things have been said about the Nagriamel movement and Jimmy Stevens’ intentions have often been analyzed. His ideological orientation, meshing with that of chief Buluk and his partisans from the bush, ensured Stevens the role of indigenous hero. It is more difficult to see him as a partisan of nationalism. Rather, Stevens and his message at times took on the character of a cargo cult, although Stevens himself always refused this identification: “One day he was talking with disdain about the John Frum members – with whom he had no intention to associate – and about cargo cult members in general: I am not waiting for a big steamer to come along. I already have a black steamer. The earth is my steamer.” (Stevens, quoted in Lindstrom, 1993: 163)

21In fact, Nagriamel refused the sort of nationalist ideology that members of the opposing Vanuaaku Party were then cultivating. Stevens preferred a utopian vision of an ideal state in the hands of the custom people, a state like the one that had existed before the arrival of the colonists:

“I noticed (considering the political evolution of the New Hebrides before Independence) that many political parties emerged, each of them with a different point of view. I was worried that this might affect the Nagriamel’s state in Vanafo, and suggested that we establish a separate group in Luganville […] This bureau’s [the Vemarana’s] objective would be to take charge of the political questions and to ensure that these questions did not reach the rest of the movement. I was the leader of the Nagriamel and the President of the Vemarana at the same time.” (Stevens, 1995: 237)

“The Nagriamel is part of a federation, of a state that we call Natakaro. In the Nagriamel’s constitution, Natakaro represents all the islands of the New Hebrides. Unfortunately, when the White people arrived here, they have replaced the name Natakaro by ‘New Hebrides’. Before the White people arrived, there was a law, that certain people called Natamata or Namangi, which prohibited any other law from governing the country.” (Stevens, quoted in Bernard, 1983: 73)

22Nagriamel did make alliances with certain foreigners in the hope that these would benefit its followers and lead to the raising of their political awareness and emancipation. Stevens claimed: “Nagriamel existed before I did. But we have to reform it once more–give it its coherence, its flag, the colours we hoist. That is my work. […] The Nagriamel will be for you, my black children” (quoted in Van Trease, 1987: 160). But as it turned out the hopes of the Nagriamel leaders Jimmy Stevens, Paul Tamlumlum, John Bule and Jimmy Kaku were in fact being realized by the Vanuaaku Party which would mobilize the islands of the archipelago to obtain independence in 1980. Vanuaaku leaders like Donald Kalpokas, Walter Lini, George Sokomanu, Kalkot Matas Kelekele, Sethy Regenvanu, Barak Sope and Onen Tahi were the men who led the country to independence. Like Nagriamel, in order to guarantee the protection of indigenous land national leaders adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu which stipulated that “All the land of the Republic of Vanuatu belongs to the indigenous custom owners and their descendants” and that “Only indigenous citizens have the right of perpetual ownership of the land.”

Nagriamel’s Foreign Relations

23At the end of the 1960s Jimmy Stevens’ personal power had increased, thanks to the help of several American entrepreneurs. In 1967 Stevens was approached by Eugene Peacock, an American land speculator who wanted to invest in the New Hebrides. For Nagriamel’s man bush this alliance was wonderful, but it proved to be pernicious. To further his cause of land recovery, Stevens came to rely on the help of foreign speculators and land sharks. Peacock’s enterprise, with a registered office in Hawaii, made an agreement with Stevens to buy immense areas of land on Santo. He proposed subdividing these areas into small parcels to sell to American veterans of the Vietnam War (Beasant, 1984: 45).

24Peacock’s activities were closely followed by the colonial administration which thought he was a disturbing element. France, especially, was at that time trying to ingratiate itself with Stevens and Nagriamel by accelerating the distribution of material assistance to the movement. The Condominium blocked Peacock’s land speculation with new laws on land subdivision and an increase in taxation on the commercial exploitation of unoccupied parcels of land. These legislative manoeuvres corrected earlier Condominium law that, in 1971, had given the New Hebrides the status of a “fiscal paradise”. This status had attracted doubtful speculators like Peacock to the New Hebrides and more specifically to Santo.

  • 1 During a meeting in Vanafo in August 1977 between Stevens and the two delegates of the Condominium (...)

25Peacock attempted a diversion in his battle with the Condominium and with those political parties suspicious of his actions. His French associate Jean-Jacques Hénin cemented economic cooperation with Nagriamel by founding SODEPAC, a company for land-clearing and cattle-raising that hired Stevens’ men exclusively. John Beasant reported, although this has yet to be proved, that considerable sums of money were transferred to Nagriamel so that Hénin would be appointed the movement’s Development Adviser and subsequently its Financial Head (Beasant, 1984: 48-49). The page of Nagriamel’s doubtful alliances and foreign sponsors was far from being turned. It would later rebound with the Leconte1 and the Phoenix Foundation affairs.

26France wanted to save Stevens’ dignity and restore Nagriamel’s reputation and, while it was also concerned with its own interests in the New Hebrides, it continued to interfere with local politics on Santo. To contest the powerful investors coming to Santo, France sent the billionaire Monsieur Leconte to the island. Leconte had been involved with nickel mines in New Caledonia and already owned land on Santo. Nagriamel came to an agreement with the French government: one hectare of land would go to Leconte for every hour that Vanafo settlers used mechanical tools he lent them in order to prepare Nagriamel’s own fields. In return, Leconte had to build roads, import equipment and bring running water and electricity to Vanafo. These promises were partly fulfilled. Thanks to Leconte, there is today a road that links Vanafo to Matantas.

27France succeeded in securing Nagriamel’s support in order to defend its own interests. The alliance between Leconte and Nagriamel was also a test for the French administration in its strategy of redistributing land. By developing infrastructure, France wanted to raise the self-esteem of indigenous people yet protect its own interests. The French colonial administration admitted: “If the agreement between Stevens and Leconte succeeds, it will be easier to find a solution for the problems with the ownership of land. If it fails, Stevens will not be able to keep the promises he has made to his partisans, and they will drop him” (quoted in Beasant, 1984: 23). However, in spite of cooperation between France and Nagriamel, the agreement ultimately was not successful. Leconte ended up throwing in the towel, progressively abandoning his investment projects in the New Hebrides because he was sceptical about political game-playing and dissatisfied with the amount of potential profits.

28Many Nagriamel supporters were hostile towards foreign investors and it became impossible to hide the fact that Jimmy Stevens had made agreements with them. Stevens argued: “I want my people to be free of all the rules of the Condominium, not an independence to chase away the Whites, but the Blacks shouldn’t be controlled by them any longer” (Stevens, quoted in Van Trease, 1987: 163). French and other foreign influence in Vanafo were becoming evident: there was a Francophone school, the community clinic was French and Nagriamel headquarters now boasted concrete buildings and well-equipped offices as well as tractors and cars. These signs of financial prosperity obliged Stevens to explain the situation and in a 1977 speech he reaffirmed his five priorities and Nagriamel’s fundamental principles:

“1. To work to develop a flourishing economy in the future;
2. The earth is the basis, the essence of all things. Most of our lands belong to the New Hebrides by custom and the Europeans have no rights to them. But, Nagriamel does not claim all the land that the foreigners use. Jimmy Stevens wishes to see all the people living together in peace and mutual respect. This is why Nagriamel’s logo depicts a black hand shaking a white hand;
3. To work together in harmony so that White landowners can stay after independence and maintain their businesses as long as they respect legitimate indigenous rights;
4. Political independence and economical autonomy will remain priorities for the inhabitants of the New Hebrides;
5. The re-establishment of custom.” (Stevens, quoted in Abong, 2009)

29From 1975 Jimmy Stevens and Nagriamel also started receiving a significant amount of help from Michael Oliver, the president of the mysterious Phoenix Foundation, established in Carson City, Nevada. Oliver’s real name was Moses Olitsky (Van Trease, 1987: 149). He was a Lithuanian Jew who had escaped from Nazi concentration camps to make a fortune in the United States as a real estate broker. He promoted a radical libertarian ideology. He was convinced that United States fiscal policies would lead to the weakening of the dollar and to economic and political instability culminating in a dictatorship.

30Ludwig Von Mises, an Austrian economist, was the Phoenix Foundation’s mentor. Von Mises had argued that market laws were a total process that influenced all human activity. Economic ultra-liberalism was seen as the guarantee of universal liberty. Oliver decided to create the Phoenix Foundation in 1975 to carry out Von Mises’ teaching alongside John Hospers’ ideology. Hospers was a philosophy professor at the University of South California and a former libertarian candidate in the 1972 US presidential elections. He preached minimal state control, a system of voluntary taxes, and the total deregularization of the capitalist economy.

31During the 1970s, Oliver judged that the United States had become a “fascist-socialist” state and he investigated other countries in the world where he could apply his program. In 1972, he tried to construct a small village on piles over the submerged island of Minerva, a reef between Fiji and Tonga. This venture failed when the Tongan King Tupou IV sailed to the island in his yacht and tore up the Phoenix Foundation flag that had been planted there. A further attempt saw Oliver going to Abaco, an island in the Bahamas. He hoped to provoke the secession of Abaco from the rest of the Bahamas by creating the “Abaco Independence Movement”. But his actions, declared illegal by the Bahama’s legitimate government, failed.

32Oliver next set his sights on Santo. The Phoenix Foundation tried to manipulate and control Jimmy Stevens and the Nagriamel movement in various different ways. Oliver became Stevens’ employer and influenced Nagriamel for several years. He paid for Jimmy Stevens’ trips abroad, to the United States in particular. He became the Nagriamel’s silent partner. With the help of Oliver’s advisers Thomas Eck and Robert J. Doorn, a philosopher and jurist, the Phoenix Foundation wrote a constitution for the Republic of Vemarana. Little by little Jimmy Stevens embraced the goal of Nagriamel’s transformation into an independent state, named Vemarana, which would secede from the New Hebrides.

33The control that the Phoenix Foundation had obtained over Nagriamel went hand in hand with Jimmy Stevens’ growing delusions of grandeur. On 10 August, he declared himself Chief President Moses and declared the day a Nagriamel holiday. This kind of attempt on the part of multinational capitalists to penetrate a country by corrupting its political parties and leaders, who in turn become indebted, is a classic stratagem. However, Stevens’ suspect collaboration did not greatly diminish his local prestige. He continued to rule the hearts of many followers with his charismatic speeches. Although he may have held their support, his doubtful alliances ultimately led to the failure of his movement. He had presented himself as a champion of indigenous kastom and land rights, but his compromises with foreign investors in the end made Nagriamel less independent.

34Stevens tried to compensate for his loss of autonomy by reinventing custom in a host of ways but he tended to view kastom through the distorted lens of his own desires and fantasies. This tendency is illustrated in a speech he gave shortly before his death:

“I think the Nagriamel will continue to move forward. In the meantime, to make sure that we will continue the way that was shown by Moli Stevens, I have killed one hundred pigs and ten more so the name Stevens will become royal. In Bislama, natamata means royal. After my death, my natamata descendants will be treated in a royal way by all the coming generations […]. This plan is very closely related to my family […]. Before my arrest, I had 25 wives, but the Mobile Force made a lot of fuss about them, so I have decided to take a new group of wives. I have many children, 15 of them are boys. I am very attached to the number 15. I was born on 15 June. On 15 January, the chiefs of Vanafo laid their hands on me. For the Whites, the number 10 has special significance. For the Israelites it is the number 12. For me it is the number 15. I organize my work and my life by increments of 15. And of course, there are 15 Nagriamel islands. It is my wish that one day every district will be ruled by one of my sons and his family.” (Stevens, 1995: 243, trans. Marcellin Abong)

The Road Towards Independence and the Drama of Rebellion

35In 1971 a petition from Nagriamel was sent to the United Nations to assert the archipelago’s independence. This demand was presented by an Indo-Fijian lawyer named Dr Ramrakha who had been hired by Stevens around 1965 during negotiations with France for the restitution of Société Française des Nouvelles-Hébrides (SFNH) lands to indigenous owners. The “Republic of Vemarana” file was entrusted to Ramrakha and a Vemarana flag was hidden in a bamboo stick and taken to New York to be displayed during his speech at the United Nations.

36This attempt was a failure as only Japan supported the independence claim. This initial failure, however, did not slow Stevens’ secessionist plans. On 27 September 1975, he unilaterally proclaimed the independence of the Nagriamel Federation in Vanafo. This declaration was signed by Stevens “with the authority of the Upper Council of the Nagriamel Federation”:

“We, the people of the various New Hebrides islands, do hereby declare, in accordance with United Nations Resolution Number 1514, of 14 December 1975, our independence from any foreign country. Our islands were never under the sovereignty of any other nation, and we were never a colony of any nation. The authority for our action comes not only from United Nations Resolution Number 1514 but, also, from the demand by our people for independence. We can provide the genuine results of a poll taken recently, which we offer to any neutral nation for their inspection and verification. Our new nation is a federation of settlements and the government is elected in accordance with fair democratic principles. We are dedicated to the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of race, creed or religion. All rights and individual belongings shall be fully protected and defended. Our boundaries are as follows:
1. All of the villages of Santo, except Luganville, until it wishes to join us.
2. All of the islands surrounding Santo, including Aore, Aoba, Malo, Maewo and Sako.
3. All of the islands in the Banks and Torres Groups of the New Hebrides.
4. Any other settlements in the New Hebrides wishing to join us and to enjoy these rights as free and independent people.

We are firm in our belief that the races of the world should cooperate and that all people should live in peace and harmony. And, for this reason, our motto includes not only our traditional Na-Griamel sign, but also a handshake between people of all races. This motto is now shown on our flag and shall be included on all of our official documents. Our new nation shall be known as the NA-GRIAMEL FEDERATION, and our independence is effective immediately. We extend greetings to all countries of the world.” (quoted in Bernard, 1983: 52, trans. Marcellin Abong)

37The ethnologist Pascal Bernard who was living in Vanafo at the end of the 1970s noted:

“The constitution is presented in a short document of seven pages. The cover shows the movement’s emblem: the handshake of a white and a black hand, and above it a bouquet of namele and nangaria leaves. The title is: ‘Constitution of the Federation of Natakaro (Formerly New Hebrides Islands)’. The constitution is made up of nine articles, handwritten by Jimmy Stevens himself, with the stamp of the ‘Nagriamel Chief President Union Council’.

The text states that each group (a geographic and social unit) has control over its own territory and authority over its own laws, custom and traditions. The role of the government of the Federation is reduced to the essential activities of the protection and defence of the life and rights of each person. The electoral procedure consists of groups appointing the members of the Upper House, that is a kind of traditionalist Senate, and the Lower House or the Nasara (the name that is given to ‘the house of the initiated men’ in the Northern Islands). The executive power is assured by the Chief President of the Nagriamel Federation. The military organization is subordinate to civil power. The declaration of rights insists on the defence of life and all freedoms (of conscience, religious choice, speech and press, assembly and claims to land).” (summarized in Bernard, 1983: 52, trans. Marcellin Abong)

38The system of proposed Vemarana government was illustrated by a diagram. If we look at this organizational diagram, in light of information I have gathered in Vanafo, we are far from the principles of the minimalist state that the Phoenix Foundation had wished to create.

Government System of the Republic of Vemarana (Collected by Marcellin Abong)

Government System of the Republic of Vemarana (Collected by Marcellin Abong)

Federal organization proposed by the Nagriamel for the Republic of Vemarana (published in Jeune Mélanésie, 13 May 1980).

Federal organization proposed by the Nagriamel for the Republic of Vemarana (published in Jeune Mélanésie, 13 May 1980).

39Nagriamel had accepted the adoption of a national constitution signed in October 1978, under the aegis of a government of national union. But the movement’s failure at the election of 16 November 1979 represented a turning point in its history. Nagriamel and its political allies were faced with an incoming independent government led by their rivals in the Vanuaaku Party. And from this time, too, the French authorities played a double game. France publicly accepted the imminent independence of a new state led by the Vanuaaku Party, but did not exclude other possible outcomes.

40Francophones in particular feared that the Vanuaaku Party’s electoral victory might allow it to change the national constitution as originally drafted. This provoked a genuine shock in the Francophone camp and the political situation rapidly deteriorated. Jimmy Stevens announced on Radio Vanafo (provided by Oliver) that the elections had been rigged and he threatened Vanuaaku Party members living on Santo, which led to their exodus from the island. In January 1980 Jimmy Stevens had declared the separate independence of Santo and Tanna and he gave British officials seven days to leave. When the British suggested sending troops to Santo, French General Inspector Jean-Jacques Robert refused in spite of British protests. This situation lasted for six months, until the day before Vanuatu’s independence in July 1980. Every attempt at reconciliation failed although discussions went on for weeks.

41In May the Vanuaaku Party-led administration declared that the New Hebrides, renamed Vanuatu, would become independent on 30 July 1980. In reply, Nagriamel’s members took possession of the municipality of Luganville. After a night of riots, Stevens delivered a dawn speech on Radio Vanafo, which had been renamed Radio Vemarana:

“This is the road that leads towards deliverance and freedom, protected and defended by the Independent Federation of the Nagriamel, Santo, and New Hebrides. This is the service of radio diffusion at 25 º south latitude and 168 º west longitude of planet Earth or Urianta, under the rays of the Milky Way. Today, the Vemarana was born. The people of Santo named it this way and the people of Santo work for its administration. Come and join the Vemarana, it doesn’t matter of which race you are, so we can help the Vemarana’s government to part from the country of Vanuatu. The Nagriamel has been independent since 1976, so if we understand things well, the independence of the Vanuatu government will only start from July 1980. Be careful, because the independence of Vanuatu is not the same as the independence of Vemarana.” (Stevens, quoted in Beasant, 1984: 94)

42During the days that followed, the new government of Vanuatu ordered a total blockade of the island of Santo, but this had little effect. But then, on 15 June 1980, 200 British Marines arrived on Santo. The French had previously sent 55 policemen to Santo to ensure the defence of its representatives. These manoeuvres reinforced the oppressive atmosphere. There had also been trouble on the island of Tanna, and the day of 11 June 1980 was marked by the assassination of Alex Yolou, leader of the Francophone camp there. On Santo, Vemarana had enjoyed two months of effective independence. But, as independence day came closer, the Vanuaaku Party supported by Andrew Stuart, the British Commissioner, demanded that the nation’s independence be respected.

43On 17 June 1980, the incoming Prime Minister Walter Lini signed an agreement with Papua New Guinea to supply troops to intervene on Santo and quash the secession. The Kumul Force, composed of 300 men, two patrol ships and four aeroplanes (Bernard, 1983: 117), arrived and took up positions on Santo on 18 August 1980. The first day of the intervention, the Papuan Commander Colonel Toy Huai’s restoration of state power went smoothly as his troops had occupied Luganville’s strategic positions. Inspections and arrests began. On 30 August 1980, Papuan troops killed Stevens’ eldest son during shooting aimed at the vehicle in which he was driving in the company of two others.

44The next day Papuan troops occupied Vanafo and Port-Olry, the other bastion of Nagriamel resistance. They found Jimmy Stevens seated on a chair under the village’s big banyan tree and supported by a group of several hundred followers, men, women and children. Among them there were also a few Europeans who had taken shelter in Vanafo. Several hundreds of Vemaranists were arrested during these operations. In spite of Jimmy Stevens’ arrest, along with those of his followers, fighting continued in north Santo for several days. From September to November the Papua New Guinea army, the Vanuatu Mobile Force (mainly composed of members of the Vanuaaku Party) and aeroplanes of the Royal Australian Air Force which transported prisoners to Port-Vila continued to patrol Santo. Numerous brutalities were recorded and there were many violent arrests. The official number of arrests given by the Vanuatu government is 2,774. Rebels were sentenced to five to seven years’ imprisonment. Several hundred French settlers escaped legal pursuit by fleeing to New Caledonia, and 127 foreigners ultimately were expelled from the country, 110 of them French citizens (Beasant, 1983: 143).

“Jimmy Stevens was charged with 11 crimes on 21 November 1980. These included:
1. Military action involving the use of arms;
2. at his direction sending men to cause damage to the British Paddock [the colonial official residence area];
3. arbitrary detention of delegates and policemen;
4. possession of stolen objects: dynamite, munitions;
5. organization of an illegal movement;
6. incitement to break the law;
7. illegal production of passports;
8. distributing copies of the illegal [Vemarana] constitution;
9. financing of an illegal association;
10. prejudicial conduct against public order;
11. broadcasting by an illegal radio station.” (Paitel, 1985: 262-263, trans. Marcellin Abong)

45Stevens would plead guilty to all charges and he took complete responsibility for the rebellion. He was sentenced to fourteen and a half years in prison and fined 220,000 vatu. In his defence, he declared:

“I am one of the big custom chiefs of the Nagriamel and I would like the President of the Court to treat me like a custom chief. People have asked me to do things, and I accepted. I didn’t think about all the consequences. Today, I can see all the damage that has been done and I realize that I made a mistake when I accepted the role of Prime Minister of the Vemarana. I listened to too many people, the French representatives had promised they would never let me down, General Inspector Robert had promised me… They all promised me… I have been in charge of the Nagriamel for 20 years, nobody was killed because I made a mistake, but Vanuatu has killed three of my men: Alexis Buluk, Alexis Yolou on the island of Tanna, and recently, one of my sons. This is all I have to say.” (extracts from Jimmy Stevens’ defence at his trial, quoted in Bernard, 1983: 125-126, trans. Marcellin Abong)

Nagriamel Today and Tomorrow

46The number of Nagriamel followers has continued to increase although many outside the movement may not be aware of this. In Vanuatu’s last general election of 2008 for example, Nagriamel supporters from Malo elected Vanuatu’s only Nagriamel Member of Parliament, the honorable Avo Molisale who represents the Malo/Santo constituency. A Nagriamel candidate for the SANMA (Santo, Malo, and Aore) Provincial Council also received the highest number of votes among those running. On Ambae, where Nagriamel support remains strong, the movement’s candidate for Parliament Mr Edmond Oke received over 400 votes. And in a recent by-election on Epi, Nagriamel supporters helped elect Yoan Simon, a considerable accomplishment considering that Epi has been a stronghold of the Vanuaaku Pati.

47Malo, comparatively, has the greatest number of Nagriamel supporters towards other political parties. On Santo, Nagriamel members compose a third of the Provincial Council and another Nagriamel leader serves on the PENAMA (Pentecost, Ambae, Maewo) Provincial Council. Some Nagriamel followers continue to support other political parties including the UMP (Union of Moderate Parties), the Vanuatu Republiken Pati (VRP), the Peoples Action Pati (PAP) and even the Vanuaaku Pati. Many Nagriamel leaders assert that Nagriamel is a belief system rather than a political party and even though a person might affiliate with another political party he still supports Nagriamel’s founding principles.

48Today, Nagriamel stands at the crossroads. Some claim that Nagriamel does not have enough popular support to elect more than one or two Members of Parliament, but my analysis suggests it should be able to elect at least five. Currently, however, the movement faces some internal division and dispute over ownership of the name Nagriamel itself. The executive of the movement’s political arm claims that it controls the right to decide electoral strategy and choose candidates. Members of this executive, originally supporters of the former Tabwemasana Pati on Santo, claim to be founders of the national Nagriamel movement. An opposing group, which calls itself Nagriamel James Garae Bakeo Grup, believes that the Santo-based group has cached a large sum of money somewhere that elder James Garae Bakeo helped obtain. Bakeo, now deceased, was the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, External Trade, and Economy in the short-lived Vemarana Republic and a close collaborator of Jimmy Stevens. He was reputedly involved in dealings between Nagriamel and investors from the United States and New Caledonia. The Nagriamel James Garae Bakeo Grup is led today by Alic Garae Bakeo, James Bakeo’s son. Jif Frankie Stevens leads a third faction, the so-called Original Nagriamel, which is still located at Fanafo, Jimmy Stevens’ headquarters on Santo. Finally, there is a fourth faction, the Hanga Takaro Nagriamel on Ambae, which also claims to be the backbone of the Nagriamel Movement today.

49Given these disputes over leadership of the movement, and claims to the Nagriamel name itself, the wider movement has found it difficult to unite. Rumours of the agreement that James Garae Bakeo may have signed with American investors in the name of the “Republic of Vemarana Development Corporation” (supposedly registered in Panama) have also sparked outside interest and interference, particularly associated with Alic Garae Bakeo’s faction. A locally powerful ni-Vanuatu businesswoman of Asian origin, Thi Tam Goiset, has become involved with Bakeo. This woman, a member of a large family whose wealth grew during Vanuatu’s colonial era, has large investments throughout Vanuatu and has become involved in a number of schemes, humanitarian and otherwise, with village communities. On Tanna, she has been implicated with various John Frum movement factions, receiving a title from one of these. She has also received the chiefly title Lenavao Moli from one Nagriamel faction. She now claims the right to speak for both the John Frum and Nagriamel movements, but many supporters dispute her right to do so. The businesswoman claims that traditional exchanges of gifts are the basis for her customary right to speak today on behalf of Nagriamel and John Frum, although many remain confused about this.

50The remaining significant issue, therefore, concerns who is to serve as Nagriamel’s spokesperson. When Jimmy Stevens was released from prison he announced: “I now turn over the work to my Black children.” This statement recalls Charles de Gaulle’s proclamation in Algeria when he said “I have understood you” (Je vous ai compris) in that Jif Moli Stevens meant that his generation of John Frum and Nagriamel leaders had altogether failed in achieving their goals. His speech only alluded to the work that the children of Nagriamel were by then beginning to take up. Today, as we witness the steady increase in Vanuatu’s customary lands being put up for sale, Nagriamel’s original struggle to preserve land has withered on the vine and now needs a new and active campaign to bring it back to life. However, the policies of Nagriamel’s newly elected leaders, as expressed in political posters and platforms during the 2008 elections, did not significantly focus on the promotion of tradition and culture. This, too, leads to questions about Nagriamel’s vision for the future preservation and development of Vanuatu’s traditional cultures.


51I have attempted to clarify several misunderstandings about the Nagriamel movement and its leader, Jimmy Stevens. These include the assertion that Stevens excluded kastom from his struggle, or that he used kastom only to serve his own interests. They also include the associated argument that Stevens used his name and titles in order to ensnare and mislead his followers. Kolig’s psychological analysis of Stevens’ character (see Kolig, 1981 and 1987) argues that he used his name as an emblem, which suggests that he was someone with a split personality, almost a borderline case of schizophrenia.

52I believe that this portrait of Stevens is pointless and almost offensive, considering his significant influence on the history of our country. He deserves more respect even if he did make mistakes. The ultimate source of these mistakes was the original establishment of the Anglo-French Condominium. Political rivalries, an economic war, and social struggles were added to tribal conflict. Colonialism may have brought economic transformation but this was the sort of progress depicted in the following image: A man standing on the border of an abyss who says: “I have taken a big step forward!”

53I prefer an anthropological and biographical approach to Stevens’ life history which places his struggle in its cultural and historical context. It is important that we try to understand the original orientations of Nagriamel’s philosophy and its associated positive actions. An anthropological approach to Stevens’ names and titles could be parsed as follows. By struggling to revive kastom and by recreating it in so doing, Stevens from the start established himself as a protector of kastom, as its guardian. However, in associating his body and soul with kastom he also resorted to non-customary parameters. “Jimmy” was his man olbaot (common) name, but one day he woke up after he had “had a dream”, to use Martin Luther King’s words. “Stevens” sounded American, and this supported his persona as liberator. For him, America was not a mythical country where cargo comes from, but rather represented the awakening of a political conscience spurred by the presence of the US military in the New Hebrides during World War II. America had become the imagined source of equality and fraternity.

54Similarly, Stevens’ srevival of kastom served to contest colonial oppression. His assumed title “Tupu” underlined his claim to aristocratic status. He opposed his vision of a Black King to the “White Shadows” who previously had been the colonial rulers of the black islands; an enlightened monarch descended from the heart of darkness. His other titles “Patuntun” and “Moli” reminded followers of his vocation as a guide, the custom guide of Santo and the supreme beacon of kastom for all the Northern Islands.

55In short, Jimmy was a charismatic man. His destiny was exceptional, his journey extraordinary. But without Nagriamel supporters, its nalnal, its “nudists” from the Dark Bush only wearing their courage and integrity, Jimmy Stevens would never have become Pantuntun, or Moli. We cannot analyze Stevens merely as an individual. His empathy with Nagriamel supporters gave rise to his status as a cult leader: the person who established custom rules of the Northern Islands. His canonization as a cult character is not merely secular, it bears supernatural significance. Beyond becoming Pantuntun and Moli, Stevens also claimed the titles of Jif (Chief), President and Prophet: Jif President Moli Tupu Pantuntun Moses. Each of these titles magnifies the previous one. But even if he was a neo-customary monarch, Stevens never became a despot. Several of his followers’ testimonials state that their Jif was not a soft person but that he had a safeguard that prevented him from going astray. He knew very well that he was nothing without Nagriamel supporters, and that is why he could claim a Biblical-like status as the movement’s patriarch.

56Jimmy Stevens was not always an enlightened man, but he was thoughtful. He could recognize his mistakes. It is true that he ordered James Garae Bakeo, at the time the interim Vemarana Minister of Economic Affairs and Foreign Exchange, to sign over to foreign private investors a lease of more than 40,000 hectares of land in Matantas on the island of Santo and in Loanatom on Tanna. But before he died while imprisoned in hospital, he admitted that he never should have associated with foreign speculators, especially not with Michael Oliver and his American investors. Stevens had been blinded by the manoeuvres and manipulations of these American investors and the dollars they showered on him. But who could blame a person who had never encountered the merciless forces of neo-liberal capitalism? Walter Lini’s Melanesian socialism, too, has subsequently led Vanuatu to accept help from Australia, New Zealand, France, China and Japan. Which leader of the Vanuaaku Party has ever explained to us that “communalism” and the redistribution of land to custom owners would one day lead to the construction of concrete buildings all over Efate’s coast? That it would lead to our people selling their land for a Toyota? That new Christian sects would come to tell us that Jesus prefers rich people and that only their pastors’miracles will save us from the disasters caused by our ancestral principles? If we forget our Dark Bush (our traditional indigenous) political economy will this not result in our being drawn inexorably into the new world order advocated by George Bush and others?

57Militants of the past and the present may object to my interpretation, but they must admit that the memory of Jimmy Stevens is not exclusively theirs to control. He has become a historical and political character for everyone in Vanuatu. In 2004, after he died, one follower claimed that she saw Stevens shine like a sun. She predicted that his body will be sent to Mount Tabwemasana and his ashes scattered from the top of the hill in the direction of the USA. Many of Stevens’ followers similarly have come to honour his spirit.

58With globalization, our cultures have now become integrated into the global village. It is unfair to accuse our youngsters, who as a result have been plunged into confusion, of not respecting custom: kastom has an obscure connotation for many of them. We don’t know how to explain it, we don’t know how to put it into practice, and sometimes we don’t even regret its disappearance. If we want our children to share our culture, elders must acknowledge cultural change. New traditions are emerging. Different generations must inevitably share this contemporary global culture with our Pacific neighbours and with friends all over the world. There is no doubt that Jimmy Stevens had understood this back in the 1960s. But his presentiment was hard to share with his followers.

59The future can no longer be directed solely by custom. But if we get our people involved we can offer them new way of seeing things, an acceptable life that goes beyond mere survival. In order to move forward, we have to celebrate what we have in common, our shared memory of custom as this developed within a context of colonial oppression. For Stevens custom was natangwata, the work of the first-born. Stevens was a precursor in his celebration of kastom as a foundational symbol but his actions transcended all past cultural expressions – whether in the context of the clans, the tribes, the islands or other traditional forms of collective identification. The Nagriamel movement speaks to all of us. Natangwata is the oldest son of all the clans, the oldest of all our brothers, the bearer of a shared spirit, the basket that contains the complete set of our original words. For Jimmy the foundation of any indigenous claims was culture. But there is no culture without institutional and therefore political frameworks. Let us remember the sad end of Alexis Yolou on the island of Tanna. He was not killed because he had a full bank account but because he asserted ideas for the indigenous cause, seen from his own perspective on kastom.

60This concern for indigenous rights pushed Nagriamel to assert island rights and the legitimacy of kastom. Today, Vanuatu’s land is being alienated all over again by land speculators, harming indigenous people who often no longer have the strength to contest such “investors”,–a new kind of settler who comes to plant dollars instead of coconut trees, with the approval of state authorities. We must remember the lessons from the past. The younger generation needs to remember Nagriamel’s demands in support of indigenous rights. Its actions caused rich men who bought up indigenous lands to feel insecure; it also discomfited members of the Vanuaaku Party and British and Australian agents – everyone who wanted to claim power in favour of his own exclusive interests.

61Our elders, our man bush, had once understood this message and they supported Jimmy Stevens and his law of the Dark Bush. Stevens said that in order to maintain one’s dignity one should not become a simple consumer which would lead to a life of despair. One should instead become a determined agent within the national economy and claim the power to decide one’s own existence. This explains why Stevens encouraged Ambae people to come to Santo. He sought their help in order to create a new form of cultural diversity at the heart of the future Republic of Vemarana. He believed that people should work their land productively but not just to feed themselves alone, that they should uphold their ideals and not merely follow the law of the strongest.

62This paper seeks to rehabilitate Nagriamel, a political movement of which our elders should no longer feel ashamed and from which our youngsters should draw inspiration. Let us remember, with great respect, our ancestors’ travels along the sad path of humiliation. Let us not forget the blows they suffered, the kicks, the whipping – insults and injury for which our former “masters” have never apologized. Our grandfathers’ claims were systematically refused by the colonial administration and its repressive system. Their mistake was being Melanesian, being black – and claiming their rights. Our grandfathers taught us that we, too, should be willing to die for these basic rights. Our children should know that they will die with us if we do not protect our freedoms. Let us remember what Jean-Marie Tjibaou, leader of New Caledonia’s Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, said only a few days before his assassination: “Dying is not hard, it is more difficult to stay alive and to feel like a stranger in your own country, to feel that your country is dying and being powerless.” After suffering oppression and humiliation we, too, must remember Nagriamel and our ancestors who struggled with so-called “progress and civilization”: we must dare to fight in order that one day we shall win.



Abong, Marcellin
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Bernard, Pascal
1983 Le Nagriamel: tradition et nationalisme au Vanuatu. PhD Thesis. Université Paris-X-Nanterre.

Hours, Bernard
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Cahiers ORSTOM 11(3-4): 227-242.

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Movement”, Journal de la Société des Océanistes 85(2): 181-204.

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

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

Tabani, Marc
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1 During a meeting in Vanafo in August 1977 between Stevens and the two delegates of the Condominium, Monsieur Gauger, the French delegate, explained the alliance between custom and the progress that France would bring: “Monsieur Gauger spoke about the importance of custom and the local sense of identity. At the same time, he said, custom could adapt to modernization as, for example, in the supply of electricity”. Jimmy Stevens replied: “I, as the Chief of the islands of Santo and the village of Vanafo, am happy to tell you about a feast that lasted for 3 days. First, we celebrated rice and the French cattle, our cattle in Vanafo. The money for the cattle came from the French government and all of us indigenous people were OK, we have worked on the project. The rice comes from the indigenous people’s land and was cultivated thanks to Paul Buluk and financed by Monsieur Leconte. Yesterday, we celebrated the roads paid by the governments, especially the road that leads from Vanafo to Matantas […]. And today we celebrate our community clinic and our nakamal […] I want everybody in our village to understand the importance of our nakamal and the community clinic […] I think that the women of this village are all happy that we have our community clinic, because their children are healthy. This proves that a community clinic, a road, running water and other things have given us healthy children”. (Extracts from a speech collected and translated by Peter Crowe, 1987: 151-159).

List of illustrations

Title Government System of the Republic of Vemarana (Collected by Marcellin Abong)
File image/jpeg, 99k
Title Federal organization proposed by the Nagriamel for the Republic of Vemarana (published in Jeune Mélanésie, 13 May 1980).
File image/jpeg, 92k


The Director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and of the Vanuatu National Cultural Council. He was trained at the University Paris-I-Sorbonne-Panthéon (Master degree in Ethno-Archeology) and at the University Paris-VI-Pierre et Marie-Curie (Fundamental Xylologie). He has published a book, La pirogue du dark bush: apercus critiques sur l’histoire du Nagriamel (Port-Vila, VKS publications); he has also co-edited two other books, Oceanic Ancestors/Ancêtres Océaniens (Paris, Somogy Editions d’Arts) and 101 mots pour comprendre le Vanuatu (Nouméa, editions du GRHOC). In 2008, he received a chiefly title from his community in Lamap (south Malekula), “Gulgul Maingi Taridumlegh Baraghabat”, which refers to the morning star and symbolize hope.

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