Independence from independence: The aborted attempt to establish a Melanesian metropolis in Malekula, Vanuatu

Abstract : From the late 1990s onwards, the inhabitants of several villages in South Malekula engaged in a particularly ambitious project fostered by national and foreign investors and Father Leymang, one of the two leaders of the independence movement of Vanuatu in the 1970s. The ambition was to create an independent state within the state, a metropolis as modern and as ambitious as Singapore, New York, London or Kuala Lumpur. It was intended to have its own passport and borders, police and political structures, university and financial City. It was supposed to become a State of the Melanesian way, where local inhabitants would share the benefits and profits, where they would have been involved in decision-taking processes and educated to become citizens of the world while keeping their Melanesian characteristics and kastom. Agreements were signed; young men recruited and trained to become police officers, custom officers, accountants and managers. Coconut trees were chopped down to make room for buildings. Small houses were erected to host the new city's political infrastructure. While "everyone" was enthusiastic about this quasi-utopian project at the beginning, it soon faced increasing criticisms from parts of the local population itself. Through its "democratic" ideology of sharing and distributing rights and benefits, obligations and profits, it was also going to override existing oppositions and hierarchies that had previously articulated the relationships between local and not-so-local inhabitants, and between individual lineages and clans. It soon fostered the expressed will for reconstructing and clarifying who is and who is not a traditional inhabitant and owner, an authentic owner, and for what reasons. The project was finally (and at least temporarily) abandoned. Far from levelling out social distinctions, relationships between families and kin-groups, which was the original aim of the project, the result was an eager fight for regaining resilience and restabilising pre-colonial hierarchies between the inhabitants, resisting, at least for some, what they believe to be an imposed definition of the Melanesian way.
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Contributor : Laurent Dousset <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 8:16:03 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 1:30:52 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-00763958, version 1



Laurent Dousset. Independence from independence: The aborted attempt to establish a Melanesian metropolis in Malekula, Vanuatu. The European Society for Oceanists conference 2012. Session "Resilience and resistance to the local-global dichotomy", Dousset, L and Nayral M. (orgs), Dec 2012, Norway. ⟨halshs-00763958⟩



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