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Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm

Identity and Development in Vanuatu

William F. Miles

Publication Year: 1998

The South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu simultaneously experienced the two major types of colonialism of the modern era (British and French), the only instance in which these colonial powers jointly ruled the same people in the same territory over an extended period of time. This, in addition to its small size and recent independence (1980), makes Vanuatu an ideal case study of the clash of contemporary colonialism and its enduring legacies. At the same time, the uniqueness of Melanesian society highlights the singular role of indigenous culture in shaping both colonial and postcolonial political reality. With its close attention to global processes, Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm provides a fresh comparative approach to an island state that has most frequently been examined from an ethnographic or area studies perspective. William F. S. Miles looks at the long-term effects of the joint Franco-British administration in public policy, political disputes, and social cleavages in post-independence Vanuatu. He emphasizes the strong imprint left by "condocolonialism" in dividing ni-Vanuatu into "Anglophones" and "Francophones," but also suggest how this basic division is being replaced (or overlaid) by divisions based on urban or rural residence, "traditional" or "modern" employment, and disparities between the status and activities of men and women. As such, this volume is more than an analysis of a unique case of colonialism and its effects; it is an interpretation of the evolution of an insular society beset by particularly convoluted precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial fractures. Based principally on research conducted in 1991 and, following a key change in Vanuatu's government, a subsequent visit in 1992, the analysis is enriched by regular comparisons between Vanuatu and other colonized societies where the author has carried out original research, including Niger, Nigeria, Martinique, and Pondicherry. Extensive interviews with ni-Vanuatu are integrated throughout the text, presenting islanders' views of their own experience.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

List of Maps, Tables, and Figures

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pp. viii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

It is a great pleasure to offer a few introductory words to Professor William Miles' Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm. The University of Hawai`i Press is to be congratulated for being in the forefront of recent academic publications regarding this most...

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Preface: Choosing Vanuatu

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pp. xv-xxiv

I have often joked with friends and colleagues that the Condominium of the New Hebrides was established in 1906 so that I might study it eighty-five years later. For one who has specialized in the differences between French and British modes of colonization, and particularly the developmental implications of their respective...

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Introduction: Boundaries, Juridical and Mental

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pp. 1-28

Were it not for the clear demarcations imparted by international boundaries, we would all have a hard time making sense of the world. Boundaries impose merciful limits on our finite capacities to understand the global jigsaw puzzle into which our planet is divided. Bombarded from infancy with unfiltered stimuli, faced with the need to learn the essentials...

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1. Mental Rivalries and Condocolonialism

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pp. 29-58

The Condominium which governed—or neglected—the New Hebrides for so long, and whose stamp is still very much felt in contemporary Vanuatu, has had no dearth of detractors. It has been the butt of some very acerbic, but also literary, thrusts. Edward Jacomb invoked Cato and Carthage in 1914...

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2. Nationalism, Kastom, and Other Boundaries of Identity

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pp. 59-86

Painted with the broadest strokes, the evolution of nationalism in the New Hebrides mirrors that of struggles for independence elsewhere in the Third World. A cluster of peoples that a century before may have had only the remotest glimmer of solidarity—indeed, who may frequently have been at war with each other—now...

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3. Religious Boundaries Constructed and Bridged

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pp. 87-118

Even before the new nation had settled on its name, ambivalence about the religious character of Vanuatu had been constitutionally enshrined. On the one hand, crafters of the constitution wanted to ensure a democratic and secular polity, at least in the sense that there would be no officially sanctioned state church...

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4. Language, Education, and National Identity

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pp. 119-154

This vignette, reconstructed from an actual school visit on Tanna island in 1991, illustrates how closely language can be linked to politics. Although by constitution French is an official language on the same par as English, Francophone ni-Vanuatu had reason to believe that in the decade following the nation's...

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5. New Boundaries in Space, Time, Law, Gender, and Race

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pp. 155-183

Previous chapters have stressed the mental boundaries separating Anglophone from Francophone, Protestant from Catholic, and kastom follower from Christian believer. Nation building has contributed to the blurring of these boundaries and the gradual formation of a ni-Vanuatu identity. However, other boundaries...

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6. Global Boundaries in the Microcosm

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pp. 184-197

Writing about the new world disorder that has succeeded the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of global East–West bipolarity, Ken Jowitt stresses the fragility of those familiar borders and identities that germinated during the Cold War. Particularly for the Third World, geographical boundaries, ideological...

Appendix A: Excerpts from the Convention Establishing the New Hebrides Condominium

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pp. 199-200

Appendix B: Excerpts from the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu

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pp. 201-203

Persons Interviewed

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pp. 205-212


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pp. 213-237


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pp. 239-255


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pp. 257-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824819798

Publication Year: 1998