Nearly twenty years after the publication of Chiefs Today: Traditional Pacific Leadership and the Colonial State, edited by Lamont Lindstrom and Geoffrey White (1997), this article extends and updates coverage of earlier discussions concerning local and national codifications of authority in the Pacific region and the relation of contemporary "chiefs" and other leaders with state bureaucracies. I address this topic through an analysis of the challenges faced in Vanuatu, since independence, by the attempt to design bureaucratic structures that build on indigenous systems of authority. Looking at the historical and contemporary situation of the Tannese society in the south of the archipelago, I observe the political history and transformation of chiefly status on Tanna, and how local actors in this island have manipulated leadership possibilities (and other aspects of local kastom), partly by drawing on outside resources and connections. This case study also connects with other issues including the ongoing transformation of the roles of local political leaders, global connections linking small Pacific Islands with metropolitan actors, and disputes over cultural property and cultural appropriation.