Cet ouvrage fait partie de la bibliothèque YouScribe
Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le lire en ligne
En savoir plus

Kastom, cargo and the construction of Utopia on Santo, Vanuatu: the Nagriamel movement - article ; n°2 ; vol.85, pg 181-199

De
20 pages
Journal de la Société des océanistes - Année 1987 - Volume 85 - Numéro 2 - Pages 181-199
SUMMARY
In 1980, as the condominium of the New Hebrides was about to become the new, independent nation of Vanuatu, two major secession moves, one on the island of Tanna and another one on Espiritu Santo, occurred threatening to tear this island nation apart. In this paper the dominant political ideology involved in the secession attempt on Santo is discussed to point up its historical complexity and internal contradictions. Autochthonous traditionalism and its main political proponent on Santo, the Nagriamel movement, in using the concept of kastom in fact draw on many non-traditional contents. Far from having been the last hurrah of a conservative tribalism opposed to its incorporation into a modern western-type nation and imminent immersion into a faceless citizenry, the secession turns out to have, to a considerable extent, been inspired by a colonial ideological heritage, as rich as it is diverse and already considerably removed from pre-European cultural and ideological roots.
RÉSUMÉ
En 1980, alors que le condominium des Nouvelles-Hébrides était sur le point de devenir le nouvel état indépendant de Vanuatu, deux importants mouvements de sécession apparurent, l'un à Tanna, l'autre à Espiritu Santo, qui menacèrent de déchirer en morceaux cette nation insulaire. Cet article discute l'idéologie politique dominante liée à la tentative de sécession de Santo afin d'en souligner la complexité historique et les contradictions internes. Le traditionalisme autochtone et son principal porte-parole à Santo, le mouvement Nagriamel, en utilisant le concept de kastom firent appel, en réalité, à de nombreux éléments qui n'avaient rien de traditionnel. Loin d'être le chant du cygne d'un tribalisme conservateur s1 opposant à son intégration à une nation moderne de type occidental et à son immersion imminente dans une masse anonyme de citoyens, la sécession se révèle avoir reçu largement l'inspiration de l'héritage colonial aussi riche que divers et déjà fort éloigné des racines pré-européennes dans le domaine culturel et idéologique.
19 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
Voir plus Voir moins

Erich Kolig
Kastom, cargo and the construction of Utopia on Santo,
Vanuatu: the Nagriamel movement
In: Journal de la Société des océanistes. 85, 1987-2. pp. 181-199.
Abstract
SUMMARY
In 1980, as the condominium of the New Hebrides was about to become the new, independent nation of Vanuatu, two major
secession moves, one on the island of Tanna and another one on Espiritu Santo, occurred threatening to tear this island nation
apart. In this paper the dominant political ideology involved in the secession attempt on Santo is discussed to point up its
historical complexity and internal contradictions. Autochthonous traditionalism and its main political proponent on Santo, the
Nagriamel movement, in using the concept of kastom in fact draw on many non-traditional contents. Far from having been the
last hurrah of a conservative tribalism opposed to its incorporation into a modern western-type nation and imminent immersion
into a faceless citizenry, the secession turns out to have, to a considerable extent, been inspired by a colonial ideological
heritage, as rich as it is diverse and already considerably removed from pre-European cultural and ideological roots.
Résumé
RÉSUMÉ
En 1980, alors que le condominium des Nouvelles-Hébrides était sur le point de devenir le nouvel état indépendant de Vanuatu,
deux importants mouvements de sécession apparurent, l'un à Tanna, l'autre à Espiritu Santo, qui menacèrent de déchirer en
morceaux cette nation insulaire. Cet article discute l'idéologie politique dominante liée à la tentative de sécession de Santo afin
d'en souligner la complexité historique et les contradictions internes. Le traditionalisme autochtone et son principal porte-parole à
Santo, le mouvement Nagriamel, en utilisant le concept de kastom firent appel, en réalité, à de nombreux éléments qui n'avaient
rien de traditionnel. Loin d'être le chant du cygne d'un tribalisme conservateur s1 opposant à son intégration à une nation
moderne de type occidental et à son immersion imminente dans une masse anonyme de citoyens, la sécession se révèle avoir
reçu largement l'inspiration de l'héritage colonial aussi riche que divers et déjà fort éloigné des racines pré-européennes dans le
domaine culturel et idéologique.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Kolig Erich. Kastom, cargo and the construction of Utopia on Santo, Vanuatu: the Nagriamel movement. In: Journal de la
Société des océanistes. 85, 1987-2. pp. 181-199.
doi : 10.3406/jso.1987.2578
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/jso_0300-953X_1987_num_85_2_2578Cargo Kastom,
and the construction of Utopia on Santo,
Vanuatu : the Nagriamel movement1
by
Erich KOLIG*
«L'âge d'or qu'une aveugle tra diverse ideas which have coalesced into
what Ernst Bloch has called « begriffene dition a placé dans le passé, est
devant nous. » Hoffnung », and led to a particular type of
political action. (Saint-Simon)
In Vanuatu, kastom is a well-used politi
cal slogan (see Tonkinson, 1982). In
In this paper I propose to discuss the governmental policies, public releases,
dominant political ideology on the island and legislation as much as in the every
of Espiritu Santo. So doing is apt to shed day use by the proverbial man in the
light on the rise of the secession move streets of the capital Port Vila or in « the
which in 1980 purported to sever this bush » of outlying islands, the idea of kas
island from the rest of the newly created tom is frequently encountered. However,
nation of Vanuatu, formerly the condomi despite its wide use, kastom has little, if
nium of the New Hebrides. An explanat any, unifying quality. Only on the most
ory attempt by Bonnemaison (1985) inte superficial level can it serve to give a
rpreted the events mainly in terms of an semblance of unity in this newly created
independent nation spread over a far- expression of tribal particularism, the cent
rifugal force of the old Melanesian socio flung archipelago, and in which a sense of
political order straining against a modern nationhood is virtually non-existent among
centralised state. My approach addresses the inhabitants. It is only in a very vague
the complexity of ideological and to some and unspecified sense that kastom can be
extent historical conditions on the island. used, as is frequently done, as a rallying
The argument put forward here and the cry by a central government, desirous of
description on which it broadly rests, do national reconciliation and unification of a
not so much hold kastom in the sense of nation deeply divided as a consequence
of a cripplingly bifurcate colonialism as « autochtonie », as Bonnemaison calls it,
responsible for the armed conflict on the well as rent by insular particularism. A
islands of Santo and Tanna, but rather kas recent author, Philibert (1986), views the
situation with considerable cynicism. « The tom as a Utopian concept of mixed deri
vation. Kastom, as it inspired the « rebel party in power has applied itself to inven
lion », is in effect a melange of quite ting « traditions », kastom, he says (p. 7)
* Anthropology Department, University of Otago, Dunedin.
1. Two Otago Research Grants made it possible for me to visit Vanuatu (New Hebrides) in 1977-1978 and
1985. My thanks to N. Kolig, B. Campillo, head of orstom at Port Vila, J. and F. Stevens for their cooperat
ion and help. In the days of the Condominium, members of both French and British administrations assis
ted in my research in various ways. SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES 182
and calls it post-colonialist fetishism. The ingredient in the construction of « Utopia »,
« westernised elite which knows least the political vision of what Vanuatu society
about kastom is busy inventing them (tra ought to be, rather than merely reflecting
ditions) », he comments sarcastically. His existing reality. Not surprisingly then the
outspoken critique stops only a step short clash between rival ideas of what consti
of calling the artificial construction of neo- tutes kastom goes far beyond merely an
traditional symbols of stateship a conspi « academic » ideological debate. It entails
racy of the ruling Westernised elite and decidedly practical political consequenc
bureaucracy pursuing their own self- es. The fate of Espiritu Santo is a good
case in point of a violent confrontation beserving ends.
tween such kast om-laden « Utopias ». Indeed kastom has many uses and assu
mes quite drastically different meanings in The purist expectation that kastom, if
the lives of the ni-Vanuatu. Any practical deserving of the name, must either be
use of kastom beyond simply harnessing customary in the sense of linking up with
it for political showmanship, which Hours what is of current as well as long-standing
(1979, p. 19) derisively calls « buffoonery practice or be a faithful and authentic
and mise en scene », such as the ceremon reflection of the cultural past, or prefe
ious slaughter of pigs at state festivities, rably both, remains totally unmet. Kastom
is apt to generate friction rather than as a political concept. is neither, and not
accord. Every attempt to bring the con only for the simple fact that the past can
cept of kastom into sharper focus beyond not be reconstituted. As a political concept
kastom always is more or less an artificial catchy but in the final analysis empty slo
gans, immediately uncovers considerable construct, devised for reasons of political
differences and is prone to generate gross expediency, nostalgia or conservatism.
disunity. As kastom both ideologically and Alternatively, kastom may well refer to a
on a practical level, where it is a guide complex of current practices and beliefs
to the patterning of daily life and to the of some autochthonous authenticity which,
definition of political goals, assumes however, on closer inspection turn out to
be an amalgam with some considerable strongly divergent guises, it foments
furiously partisan and often intolerant alien imput. In all cases, however, it is
argument among rival proponents. (Sever true to say that kastom as a political con
al contributors to a recent volume entit cept refers to a consciously and purposely
constructed « tradition » rather than a led Reinventing Traditional Culture, edited
culture-historical reality. What elevates by Keesing and Tonkinson (1982) discus
sed this fact in more or less detail.) cultural patterns to becoming tradition, is
Conceptually kastom, the Bislama term the discernment, whether objectively true
for custom or indigenous culture, refers or not, of more or less unbroken continua
quite unambiguously to lore, beliefs, social which make them seem suitable as
patterns and practices of indigenous, pre- symbols of a desirable past and establish
colonial provenance as opposed to later, a link with it without necessarily having to superimpositions. In actual reality, be a mirror image of it. What makes kas
however, the substance of this almost tom to kastom, in other words, is not comp
mystical concept is subject to wide diver lete identity with the past, but a percei
gence, not only because indigenous cul ved connection with the past even though
ture has always differed from island to this link may be of only shallow time
island and from group to group, but also depth or tenuous or far-fetched. Kastom in
because these traditions either are in a effect, then, is a very fluid concept with
state of dissolution to varying degrees or few hard delineations against innovative
have dynamically undergone change in change. Only in a highly subjective pers
the colonial era. Some of these changes pective does it assume a characteristic,
have meanwhile come to be accepted as firm profile in which it distinguishes itself
entirely traditional. In addition there is the clearly from non-customary forms.
practical question to what extent and in The use of kastom decisively shaped the
which social spheres kastom is supposed recent political fate of several islands.
to rule the lives of modern ni-Vanuatu and None more so than that of Espiritu Santo
in which spheres a more western cultural (or Santo for short), the largest and pre
and social idiom is more appropriate. Kas viously the most prosperous island among
tom in this sense has become a salient the eighty odd islands which form the THE NAGRIAMEL MOVEMENT 183
followers of Nagriamel. nation of Vanuatu. During the colonial era
On Santo kastom has in the past played Santo had attracted a relatively large con
a prominent and, as can be expected in tingent of expatriates, living both in the
this heavy mix of expatriate languages, town of Luganville and in outlying settl
cultures and economic interests, at times ements and plantations. The expatriates,
violent role. In pre-independence days mainly either French or English speakers,
there were three Francophone parties, had introduced to, and extended on to,
Mann, Tabwemasana and the Fren Melathe indigenous population the deep cultur
nesia Pati, which blatantly drew on kastom al, linguistic and political division be
for their own discrete ends. Tabwemasana tween them. They represented a variety of
supporters, for example were given to professions and economic interests : the
using so-called kastom leaves to intimidate Francophone element was mainly present
political opponents and restrict their frein Catholic missions and schools, in plan
edom of movement. This and other similarly tations, and in urban business in Luganv
ille (this included a sizeable section of disruptive practices earned this party a
reputation of political thuggery — or as French-speaking Indochinese and Wallis
Hours (1979, p. 17) calls it befittingly, « cusislanders) while the Anglophone element
tomary terrorism ». In these cases it was was to be found mainly in Protestant
obvious even by the meanest analysis that (Presbyterian) missions, schools and tra
kastom served no other role than political ining centres, the administration and to a
window-dressing, and as a convenient artisomewhat minor extent also in the planta
fice to enhance these parties' attractivetion sector of the economy. (There was
ness in the eyes of some culturally conseralso a partially English-speaking Chinese
vative Santo voters, while in actual fact the minority, usually owners of small busines
true intentions of the parties' ideologues ses and shops.) The indigenous population
of Santo, not surprisingly soon came to lay elsewhere. Incomparably greater was
the commitment to kastom by the Nagriareflect faithfully this European division of
mel movement, at that time politically the interests and backgrounds. Entrenched
most powerful « laager » on Santo. For parochial interests and schooling both saw
some time now Nagriamel has been the to it that this division became deeply
champion of a much broader intellectual ingrained. Presbyterian influence and the
and political movement : the kastom moveAnglophilia and Anglophony which in the
ment on Santo. As the political expression Condominium went hand in hand, are to
be found mainly on the isolated west of culturally conservative, independentist
ni- Vanuatu, mainly in the island's inaccescoast, South Santo (including the island of
Tangoa) and Hog Harbour on the east sible interior, this broad movement,
perhaps better called a political climate, coast. People there became staunch sup
has for some considerable time now perporters of the Vanuaaku Pati, erstwhile
vaded this island's history, at times diffuNational Party, which came to form the
first independent national government sely so and at others more openly and
decisively. under Fr. Walter Lini, himself an Anglican
Most notably, as independence was priest. The French orbit included Port
about to dawn on the New Hebrides in Olry (a large Catholic mission establis
hment and school), parts of Sud Santo (Tas- 1980, the so-called kastom movement and
its major political arm, the Nagriamel malum and surrounds) and to the largest
extent the copra plantation area in the movement, aligned themselves with Fran
south and east of the island. Other major cophone political factions (the so-called
socio-political groups among the indige modérés), to form the Vemarana Federat
ion which unilaterally declared Santo's nous population are the adherents of
Nagriamel (of whom during the move independence and formally sought to
secede from the emergent nation of ment's heydays many came from other
Vanuatu. After initial success, the secesislands to live temporarily in or around the
sion attempt was crushed by the central headquarters at Vanafo) ; and the so-
government with the help of troops from called bush-people in the interior jungle
and mountain area, of whom many comPapua New-Guinea ; the leaders were
munities (the exact number is difficult to imprisoned, many French nationals expel
led and the rule of the central government establish owing to contradictory accounts
of Vila restored. The paramount leader of and the inaccessibility of the terrain) are SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES 184
ter Lini and the Nagriamel movement, the secession move, Jimmy Stevens, was
which maintains two representatives in the sentenced to fourteen and a half years
imprisonment and while all the other lea Assembly in Vila. However, as Jimmy Ste
vens, Nagriamel's charismatic leader, conding figures have meanwhile been relea
tinues to languish in prison and the movesed, in some cases their sentences having
ment is run by committee (in which Stebeen commuted, he is still unpardoned
and in jail in Vila — perhaps owing to the ven's eldest son Frankie strives to be a
worthy if temporary substitute for his fact that he attempted jail break. Much
has been written on the political scene in father), it is only a mere shadow of its fo
rmer proud and vigorous self. Vanafo2, Vanuatu (or previously the New Hebrides ;
some 18 km north of Luganville, remains see e.g. Plant 1977, Hours, 1979 ; Jackson,
the headquarters, now divested, however, 1972) and, more recently, on the secession
attempt or « rebellion » as it is called in the of all the trappings and symbols which in
official terminology (see for instance Bea- former days had proudly proclaimed the
movement's independence. sant (1984) who describes events from the
^government angle, and Leder (1981) and-
Bigard (1984) who take very much a dif
IS KASTOM REALLY TRADITIONAL ? ferent viewpoint). I shall, therefore, not dis
cuss the political events of the critical and
While the government often refers to the traumatic time of 1980, but instead look at
need to uphold kastom, on Santo the posikastom as the major ideological force
tion of defender and champion of kastom behind these events, and at what it really
stands for in this case. is claimed by the Nagriamel movement.
Superficially this seems to be borne out by When I revisited Santo in 1985, it was a
actual realities. had been orideeply wounded island, there was much
ginally formed specifically to protect cusbitterness and anger among that part of
tom ownership of land against advancing the population that had participated in, or
land alienation and to have already alisympathised with, the secession. Repress
enated land, or such with dubious legal staive and harsh retaliatory measures repu
tedly taken by the government and its tus, reverted to indigenous owners. Its fo
rmation had been sparked off by the presagencies immediately after the successful
sing need to protect the traditional type of overthrow of the rival island government,
land use and ownership when in the 1960s remain unforgotten and unforgiven
suddenly more bush land was about to be Governmental and police actions on Santo
taken in hand by European economic seem to have been more than stringent as
enterprise. As beef prices rose steeply on .they were criticised even by the Vanuatu
Christian Council (VCC) which is normally the world market, large tracts of land
which had under dubious legality been a close ally of the government (see Myers,
1983, 15). In particular in the central areas acquired by expatriate companies and
individuals decades ago, but had hitherto of Santo, among the « bush-people » who
en bloc sympathised with the Vemarana lain unused and for all appearances
remained in the hands of customary own- Federation and from among whom most of
the active support for the « rebellion » was ners, were about to be used for breeding
cattle. While coastal land in the south and recruited, the level of resentment is high
towards the central government and its east of the island had been utilised for
copra plantation for quite some time and instruments, the police and the Mobile
this had become part of the accepted staForce. And not surprisingly the longstan
ding antagonism towards the Vanuaaku tus quo, the new development created a
considerable stir. It was seen as an Pati, Presbyterians and Anglophones in
general had hardly abated. If anything it encroachment further inland into hitherto
had intensified. Officially, an uneasy truce relatively undisturbed jungle areas, and as
threatening the livelihood of the so-called prevails between the government of
2. Jimmy Stevens insisted that its proper name was not Vanafo or Fanafo, but Tanafo, meaning « full bas
ket ». There seems to be some justification for his contention. A map of the area given by Baker (1928,
p. 281) shows a village Tanafo as existing in the 1920s in roughly the same spot as today. This would indi
cate that when Nagriamel established headquarters it made use of a previously existing settlement by the
name of Tanafo. Hours (1974, p. 231) describes Vanafo as consisting of two distinctly separate parts, Vanafo
proper and Moru, both parts containing two distinct populations. THE NAGRIAMEL MOVEMENT 185
bush people. They had largely remained viduals resident in Vila at the time of his
outside the orbit of the European- field work. Very little of his material
dominated economy and continued to live seems to apply specifically to the very
a traditional subsistence type existence. interior of Santo and it must remain uncert
ain whether data of the coastal areas are Frightened by the prospect of losing their
truly representative for the inland regions. land, not suprisingly, many of them
became stalwart supporters of Nagriamel In fact, his information, if correct, suggests
on Santo. Support came even from those considerable cultural variation throughout
living in very remote areas of the interior, Santo, making it even less appropriate to
as they too had to fear that sooner or later generalise from his data. Somewhat more
they would have to yield their land to a reliable is Speiser's ethnography (1913,
1923 and 1924) insofar as he had spent seemingly insatiably land-hungry cattle
industry. Quite logically, once Nagriamel some time on Santo, part of it in the very
had become the political champion for the interior. However his interests were
bush-people, who feared for their land, it clearly focussed on the material culture
also had to create a platform for the reten and so far as other cultural aspects are
tion of indigenous cultural traditions — this concerned his account remains sketchy.
despite the fact that as Hours (1976, What can be surmised though is that, for
p. 219 ) notes, only about 20 % of the memb instance, the dress code did change
ership in the 1970s actively practised undoubtedly and the loin-cloth, today
kastom themselves. taken as a symbol of pre-European life
The bush-people — man bush or nikid style, is a fairly recent introduction. It has
pipl, as they sometimes are somewhat completely supplanted the wooden block
derisively called in Bislama in reference reported by Deacon as well as Speiser, as
to their traditional state of undress — lay used by the men in several regions of
claim to leading a completely traditionally Santo. Similarly the small leave strip then
orientated existence whose cultural comworn by women to cover the vagina has
ponents would reach back in an unbroken been replaced by a more generous bunch
continuum to the time before the arrival of of leaves. (Speiser remarks however that
the first Europeans. On the surface it is the Kleinstaemme (pygmy tribes) at his
quite true that they adhere to a life style time wore, unlike others in the interior,
that is essentially pre-European to a much bunches of leaves back and front ; which
higher degree than that of most other is the dress-code that Hours (1974, p. 233)
groups in Vanuatu, with the exception believes is the traditional one on Santo
perhaps of groups in the interior of generally.) Deacon mentions (1929, p. 462)
Malekula3. However, this does not mean that men up to the age of twenty often
that their life style as a whole is a relat went completely naked in some parts of
ively authentic reflection of pre-European Santo. If this is correct, the insistence on
cultural conditions. Far from it (see, for ins total nudity by the Malamala movement in
tance, Ludvigson (1982, p. 55) who refers the 1940s, was not such a revolutionary
to several cultural changes). An assess and stark innovation as it may appear on
ment to what extent their life style is or is first sight. Sketchy as the available info
not pre-European, is not easily done. rmation is, it nonetheless makes it clear that
Because of a severe lack of detailed considerable changes have taken place.
ethnographic accounts dating back to ear Much more dubious is whether or not
lier years of the ethnic encounter, it is pigs were raised in the interior traditio
impossible to judge with even a reasona nally, for their tusks and in conjunction
ble measure of certainty whether or not with the graded society. The answer can
profound cultural changes have taken only be a matter of conjecture. Bonnemai-
place in the interior of Santo. Deacon's son (1980 and 1984) posits a profound di
material from Santo, published posthu fference between man bush and man sol
mously in 1929, is extremely sketchy and wora with a major difference being the
contains no more than some snippets of absence of domesticated pigs in the inte
uneven quality, collected from a few rior (the presence or absence of coconuts
3. The so-called kastom movement on Tanna, for instance, is to a large extent a revival phenomenon.
Many adherents have come from the Jon Frum movement which in turn had at its inception attracted sizea
ble numbers from among Christianised Tannese ; see Guiart 1951, p. 229 and 1956a : 110 f, 112f. SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES 186
being a major determining factor). This beyond, onto other islands. This at once
appears to be true in the present circums is traditional in principle as well as somet
tances. However, on the other hand, both hing new in dimension. Inland groups, tra
Speiser and Deacon's account suggest that ditionally, maintained well-defined connect
pig raising was extensively practised in ions with allied coastal groups who all
the interior at their time and this would owed them narrow, rigidly circumscribed
access to their littoral territories (see Bon- indicate that the absence of pig raising
nowadays is not a traditional situation, but nemaison 1980, p. 186 ; 1984, p. 133). For
may have been brought about relatively man sol wora it was usual that an alliance
recently. Guiart (1958, p. 198) places the network would extend onto other islands,
time of abandonment of pig raising and of but hardly so for inland groups whose
the ceremonies of the graded society be horizon was much more parochial, the
tween 1910 and 1930. This can, however, outer perimeter always remaining the
only be a speculation. Perhaps the Mala- coastline of their island. Bonnemaison in
mala cult of the 1940s had something to do his paper on spatial orientation and ident
with it. It forbade the rearing of animals, ity explores these aspects in detail and
according to Miller's account (1948) of it. outlines the transformations and extensions
If this was so, dogs and fowl have meanwh of traditional principles in recent times
ile reappeared in the interior, but not (1984, p. 139). Now man bush by joining
pigs. Again we are left guessing, not least Nagriamel, finds himself in one organisat
of it because the accuracy of Miller's ion with people from many different
observations on the Malamala cult has islands and sporadically even engaged in
been doubted by Guiart (1951, p. 228, a political dialogue with sophisticated
1951a : p. 86 and 1958, p. 208). He critic Francophone elements.
ised Miller for misreporting details of the Man bush seems oblivious to the notion
cult by attributing features to it which pre that profound changes may possibly, or
date the cult's appearance. But he himself very likely, have taken place in his form
in turn is criticised by Ludvigson (1982, of existence. Moreover, leaving aside
p. 380) who accuses him of not having more or less well-founded speculations on
stayed long enough to make authoritative possible cultural changes and losses, kas-
pronouncements on the culture of the bush tom as way of life nowadays is far from
people. Ultimately then, none of the info being consistent. Above all, the ideology
rmation on the subject of the traditional of kastom, despite its claim to epitomise a
domestication of animals in the interior, is completely traditional way of life, and
beyond doubt. Exactly the same applies actual practice do not accord in everyday
to the graded society and the custom of reality. The inconsistency between theory
and practice in the lives of the bush- either burying the dead within the house
or exposing them for natural decomposit people is made manifestly obvious
ion (see Guiart, 1958, p. 211). In these already on the most superficial level of
cases also it remains unclear when and observation. My encounter with a kastom
why these customs have disappeared village in Santo's interior, which shall
indeed exactly where they had existed in remain unnamed, may serve as an illu
pre-European times. strative and characteristic example. A sign
Pig raising, code of dress, graded displayed at the village entrance declared
society and the like are only some of the it as affiliated with Nagriamel and exhor
very obvious indicators of culture change. ted strangers to keep out. The first impres
There are more subtle changes which sion was unmistakably that of a traditional
came in the wake of the penetration of Melanesian hamlet consisting of a small
congregation of long-houses and harbourmoney economy, modern technology and
western-type schooling. In these respects ing people in « traditional » dress : men in
it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what has loincloth, women with leaves tucked into
changed in the lives of man bush and how their waist belts. While my reception in
incisive the change was. For instance as 1977 had been extremely cordial, in 1985
bush people have become followers of presumably as a result of the upheavals
Nagriamel and by the very inter-island in 1980, the tone was much more reser
character of this organisation, they have ved. The village chief espoused very cha
become drawn into a network of alliance racteristically the change in tone as well
extending to coastal areas of Santo and as the whole range of inconsistencies inhe- THE NAGRIAMEL MOVEMENT 187
rent in the kastom movement. In addition mic necessity, as everybody complained
about a lack of cash. Some to his traditional semi-nakedness he spor
ted an assortment of starkly non-traditional that they were deliberately barred from
items : a modern wrist watch, sunglasses, work as a retaliatory measure by the
thongs and a colourful if very dirty cap government to punish them for having sup
emblazoned with « CAT Bulldozer ». Desp ported the « rebellion ». This may have
ite the fact that in his exterior his tradi some basis in fact insofar as previously
tionalism had been considerably watered had found employment in Vanafo or
down, he declined to have his and his had been hired out by Nagriamel to work
people's picture taken on the ground that outside (see Hours, 1974, p. 232). With the
« here we follow kastom », as he stated in decline of the Nagriamel organisation nei
Bislama. While following kastom in 1977 ther of these options is possible any lon
had not been a reason to exclude photo ger. Also, so I was told, garden produce
graphy, eight years later the interpretation sent by Nagriamel people to the market
of what constitutes proper customary in Luganville attracts few customers, all
behaviour had become much more doctri egedly being deliberately boycotted there.
naire. One can only speculate that this The flow of cash has almost totally dried
may be a reaction to the political setbacks up as a consequence.
the movement had suffered lately. The appearance of the village itself
Obviously adhering to kastom neither then gave an immediate impression of the inter
nor now was meant to exclude a wide nal contradictions of kastom and the way
range of assorted western style commodit of life it propagates. There among the
ies and household goods. The chief's hou assemblage of 12 houses, was a hut made
from corrugated iron sheets whose sehold, despite the master's apparent
puritanical and conservative attitude, was modern components must have been car
replete with such things as bottles, plates, ried one by one over an extremely
pots and pans, cutlery, kerosene lamps arduous jungle track. (The hut had not
and radio — hardly much different from existed during my previous visit.) As it tu
the average village household of other rned out, it belonged to the chief's eldest
ideological persuasions. In 1977, treasured son and ironically also housed the village's
possessions in the chief's household had two slit gongs, epitomes of traditionalism.
been, a US military identification disc This intimate coexistence of the new and
which the chief wore as an ornament the old is in many ways a characteristic
around his neck, as well as cutlery embos feature of the kastom movement, no mat
sed with US Navy. These items had ter whether it shows itself doctrinaire and
meanwhile been destroyed in a fire which puritan or more liberal.
burnt down the chief's house some years This striking inconsistency between
ago. Their appearance in a kastom house theory and practice, the doctrine of kas
hold is neither fortuitous nor insignificant. tom often being unaligned with the reali
Cherishing such mementos of the former ties of practical life, has historical preced
ents. The eclecticism of the kastom often American military presence is not unusual
in Vanuatu in general (see e.g. Allen, being unaligned with the realities of pract
1968, p. 45 : Douglas, 1976, p. 66) and in ical life, has historical precedents. The
fact is a significant and characteristic eclecticism of the kastom movement was
remarked on in the 1940s by Miller in his ingredient in the kastom ideology, albeit
its existence ostensibly contradicts the description of the so-called Naked Cult
very aims of it. (1948, p. 338), one of the earlier manifest
While traditional dress code seems to ations of the kastom on Santo. He speaks
have been observed in the village in of « baffling contradictions » which he saw,
for instance, in the use of modern building 1977-1978 without exception, in 1985 the
picture had changed. Most adults in the materials by people engrossed in a cult
that advocated the puritanical return to a village (with the exception of the chiefs
second son) still wore traditional garb, but way of life rid of all foreign intrusions. This
has always been apparent in the daily several of the children were dressed in
more or less ragged pants and teeshirts, realities of the kastom movement, but
more than just being convenient concessdespite the much more doctrinaire atmos
phere. The appearance of western forms ions, random oversights, minor compro
of dress in fact contradicted stated mises people are inclined to make in daily SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES 188
life, the blend of traditionalist doctrine and openly suppressed, the movements always
western commodities turns out on closer fizzled out without their ideology disappear
ing completely. One prophet had the misinspection to be symptomatic. The kastom
tradition, as far as can be surmised, has fortune to be executed, another one died
in prison. It was the quick succession of so long as it has been recorded as a tan
prophets and leaders which gives the gible expression of political intent, been
situation a semblance of a coherent aligned with cargoistic expectations. The
desire for western goods has always fo continuum.
rmed part of kastom tenet. Thus the para As Guiart (1951, p. 227) argued there has
been a broad ideological flow on Santo dox exists that as lonc| as there has been
a kastom movement oft Santo, the concept reaching back in time to at least the mur
der of the Greig family in 1908, through of cargo (despite its anti-traditional impli
cations) has always been an integral part. which the first indication of the existence
of this ideological climate was given (see This curious blend, felevant to the cons
truction of « Utopia », has come to play a Guiart, 1958, pp. 76-78). In 1923, as a con
crucial role in Vanuatu's recent history. sequence of the teaching of the prophet
Ronovuro (or Rongofuro) the planter Clap-
cott was killed at Tasmalum on the south A HISTORY OF KASTOM coast (Guiart, 1958, pp.. 198-202 ; Worsley,
1970, pp. 158-160). It seems that not only The kastom movement on Santo has a
Ronovuro but also several other prophets relatively long and spectacular history. It
(Susu Moli, Payalolos) had announced the may, however, be slightly misleading to
arrival of a new blissful era when the speak of a movement, thus implying the
dead would be resurrected as soon as all continuous existence over time of a well-
Europeans had been killed. In 1937, the defined political organisation with a clearly
prophet Avu-Avu, another bush-dweller, expression of political will.
seems to have had similar visions. (Guiart, Nothing could be further from the truth.
1951, p. 227 refers to it as the Runovoro What we find rather is a substratum of dif
School affair while in 1951 a : p. 86 he fuse collective aspirations, perhaps, a
seems to equate Malamala with it.) The myth-dream, as Burridge (1960, p. 27) has
return of the dead by boat was to be precalled it, and a succession of individuals
cipitated by the elimination of the Whites who emerge drawing on this dream. A
and the purification of village life. Avu-avu series of prophets throw into more precise
too was arrested and died in prison relief hitherto shapeless ideas, to ignite the
(Guiart, 1958, pp. 202-203). popular imagination and to rally around
The cargoistic ingredient in the kastom themselves a group of like-minded foll
movement received a tremendous boost owers. Some of these ideas thus defined,
through the presence of thousands of US concerned the preservation of cultural tra
and allied troops on Santo during World ditions coupled with a sometimes violent
War II. In 1942 American forces landed and sometimes only implicit rejection of
and for the rest of the war Santo served European, or specifically missionary,
as a major aviation and naval base for the influences. The insistence on the worth of
onslought on Japanese held Pacific islands indigenous lore was as frequently as para
and later on Japan itself. Over 10,000 doxically coupled with a longing for Euro
New Hebrideans were employed in pean commodities. Almost every time the
menial and supply jobs, under genial pay Santo myth-dream condensed into a poli
conditions of a kind they had hitherto not tical programme or a vision of better
known. Small wonder that the first arrival things to come, it turned out to comprise
and the subsequent display of vast military both aspects.
wealth made a deep and lasting impresPerhaps for as long as the turn of cen
sion on the islanders. This was even to be tury there has existed a groundswell of
surpassed later through the grandiously relevant thoughts in Santo society : car
insane spectacle of destruction when the goistic expectations associated with the
US military upon leaving Santo at the end desire to retain cultural distinctiveness
of the war, shed most of the equipment by from the Europeans. Every now and then
dumping it into the sea, rather than shipthis ideological climate erupted in a move
ping it back to America (see Geslin, 1956). ment, led by a prophet. Always discoura
The place of destruction, so-called Million ged by the colonial authorities, sometimes THE NAGRIAMEL MOVEMENT 189
a road was built — a stereotypical activity Dollar Point near Luganville, is one of the
in cargo cults — towards Tasmalum where landmarks today, even though no more
the ship was expected to berth. The than some pieces of military debris was
hed up on tiie beach and corroded almost cult which seems to have spread widely
beyond recognition, can be seen. The see in the interior mountain area* but also rea
ched coastal communities, was named mingly pointless destruction of this unbe
lievable wealth, had a two-fold effect. It after what seemed a striking characterist
ic : the followers had to go completely not only generated disgust and anger
among the New Hebrideans, who had naked, even foregoing personal adorn
expected to be handsomely rewarded for ments, for such things were said to make
their help and instead saw the goods them unclean ; in addition private life had
thrown into the sea, but also renewed their to be given up for complete communality,
admiration and respect for « America ». even sexual activity was to be conducted
Now as this cornucopia of cargo which in public. Tsek died in 1952 having failed
they had hoped for, was emptied into the to reform and purify the society of the
sea, it served as an impressive lesson bush people. But even though the cult
about the wealth and incredible resources disappeared, it is possible that it had a
more lasting effect : possibly after the cult of this mystical country which could afford
such unbelievable wastage. Henceforth had rejected some autochthonous cultural
« America » replaced the ancestors as the features, these were not revived again, or
mysterious source for cargo. Hours (1976 , only partially so, even after the move
ment's lapse. p. 37) calls this the second miracle (the
first having been the arrival of the White Some time later, around 1954, another
leader arose in the tradition of the kastom Man), which did much to fire the further
movement. Moli Valiv (Mol Valivu, or generation of cargo myths. In any case,
Kavapnuwi) appears to have spread an from then on ideas have doggedly
focussed on « America », — up to the pre emphatically traditionalist message which
was aimed against missions as well as sent day when such ideas, even though in
employment in the plantations. This seems more refined form, are still part of the Jon
to have created some labour unrest. At Frum church. One may assume that more
the same time Moli Valiv had some reacryptically such ideas have persisted
widely, even though they have not con sonable ideas concerning rational econo
mic development (see Guiart, 1958, esp. gealed for many years now into a distinct
movement and are unlikely to do so ever p. 213).
The history of prophets has not been foragain. A faint residual glow associated
with the name « America » may have sur gotten today. In my experience, the lea
der of Nagriamel liked to refer to the teavived the years and may have had a hand
in recent political events on Santo. chings of Ronovuro, using them either as
The next kastom episode, the teachings a source of inspiration or, perhaps, to give
his own ideas added respectability. It is of the prophet Tanisiya and especially the
Atori affair in 1946 seems to have been a interesting that, as both Hours (1974,
direct outcome of the wartime experience. p. 235) and Ludvigson (1982, p. 91) note,
Ronovuro was still remembered with affecA road was constructed in the bush to
receive and transport the cargo which was tion in the 1970s among Nagriamel memb
ers and in Santo 's interior, and also Atori prophesied to arrive from « America »
and Avu-Avu were held in high esteem. shortly (see Guiart, 1958, p. 203, p. 207),
Only the Naked Cult, though rememberAt about the same time the so-called
ed, was not appreciated. The reasons for Naked Cult, or Malamala, seems to have
this rejection remain obscure and are operated independently, probably having
indeed puzzling as the cult does not seem started some time earler, perhaps before
to have fallen outside the framework of the 1944 (Miller, 1948). At the behest of the
kastom movement and its wide ideological prophet Tsek (Jack or Tieka), European
spectrum. and indigenous goods, houses, clothes and
animals were destroyed and money
thrown away so as to achieve a state of Nagriamel, defender of kastom
purity, a precondition for « America » to and propagator of cargo
arrive bringing eternal life as well as
In the mid 1960s another movement for- many luxuries. In anticipation of the goods

Un pour Un
Permettre à tous d'accéder à la lecture
Pour chaque accès à la bibliothèque, YouScribe donne un accès à une personne dans le besoin