However, on the political side, tensions between the British
and French built in the late-1800s. The French controlled
nearby New Caledonia, but most of what is today Vanuatu
was considered neutral ground. Due to the growing economic wealth from the islands
and the increasing number of settlers, tensions grew. Most traders wanted their
native country to colonize the islands as they became more and more divided on religion,
language, economics, and even political preference. In 1889 Franceville (today the
city of Port Vila) declared itself independent, perhaps in order to avoid all this
confusion, but the country was short-lived.
The agreement to avoid governance over the islands between the
British and French ended in 1906 when they decided
to govern the land jointly. This only led to more confusion and division. Both countries
inserted local governments and laws, while the indigenous people lost nearly all
of their rights. Despite this, the rule of the British and French also expanded
their changing culture. As in the past, some people became more "French,"
while others became more "British." However these changes primarily came
in religion and language as the locals continued to run local political groups,
lived off the land, or acted as laborers on large plantations. Meanwhile the foreigners
tended to live in cities and ran the economic and political scenes.
Although Vanuatu was vastly divided during this time of
joint rule, it was also fairly peaceful as the locals, the French,
and the British seemed to live side by side with
little troubles. This began to change with the arrival of World War II and the Americans in the 1940s. As the Allies
fought the Japanese and pushed through the South Pacific,
many Americans passed through Vanuatu and shortly after a number of independence
movements began by the local people.
These movements continued building until it became the main issue on the locals'
agenda in the 1960s, with the greatest motivation for independence being to reassert
their control on the land and ownership of the land. Prior to and during this time
the British cleared more lands for the additional
planting of coconuts and other produce. This led to increased resistance by the
local people as they believed the British had no rights to these lands. As the protests
built and local resistance solidified, the British looked into granting the islands
independence, but the French still resisted.
The 1970s experienced more calls for independence as the locals began to organize
politically on a large scale. This was a major change for the people as in the past
most political organization was localized. This movement united the people no matter
their religion as they demanded the return of all lands, but France
continued to resist the movement until 1980 when both France and the
United Kingdom granted Vanuatu independence, this
only came after a brief war between the locals and some French settlers (although
France continues to hold on to New Caledonia as a colony).
Since independence, Vanuatu has remained fairly stable politically
and economically, although they lag behind many countries in regards to education,
healthcare, communication, and infrastructure. None-the-less, the country remains
at peace and land ownership is still an important issue in the country as only local
citizens can own land. Today the people continue to live as they have throughout
much of history, off the land as farmers and fishers.