Vanuatu Independence 1980 ribbon and medal (Images source)
Andrew Roberts in this week's Spectator:
"To the magnificent Skinners’ Hall in the City to watch my wife, Susan Gilchrist, CEO of the financial communications group Brunswick, be feted as a newly elected honorary fellow of King’s College London. A tremendously proud moment, only slightly spoilt by the fact that I seemed to be about the only person there not to be wearing an order, medal or decoration. I felt naked. Along the enormous rack of medals sported by Field Marshal Lord Guthrie was a yellow-ribboned one I didn’t recognise, so I asked him what it was for. ‘I had to put down a native revolt in Espiritu Santo about 30 years ago,’ he said, before adding, ‘They only carried bows and arrows and all they wore were penis-sheaths.’ I suddenly felt awfully less naked. Intrigued, I looked into what’s called the coconut war of 1980 and, needless to say, Charles was being modest. It was a nasty, sharp little engagement in which people died and the French seem to have been on both sides."
From Wikipedia on Espiritu Santo:
Between May and August 1980 the island was the site of a rebellion during the transfer of power over the colonial New Hebrides from the condominium to independent Vanuatu. Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by the Phoenix Foundation and American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. A Republic of Vemerana was proclaimed on May 28. France recognized the independence on June 3. On June 5 the tribal chiefs of Santo named the French Ambassador Philippe Allonneau "King of Vemerana", Jimmy Stevens became Prime Minister. Luganville is renamed Allonneaupolis. But negotiations with Port-Vila failed and from July 27 to August 18, British Royal Marines and a unit of the French Garde Mobile were deployed to the Vanuatu's capital island but did not invade Espiritu Santo as the soon-to-be government had hoped. The troops were recalled shortly before independence. Following independence, Vanuatu, now governed by Father Walter Lini, requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces invaded and conquered Espiritu Santo.
From Wikipedia on the "Coconut War":
Prior to Vanuatu's independence, the islands were known as the New Hebrides. The New Hebrides were governed by a condominium of France and the United Kingdom. In 1980, France and the United Kingdom agreed that Vanuatu would be granted independence on 30 July 1980.
Beginning in June 1980, Jimmy Stevens, head of the Nagriamel movement, led an uprising against the colonial officials and the plans for independence. The uprising lasted about 12 weeks. The rebels blockaded Santo-Pekoa International Airport, destroyed two bridges, and declared the independence of Espiritu Santo island as the "State of Vemerana". Stevens was supported by French-speaking landowners and by the Phoenix Foundation, an American business foundation that supported the establishment of a libertarian tax haven in the New Hebrides.
On 8 June, 1980, the New Hebrides government asked Britain and France to send troops to put down a rebellion on the island of Espiritu Santo. France refused to allow the United Kingdom to deploy troops to defuse the crisis, and French soldiers stationed on Espiritu Santo took no action. As independence day neared, the Prime Minister-elect, Walter Lini, asked Papua New Guinea if it would send troops to intervene. As Papua New Guinean soldiers began arriving in Espiritu Santo, the foreign press began referring to the ongoing events as the "Coconut War".
However, the "war" was brief and unconventional. The residents of Espiritu Santo generally welcomed the Papua New Guineans as fellow Melanesians. Stevens' followers were armed with only bows and arrows, rocks, and slings. There were few casualties, and the war came to a sudden end: when a vehicle carrying Stevens' son burst through a Papua New Guinean roadblock in late August 1980, the soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, killing Stevens' son. Shortly thereafter, Jimmy Stevens surrendered, stating that he had never intended that anyone be harmed.
At Stevens' trial, the support of the Phoenix Foundation to the Nagriamel movement was revealed. It was also revealed that the French government had secretly supported Stevens in his efforts. Stevens was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment; he remained in prison until 1991.
No important people were harmed in the making of this colonial program.
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