The Cultural Politics of Allegiance: Statelessness and Citizenship in Vanuatu, 1906–1980.

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From 1906–1980 the majority of indigenous people in Vanuatu were stateless. Consequently, the two governing powers in the New Hebrides, France and the United Kingdom, were unable to apply their own nationality legislation, comply with international agreements to end statelessness and accommodate political pressure to provide citizenship. Only the newly independent Vanuatu was able to end statelessness through independence in 1980 which allowed the country to establish its own citizenship. However, during the period of Anglo-French colonial rule the children of British and ni-Vanuatu and French and ni-Vanuatu parents and their descendants had precarious, ambiguous and inconsistent claims to citizenship. They were either stateless or could claim British or French citizenship (not always successfully). Citizenship was a contested category awarded on a case-by-case basis. Contestations were particularly evident in colonial legal areas including court proceedings, child custody disputes, marriage, wills, estates, and inheritances. In considering applications for citizenship officials in both administrations turned to international templates, decisions, and precedents. Following common law conventions, British administrators sought out judicial precedents to determine how allegiance could be constructed to confer citizenship on the children of settlers and indigenous ni-Vanuatu. What constituted allegiance? This presentation is based on a book project in ethnohistory, which in this section of the draft manuscript explores responses to this question. I suggest that debates about the cultural politics of allegiance evident in colonial archives together with their legal and cultural forms mediated claims for citizenship in pre-independence New Hebrides and during the transition to independent Vanuatu.

Gregory Rawlings is Head of the Social Anthropology Programme in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He has two main research areas: first, taxation, tax havens and offshore finance and second citizenship and statelessness focusing on their ethnohistories in pre-independence Vanuatu. His research increasingly seeks to identify the relationships between citizenship and taxation. Gregory has recently started writing about citizenship by investment programmes (which has turned nationalities into commodities), particularly those offered by tax havens.

Date & time

Mon 26 Sep 2022, 3–4pm


Online, Zoom Only


Greg Rawlings, University of Otago


Matt Tomlinson


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