Men of War, Men of Peace: Changing Masculinities in Vanuatu

Margaret Jolly*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The first European observers in the archipelago we now call Vanuatu characterised Indigenous men as martial warriors. Such observations occluded the diversity of Indigenous masculinities and the violence inherent in colonial processes of exploration, and later dispossession, ‘pacification’ and the imposition of colonial law. Indigenous relations between men were grounded in ascribed hierarchies of seniority and either achieved or ascribed hierarchies of divine power. Ideally more senior and higher ‘men of peace’ were seen to eclipse younger, lower ‘men of war’, but creative and destructive aspects of masculine power were often co-present in Janus-face formations. In surveying the longue durée of changing masculinities in Vanuatu we can witness complex reconfigurations associated with Christian conversion, the ‘labour trade’, commodity economy and state politics. The American military presence during the Second World War was a pivotal moment in such historical reconfigurations. As against the colonial masculine hierarchy of white mastas and black boes, it generated idioms of racial equality and fraternity between black men and white men and fuelled movements for independence. This is in stark contrast with the historical experience of another Pacific archipelago, Hawai‘i, a state of the United States and a major base for the US military securing what some Kānaka Maoli see as an occupation of their homelands. A comparison of these two Pacific archipelagos highlights how Indigenous masculinities are historically formed and transformed in the context of the race relations of different colonialisms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)305-323
    Number of pages19
    JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2016


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