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Nation of Tanna (Vanuatu)

Tanna island secessionist movement

Last modified: 2013-07-20 by ian macdonald
Keywords: tanna | star (green) | circle (yellow) | independentist |
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[Nation of Tanna (Vanuatu)] image by Thanh-Tâm Lê

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Original independence flag Reconstructed version
[Nation of Tanna (Vanuatu), original independence flag]      [Nation of Tanna (Vanuatu), reconstructed version]
by Thanh-Tâm Lê by Jaume Ollé

The history of the revolts in Vanuatu started with Tanna, followed with NaGriamel and ended with Vemerana. Tanna island was in a turmoil in 1973, and a French delegate asked for the mediation of the French colonist Antoine Fournalli, who gained the confidence of the five island chiefs, announced the independence of the Tanna Nation, created a national flag and was proclaimed king.

The independence of Tanna was proclaimed in the Spring of 1974 (perhaps it was then when the two red narrow bars were added) but on 8th June 1974 French troops took the island. The native people revolted against the French but on 20th June French-British troops arrived to the island and Fournalli was captured and deported to Australia (5th July 1974) for a five year term.

The flag of Tanna, according to written descriptions from several magazines, was blue with a green star, ratio 2:3 and like the description shown in several vex bulletins. But the description is not absolutely accurate: I saw an Australian report in TV around 1980 and the national flag of Tanna appeared several times. The description is: blue flag with green star in the center surrounded by a yellow ring. The points of the star are a bit out of the ring. According to the TV report, this flag was kept by a native chief and showed great respect for it.

Other two flags I saw in the Australian TV report: the same [flag] but with two narrow red horizontal bars; it might be the flag of the Four Corners' Movement, or alternatively the royal standard or the civil ensign, but I am not at all sure regarding this flag [see "original independence flag" above]; and the John Frum Movement flag.

Jaume Ollé, 10 June 1998 and 30 January 1999

The history of Tanna and Vanuatu is fascinating. I can give a few more details to supplement Jaume's synthesis and support his observation about the yellow ring in the flag of the Nation of Tanna.

The Nation of Tanna was proclaimed on 24 March 1974 and finally suppressed by the condominium authorities on 29 June 1974. Behind the declaration of the nation stood the Forcona Movement (Four Corners Movement), a political-religious movement opposed to the Anglophone parties and the Presbyterian church in the New Hebrides. The Forcona Movement, and the Nation of Tanna, was based in the north of the island of Tanna, with the village of Imafin as the stronghold.

On the day the Tannese nation was proclaimed, about 800 people gathered for a ceremony. The flag of the new nation was raised and political leaders for the four corners of the island were appointed. The north corner leader was made the custodian of the flag. According to the account of the French anthropologist Joël Bonnemaison, the flag consisted of "blue background, yellow circle, green star". The circle and star elements are confirmed by another anthropologist's report, that of Jean Guiart. According to Guiart the flag was manufactured in Port Vila and brought to Tanna by Antoine Fornelli, the Frenchman acting as the figurehead of the revolt (his most important contribution to the events seems to have consisted of supplying the flag besides acting as symbolic leader).

Condominium authorities reacted to these events by prohibiting the wearing of uniforms and the raising of flags. On 18 June British and French forces attacked the Nation of Tanna stronghold at Imafin, which was also the place where the north corner leader and flag custodian lived. The flag was seized by the British district agent. This led Fornelli, who had been absent from the island, to return to Tanna. In a secret letter to the President of France and the Queen of the United Kingdom he declared sovereignty and demanded that the British and French leave within 8 days. He also demanded that the flag be returned to the Tannese.

The British and French were not impressed and finally, on 29 June 1974, suppressed the Nation of Tanna by sending a joint force that took Imafin and captured several leading members of the Tannese nation, including Fornelli and the flag custodian. The Forcona leaders were sentenced to jail. Fornelli got a one year jail sentence and was barred from the New Hebrides for five years. He was sent to Noumea in New Caledonia.

Sources: Joël Bonnemaison, The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna, Honolulu, 1994; Jean Guiart, Le mouvement "Four Corner" à Tanna (1974), Journal de la Société des Océanistes, Vol. XXXI, 1975, pp. 107-111.

Jan Oskar Engene, 13 June 1998

I saw at that time a TV report from France 3 of Thalassa about Tanna story which I recorded but can't find anymore. The film showed the ceremony of independence declaration including the raising of the Tanna Flag which was effectively a yellow star in a white fimbrated circle in a blue field with two small red lines from the white circle to the fly; the star was all inside the circle. This flag was stolen by the French soldiers who fought independence. Jaume's other GIF [vu-tannr.gif] is a reconstruction of the independence flag made after the departure of the soldiers and kept as a relic on the island.

Pascal Monney, 14 June 1998 and 1 February 1999

Pascal Monney told me that (...) he had noted precise dimensions for the size of the circles, cantons, stripes and their position, as well as the overall ratios, so I could make two GIFs of what he had sketched at the time. He confirmed that they looked perfectly like what he had in his notes.

Thanh-Tâm Lê, 20 July 1999


Malekula Island Separatists

[N'Makiaute (Malekula island, Vanuatu)] 3:5
by Ralf Stelter

In the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart appears "173. N'Makiaute (Malekula island separatists, 1980) - Vanuatu." Vertically divided blue over green with a large white stripe as second diagonal. A yellow stylized bird (?) in canton.

Ivan Sache, 17 September 1999

The original source is in fact Lupant 1991, where my article The Flag of N'Makiaute —which also appeared in Flaggenforum— about this flag appeared. In 1990 Michel Lupant asked me about the flag of N'Makiaute, and I remembered I had made notes of a TV report about Vanuatu in 1980, where I had seen some flags. Michel gave me the routes, as the report had been "quite fast". The result of comparing my rather confused sketches with Michel's notes was that we received a copy of that TV report with lots of flags. My drawing in Lupant 1991 is very accurate.

The N'Makiaute flag was in proportions of 3:5. The flag bore a bird of paradise in stylized silhouette, and a diagonal stripe not touching the upper and lower edges of the flag. The illustration on the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart is correct.

Ralf Stelter, 10-13 December 2000