The People Trade: Pacific Island Laborers and New Caledonia, 1865-1930
336pp. June 1999
The People Trade: Pacific Island Laborers and New Caledonia, 1865-1930
Author: Shineberg, Dorothy;
The story of the people from the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and the Solomon Islands who left their homes to work in the French colony of New Caledonia has long remained a missing piece of Pacific Islands history. Now Dorothy Shineberg has brought these laboreres to life by painstakingly assembling fragments from a wide variety of scattered records and documents. She tells the story of their recruitment, then sketches the workers’ lives in New Caledonia, describing the contractual arrangements, the kinds of work they did, their living conditions, how they spent their free time, the large numbers who sickened and died, and the choice at the end of the contract to remain in the colony as free workers or to return home. Throughout the book she throws light on the controversy about the recruiting of the Islanders: were they kidnapped? Or did they choose to leave home? If so, what motivated them? Evidently the Islanders’ cheap labor contributed to the development of the French colony, but how did the episode affect them and their homeland? The People Trade offers readers a revealing new picture of a long neglected side of the Pacific Islands labor trade.
Pacific Islands Monograph Series, No. 16
Published in association with the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i
"A shining example of excellent historical research and writing. The People Trade is a clear, scholarly, and meticulous narrative but not given to sweeping theoretical analysis or accusatory condemnation of past actors. Shineberg still overwhelmingly presents a grim and damning assessment of the labor trade and the exploitation of workers in colonialsociety." —The Contemporary Pacific 14 (2001) (Read full review)

"A long-awaited labour of love and learning that deserves an extended afterlife." —The International History Review, December 2001

"The People Trade is a useful contribution to the literature on the labour trade because it tackles French colonial policy, looks deep into the New Caledonian labour market, and because it tackles aspects of the labourer’s experience only partially acknowledged by other historians in the field." —Journal of the Polynesian Society, December 2000

"Shineberg’s work joins an important historical literature on the Pacific Islands that addresses a primary effect of colonialism on the shaping of the diversity of contemporary populations among Pacific nation-states. Her monograph is perhaps the most detailed study in this literature and is the result of impressive scholarship." —Choice, January 2000

"[Shineberg] offers a gentle but cogent critique of the simplistic kidnapping/voluntary recruitment dichotomy ... [and] her innovative research method has produced a huge data base of information on individual recruits, a wonderful legacy for future indigenous scholars. This long-awaited book is a pleasure to read." —PHA Newsletter No. 39

"Shineberg’s analysis of the role of women and children ... adds new dimensions to that pivotal issue in the historiography of the labour trade—volunteerism versus kidnapping." —The Australian Journal of Anthropology 12 (2001)

"An informative contribution to our understanding of indentured labor in a part of the world often overlooked by labor and other historians" —The Historian 63

"Thorough and comprehensive, ... researched over many years by a careful and restrained scholar" —Australian Journal of Politics and History 46 (2000)

"A very revealing and disturbing study of colonialism ‘in action’." —Journal of Pacific History 35 (2000)

"A valuable piece of research, filling a gap in the history of the Pacific labour trade" —Pacific Economic Bulletin, Fall 2002

"New Caledonians and other francophones will be pleased that The People Trade will soon be available in French ... I hope that [it] will become available in Italian as well." —The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 3 (2002)

Author: Shineberg, Dorothy;
Dorothy Shineberg holds a BA and PhD from Melbourne University and an MA from Smith College in Massachusetts, where she was a Teaching Fellow for two years. She is the author of They Came for Sandalwood (1967; the French edition appeared in 1973 as Ils étaient venus chercher du santal). She edited The Trading Voyages of Andrew Cheyne (1971) and has published numerous scholarly articles. She is presently a Visiting Fellow in the Division of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University.
A French edition entitled La Main-d’oeuvre néo-hébridaise en Nouvelle-Calédonie 1865–1930 has now been published by the Société d’Études Historiques de la Nouvelle-Calédonie (2003).