This paper highlights a link between measures for precolonial institutions and ethnic fractionalisation in postcolonial countries. A conceptual explanation is provided for why countries that were more politically centralised in precolonial times should be less ethnically fractionalised in current times. This result is confirmed for a sample of postcolonial countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. This is followed by a comparative case study in the South Pacific countries of Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa. It is hoped that these results will lead to further empirical work focused at delving deeper into the link between these two measures to better understand what they are actually measuring, and why both are so closely related to economic development.