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The Republic of Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean and consists of 82 small islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited). Vanuatu's total land area is 12,274 sq kilomtres. Most of the islands are steep, with unstable soils and little permanent freshwater. There are active volcanoes in Vanuatu including several underwater ones. Volcanic activity is common with an ever-present danger of a major eruption and tsunamis.

Inhabitants, called ni-Vanuatu, speak more than 100 languages. Bislama, the local form of Pidgin English has become the most common language. The capital is Port-Vila and the population is 243,000.

Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people and was discovered by Europeans in 1606 when the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós called it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo or "The Southern Land of the Holy Ghost", thinking he had arrived in Terra Australis or Australia. Europeans did not return until 1768 and in 1774, Captain James Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.


In the 1880s France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the island group, and in 1906 they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago as the New Hebrides through a British-French Condominium. An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was created in 1980 after the short Coconut War.

In the 19th century both Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, planters switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas and coconuts.

Challenges to the form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanor and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands.

During the 1990s Vanuatu experienced political instability which eventually resulted in a more decentralized government. The paramilitary group, Vanuatu Mobile Force, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute. There were allegations of corruption in the government. New elections have been called several times since 1997, most recently in 2004.


Under the constitution, Vanuatu has a parliament of 52 members elected by universal vote for a four year term. The head of government is the Prime Minister elected by secret ballot by the Members of Parliament. The Head of State is the President, who is elected for a five year term. A council of Chiefs advises the government on matters of custom, land tenure, and the preservation of Vanuatu's traditions. Local allegiances and divisions inherited from the colonial past have led to an increase in political instability in recent years with 6 changes of government since 1995.


The first missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society arrived in Erromango in 1839 and were immediately massacred. It took several decades before missions were established throughout the archipelago.

Today Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu consisting of the Presbyterian Church, adhered to by about one third of the population. The Roman Catholic and Anglicans each claim about 15% of the population. Others are the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Neil Thomas Ministries (NTM), as well as many other religious sects.

The belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum, was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, ‘John Frum’ is both a religion and a political party with a member in Parliament.

Also on Tanna, is the Prince Philip Movement, which reveres the United Kingdom's Prince Philip. Villagers of the Yaohnanen tribe believed in an ancient story about the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit venturing across the seas to look for a powerful woman to marry. Prince Philip, having visited the island with his new wife Queen Elizabeth, fit the description exactly and is therefore revered and even held as a god around the isle of Tanna.


The four mainstays of the economy are agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services, and cattle raising. There is substantial fishing activity although this industry doesn't bring in much foreign exchange. Exports include copra, kava, beef, cocoa, and timber, and imports include machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, and fuels. Economic development is hindered by dependence on relatively few commodity exports, vulnerability to natural disasters, and long distances between constituent islands and from main markets.

Tourism. Vanuatu is widely recognized as one of the premier vacation destinations for scuba divers wanting to explore coral reefs of the South Pacific region. Tourism brings in much-needed foreign exchange and increased 17% from 2007 to 2008 to reach almost 200,000. The majority of tourists originate from Australia and New Zealand.

Vanuatu receives foreign aid mainly from Australia and New Zealand.


Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity through local regional variations and foreign influence. In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away. Pigs, particularly those with rounded tusks, are considered a symbol of wealth throughout Vanuatu. In the centre, more traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate. In the south, a system involving grants of title with associated privileges has developed. On average, each household has 5 pigs and 16 chickens. While cattle are the "most important livestock", pigs and chickens are important for subsistence agriculture as well as playing a significant role in ceremonies and customs (especially pigs). Most food is cooked using hot stones or through boiling and steaming; very little food is fried.

Most villages have a clubhouse which serves as a meeting point for men. Villages also have male and female-only sections situated all over the villages. Cricket is very popular in Vanuatu, with its own national team and 8000 registered cricketers.


Geographically isolated communities in Vanuatu have minimal access to basic health and education services. Churches and non-government organizations provide a minimal level of support to many rural villages. Education is not compulsory, and school enrollments and attendance are among the lowest in the Pacific. A 1999 estimate for the literacy rate of people aged 15–24 years was about 87% and a 2006 estimate for adult literacy was 78% in 2006, although the actual figures are likely to be much lower.

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