The Republic of Vanuatu is a Pacific island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean.
The archipelago, of volcanic origin, is 1750km east of Australia, 540km northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.
Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people. Pottery fragments have been found on the islands dating to 1300–1100BC.
The first Europeans to visit the islands were a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós, who arrived on the largest island in 1606.
In the 1880s, France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the archipelago, and in 1906, they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago as the New Hebrides.
An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980.
After Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that would last until independence in 1980.
The first political party, established in the early 1970s, was called the New Hebrides National Party. The independent Republic of Vanuatu was established in 1980.
During the 1990s, Vanuatu experienced a period of political instability which resulted in a more decentralised government. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute.
There were allegations of corruption in the government of Maxime Carlot Korman. New elections have been called for several times since 1997, most recently in 2016.
Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago consisting of about 82 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited), with about 1300km between the most northern and southern islands.
The 14 of Vanuatu’s islands that have surface areas of more than 100km2, from largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo, Malakula, Efate, Erromango, Ambrym, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambae or Aoba, Gaua, Vanua Lava, Maewo, Malo and Aneityum or Anatom.
The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo.
The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879m, on the island of Espiritu Santo.
Most of the islands are steep, with unstable soils and little permanent fresh water.
The shorelines are mostly rocky with fringing reefs and no continental shelf, dropping rapidly into the ocean depths.
There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, Mount Yasur and several underwater volcanoes. Volcanic activity is common, with an ever-present danger of a major eruption.
Vanuatu is recognised as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rainforests. It is part of the Australasia ecozone, which includes New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand.
Vanuatu’s population has caused intense fishing pressure near villages and the depletion of near-shore fish species. Many upland watersheds are being deforested and degraded, and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce.
Despite its tropical forests, Vanuatu has a limited number of plant and animal species. It has an indigenous flying fox, Pteropus anetianus. There are no indigenous large mammals. The 19 species of native reptiles include the flowerpot snake, found only on Efate.
There are eleven species of bats (three unique to Vanuatu) and sixty-one species of land and water birds.
The region is rich in sea life, with more than 4000 species of marine molluscs and a large diversity of marine fishes.
There are three or possibly four adult saltwater crocodiles living in Vanuatu’s mangroves and no current breeding population.
The climate is tropical, with about nine months of warm to hot rainy weather and the possibility of cyclones and three to four months of cooler, drier weather characterised by winds from the southeast.
Cool between April and September, the days become hotter and more humid starting in October. The daily temperature ranges from 20–32 °C (68–90 °F). Southeasterly trade winds occur from May to October.
Vanuatu has a long rainy season, with significant rainfall almost every month.
In March 2015, Cyclone Pam impacted much of Vanuatu as a Category 5 severe tropical cyclone, causing extensive damage and deaths, possibly the worst natural disaster in Vanuatu’s history.
The four mainstays of the economy are agriculture, tourism, offshore financial services, and raising cattle. There is substantial fishing activity, although this industry does not bring in much foreign exchange. Exports include copra, kava, beef, cocoa and timber, and imports include machinery and equipment, foodstuffs and fuels. In contrast, mining activity is unsubstantial.
Tourism brings in much-needed foreign exchange. Vanuatu is widely recognised as one of the premier vacation destinations for scuba divers wishing to explore coral reefs of the South Pacific region.
A further significant attraction to scuba divers is the wreck of the US ocean liner and converted troop carrier SS President Coolidge on Espiritu Santo island.
Sunk during World War II, it is one of the largest shipwrecks in the world that is accessible for recreational diving.
Tourism increased 17% from 2007 to 2008 to reach 196,134 arrivals, according to one estimate. The 2008 total is a sharp increase from 2000, in which there were only 57,000 visitors (of these, 37,000 were from Australia, 8,000 from New Zealand, 6,000 from New Caledonia, 3,000 from Europe, 1,000 from North America, 1,000 from Japan.
Tourism has been promoted, in part, by Vanuatu being the site of several reality-TV shows. The ninth season of the reality TV series Survivor was filmed on Vanuatu, entitled Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire.
Two years later, Australia’s Celebrity Survivor was filmed at the same location used by the US version. In mid-2002, the government stepped up efforts to boost tourism.
The national language of the Republic of Vanuatu is Bislama.
The official languages are Bislama, French and English. The principal languages of education are French and English. The use of English or French as the formal language is split along political lines.
Bislama is a pidgin language, and now a creole in urban areas. Essentially combining a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary, Bislama is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the majority of the population, as a second language.
In addition, 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu.
The density of languages, per capita, is the highest of any nation in the world, with an average of only 2000 speakers per language.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu, consisting of several denominations.
Because of the modern goods that the military in the Second World War brought with them when they came to the islands, several cargo cults developed. Many died out, but the John Frum cult on Tanna is still large, and has adherents in the 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, fitted the description exactly and is therefore revered as a god around the isle of Tanna.
Education is not compulsory, and school enrolments and attendance are among the lowest in the Pacific.
Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity through local regional variations and through foreign influence. Vanuatu may be divided into three major cultural regions. In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away, through a grade-taking system. 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.
Young men undergo various coming-of-age ceremonies and rituals to initiate them into manhood, usually including circumcision.
Most villages have a nakamal or village clubhouse which serves as a meeting point for men and as a place to drink kava.
Villages also have male- and female-only sections. These sections are situated all over the villages; in nakamals, special spaces are provided for females when they are in their menstruation period.
The traditional music of Vanuatu is still thriving in the rural areas of Vanuatu. Musical instruments consist mostly of idiophones: drums of various shape and size, slit gongs, stamping tubes, as well as rattles, among others.
Another musical genre that has become widely popular during the 20th century in all areas of Vanuatu, is known as string band music. It combines guitars, ukulele, and popular songs.
More recently the music of Vanuatu, as an industry, grew rapidly in the 1990s and several bands have forged a distinctive ni-Vanuatu identity. Popular genres of modern commercial music, which are currently being played in the urban areas include zouk music and reggaeton. Reggaeton, a variation of rap/hip-hop spoken in the Spanish language, played alongside its own distinctive beat, is especially played in the local nightclubs of Port Vila with, mostly, an audience of Westerners and tourists.
The cuisine of Vanuatu (aelan kakae) incorporates fish, root vegetables such as taro and yams, fruits, and vegetables. Most island families grow food in their gardens, and food shortages are rare. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, and sweet potatoes are abundant through much of the year.
Coconut milk and coconut cream are used to flavour many dishes. Most food is cooked using hot stones or through boiling and steaming; very little food is fried.
The national dish of Vanuatu is the lap lap.