Short History of Vanuatu
The origins of Vanuatu, formerly known as New
The Y shaped feature on Vanuatu flag stands for
the shape of of this island chain -
green stands for the fertile land, red for bloodshed for freedom,
yellow for sunshine,
and black for Melanesian people, who are the inhabitants of these
Your experience will be much more enjoyable if you know some history of the place
you're traveling to. Vanuatu is no exception. Vanuatu is one of the Pacific's most beautiful island archipelagos,
and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Pacific. People flock to Vanuatu in search of the beautiful
nature and South Pacific atmosphere. It is a sharp contrast to the urban and noisy
cities of the US. People go to Vanuatu to have their weddings there, and/or simply to enjoy their free time. If you
want your stay in Vanuatu to be better, know some history of the place, and how it came to be.
So, without further ado, let's begin our exploration of Vanuatu's history with
some facts about
Where is Vanuatu?
Vanuatu is an island archipelago which is located
in the South Pacific Ocean. For context, Vanuatu is quite close (in Pacific terms) to Australia. Some thousand
miles of Pacific's giant body of water separates those two countries. Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago, and it
contains 82 relatively small islands, while 65 of them are inhabited. Its largest island is Espiritu Santo with a
population of around 40 thousand inhabitants. Some of the other largest islands are Malakula, Efate,
Island, Tanna, Pentecost, Epi, Ambae or Aoba, Gaua,
Vanua Lava, Maewo, Malo and Aneityum.
Port Vila town is the capital of Vanuatu and the
largest city, located on the main,
Efate island, with Iririki island one of the best known
features in its harbour.
The capital of Vanuatu is Port Vila which is located on Efate island. Vanuatu's
population is around 250 thousand people. About 20 thousand of Ni-Vanuatu people live and work in New Zealand and
Australia. Bislama is the language that is spoken by the people of Vanuatu. Also, in urban areas, it is now a
creole language. It is essentially a combination of typical Melanesian grammar with mostly English vocabulary, so
your communication with the locals there shouldn't be a problem. Bislama is the lingua franca of the entire
archipelago of Vanuatu. It is used as a second language by the majority of the population.
Origins of Vanuatu
Vanuatu was created by volcanoes, and in the local Bislama language, Vanuatu means
rising land. Which is very appropriate as a name for the islands. Prehistory of the islands is pretty unknown to
modern historians, but it's speculated that the first inhabitants came to the islands between three and three and a
half thousand years ago. Archaeological evidence supports that claim. Europeans discovered the islands for
themselves at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós,
who was sailing for the Spanish crown first discovered the islands in 1606. He believed that he discovered
Australia. Also, the Spanish created a short-lived settlement on the Espiritu Santo. So,
Espiritu Santo remains the name of the largest island, and it means 'The Southern Land of the Holy
What's mostly known is a short history of Vanuatu,
while much of its past is unknown
and subject of traditional storytelling, passed on from one
generation to another.
The archipelago was left on its own until 1768 when a French admiral and explorer
Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. He named them the Great Cyclades, like the Greek island
group in the Aegean Sea in Europe. In 1774, British explorer and admiral Captain Cook named the
islands the New Hebrides. That name would last until the Independence of Vanuatu in 1980. There was a rush of
immigrants to Vanuatu that ended in 1830. This immigration was caused by the discovery of sandalwood (on
Erromango island), which is the second most expensive wood in the world, right after African
Both the British and French governments declared Vanuatu part of their territory.
However, in 1906, both sides agreed that they would administer the islands jointly. They established a condominium,
which means that there are two governments that govern one territory. Challenges to this form of government began
when Americans came to the islands, as they sparked the rise of the national identity of the locals.
One of interesting features in parts of Port Vila
town are wall murals, showing
scenes from Ni-Vanuatu people daily living and their customs
on different islands.
Struggle for Independence
The American army came to the islands during the Second World War. It sparked the
rise of the national identity of the indigenous population. It led to the rise of the cult and religion of John
Frum, a mythical figure of an American soldier who would bring on the Melanesian independence. Today,
John Frum is a cult in Vanuatu.
The French, in the 1960s, opposed Britain's desire to de-colonize the New
Hebrides, fearing for their possessions. Old customs of the Ni-Vanuatu meant that land was held in trust for future
generations. Europeans viewed it more as a commodity, and they owned about one-third of the land area. The
European-held land had been mostly cleared for coconut production. When Europeans began clearing more land for
coconut production, the protests began. In the seventies, there were massive protests led by political parties who
were very vocal for independence of New Hebrides. There was a struggle for independence until finally, in 1980,
Vanuatu republic was declared, changing its name from New Hebrides to
Since their independence, the people of Vanuatu
have been enjoying their freedom. Today, the Republic of Vanuatu is a parliamentary democracy with a written
constitution. The head of state is the President. Elections for President of Vanuatu are held every five years, and
the people of Vanuatu are free to choose whomever they want to. Also, the head of the government is the Prime
Minister who is elected by the majority vote in the Vanuatu Parliament. The Prime Minister and the Council of
Ministers form the executive branch of the government of Vanuatu.
Vanuatu is an ideal destination for those who
enjoy nature, culture, traditions,
customs and generally an adventurous holiday to explore it all
and get to know
this beautiful island country.
Today, the economy of Vanuatu is heavily based on agriculture and tourism. Tourism
in Vanuatu is booming today. Many people from all around the world come to Vanuatu to appreciate the beauty of
Vanuatu's nature and customs and enjoy the many
activities offered there.
Anglophone people call the inhabitants of Vanuatu by the recent English coinage
Ni-Vanuatu. Ni-Vanuatu is a recent term. Ni-Vanuatu people are primarily of Melanesian descent, of around 98
percent. The rest of the population represents a mix of Europeans, Asians and other people from the
Enjoy your stay at Vanuatu!