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Republic of Vanuatu

[French]République de Vanuatu
[Bislama] Ripablik blong Vanuatu

CAPITAL: Port-Vila

FLAG: Red and green sections are divided horizontally by a gold stripe running within a black border and widening at the hoist into a black triangle on which is a pig's tusk enclosing two crossed yellow mele leaves.

ANTHEM: Yumi, Yumi, Yumi (We, We, We).

MONETARY UNIT: As of 1 January 1981, the vatu (vt) replaced at par value the New Hebridean franc as the national currency. There are coins of 100 vatu and notes of 100, 500, 1,000, and 5,000 vatu. vt1 = $0.00895 (or $1 = vt111.79) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric standard is used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; May Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 30 July; Assumption, 15 August; Constitution Day, 5 October; National Unity Day, 29 November; Christmas Day, 25 December; Family Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Ascension.

TIME: 11 pm = noon GMT.


Vanuatu, formerly the Anglo-French condominium of the New Hebrides, is an irregular Y-shaped chain of some 80 islands, with a total land area of about 12,200 sq km (4,710 sq mi) and a total coastline of 2,528 km (1,571 mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Vanuatu is slightly larger than the state of Connecticut. Of the 70 inhabited islands, the largest is Espiritu Santo; the island of Éfaté is the administrative center. The island chain is about 800 km (500 mi) long and lies about 1,000 km (600 mi) w of Fiji and 400 km (250 mi) ne of New Caledonia. Vanuatu and France both claim Matthew and Hunter islands, which lie between Vanuatu and New Caledonia; one of the islands has been occupied by French forces.

Vanuatu's capital city, Port-Vila, is located on the island of Éfaté.


The islands are of coral and volcanic origin; there are active volcanoes on several islands, including Ambrym, Lopevi, and Tanna. Most of the islands are forested and mountainous, with narrow coastal strips. The highest peak, Tabwemasana, on Espiritu Santo, rises 1,878 m (6,161 ft) above sea level. The islands are generally well watered. Being formed in a geologically active area, the islands experience occasional earthquakes. Though these are generally minor, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake was recorded at 90 miles (140 km) north of Luganville, Espiritu Santo, on 5 February 2005.


The tropical oceanic climate is moderated by southeastern trade winds, which blow between the months of May and October. Winds are variable during the remainder of the year, and cyclones may occur. Average midday temperatures in Port-Vila range from 25°c (77°f) in winter to 29°c (84°f) in summer. Humidity averages about 74%, and rainfall on Éfaté is about 230 cm (90 in) a year.


Despite its tropical forests, Vanuatu has a limited number of plant and animal species. There are no indigenous large mammals, poisonous snakes, or spiders. The 19 species of native reptiles include the flowerpot snake, found only on Éfaté. There are 11 species of bat (3 unique to Vanuatu) and 61 species of land and water birds. While the small Polynesian rat is thought to be indigenous, the large species arrived with Europeans, as did domesticated hogs, dogs, and cattle. The wild pig and fowl appear to be indigenous.

The region is rich in sea life, with more than 4,000 species of marine mollusks. Coneshell and stonefish carry poison fatal to humans. The giant East African snail arrived only in the 1970s but already has spread from the Port-Vila region to Luganville.


Vanuatu's population growth has caused concern for the environment in several areas. Water pollution in urban areas is a problem due to inadequate sanitation systems. A majority of the country's population does not have access to a reliable supply of safe drinking water. The nation's logging industry threatens the forests and contributes to the problem of soil erosion. The reefs on Vanuatu's coasts, which are the home of the country's marine life, are threatened by inappropriate fishing methods and siltation. In 1987, the government formed the National Advisory Committee on the Environment (NACE) to address the nation's developing environmental concerns.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 7 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 5 species of fish, and 10 species of plants. The estuarine crocodile, hawksbill turtle, Fiji banded iguana, and insular flying fox are threatened species.


The population of Vanuatu in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 218,000, which placed it at number 172 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 42% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 104 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.6%, a rate the government viewed as too high. A high fertility rate, 4.3 births per woman, contributed to the high rate of population growth. The projected population for the year 2025 was 304,000.

The overall population density was 18 per sq km (46 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, with the vast majority of Vanuatuans living in some 2,000 small villages. The most populous islands are Éfaté, Espiritu Santo, and Malekula.

The UN estimated that 21% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 4.09%. The capital city, Port-Vila, had a population of 34,000 in that year.

Luganville on Espiritu Santo, the only other large town, had a population of 10,738.


Vanuatu's earliest known settlers probably migrated from the northwestern Pacific about 3,000 years ago. They were followed a thousand years later by migrants from the Solomon Islands. Tradition describes a series of subsequent incursions. In the 19th century, thousands of New Hebrides islanders were recruited as indentured laborers for plantation work in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Samoa. This migration gradually died down after the establishment of the Anglo-French Condominium, although voluntary emigration to New Caledonia continued until independence. In recent years, adverse economic conditions have encouraged emigration to Fiji, New Zealand, and the United States. The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as zero migrants per 1,000 population. Worker remittances in 2002 amounted to $31 million. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


Approximately 98% of the total population are of Melanesian origin. French constitute about 4% of the population. The remaining 2% is made up of Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Pacific Islanders.


More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken in Vanuatu. Melanesian, the principal language, is related to Fijian and New Caledonian speech. Pidgin English, known as Bislama or Bichelama, is recognized by the constitution as the lingua franca, although English and French are also official languages. The national anthem is in Bislama, which is also used in parliamentary debate, with the proceedings reported in English and French as well. Children often speak as many as four languages and every aspect of public lifeincluding education, law, and the mediais complicated by language problems.


A majority of the population is considered to be Christian, though many include indigenous customs with their practice. The Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches first began missionary work in the New Hebrides during the 19th century. More recently, the Seventh-Day Adventists and other nontraditional Protestant groups have been active in mission work. While most of the mission schools have been handed over to the government, missionaries have continued to make important contributions to education and health.

According to the latest estimates, about 48% of the population were Presbyterians, 15% were Roman Catholics, 12% were Anglican, 7.6% followed indigenous beliefs, 6.2% were Seventh-Day Adventist, 3.8% were members of the Church of Christ, and 15.7% were designated as other. Muslims are also active within the country. There are small groups of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Since 1940, the John Frum Movement (political party and indigenous religion based on a rejection of the white Christian's beliefs but not his goods) has flourished, mainly on Tanna and provides a remarkable example of religious development in a situation of cultural challenge and transition. Membership, however, is only about 5% of the population.

The constitution allows for religious freedom while making a commitment to traditional values of Christian principles. Some subsidies are offered to Christian churches and the government maintains good relations with the Vanuatu Christian Council through the Ministry of Home Affairs.


During World War II, Vanuatu became an important Allied base, and many roads and airstrips were built by the US forces. In 2002, there were 1,070 km (665 mi) of roads, of which 256 km (159 mi) were paved. In 2003, there were 8,350 passenger cars and 4,450 commercial vehicles registered for use.

There were 30 small usable airfields serving all the main islands in 2004, of which 3 had paved runways as of 2005. The chief airports are Bauerfield, on Éfaté, and Pekoa, on Espiritu Santo; both have been upgraded to handle jet aircraft. Air Vanuatu, the national airline operated by Ansett Airlines of Australia, maintains regular service to Australia; an internal airline, Air Melanesiae, links 22 airfields on various islands. Other external service is provided by Air Pacific, UTA, Polynesian Airlines, Solair, and Air Nauru. Port-Vila and Luganville are the chief seaports. In 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), 97,500 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights. Small ships provide frequent interisland service. Vanuatu maintains a policy of open registry for merchant ships, allowing foreign ship-owners to avoid the higher costs and regulations of registration under their own flags. As of 2005, there were 52 ships in the Vanuatuan merchant fleet of 1,000 GRT or more, with a total capacity of 1,192,474 GRT.


Although the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queir established a short-lived settlement on Espiritu Santo in 1606, little more is known about the history of the New Hebrides until French and British explorers arrived in the late 18th century. Captain James Cook discovered, named, and charted most of the southern islands in 1774. The next century brought British and French missionaries, planters, and traders, and for many years the islanders suffered from the depredations of the recruiting ships and from other lawless acts by Europeans in the region.

By the Anglo-French Convention of 1887, a joint naval commission was established, with a resident commissioner to protect the lives and interests of the islanders. In 1906 following a London conference, the Anglo-French Condominium was established, largely to settle land claims and to end difficulties caused by lack of clear local jurisdiction. Indigenous political activity developed after World War II, with increasing native concern over land alienation and European dominance.

In 1975 a representative assembly replaced the nominated advisory council under which the New Hebrides had been governed; 29 assembly members were elected by universal suffrage, nine members represented economic interests, and four members represented the traditional chiefs. In 1977 the National Party (Vanuaaku Pati), which held 21 of 42 assembly seats, demanded independence and staged a boycott of the legislature; in response, at a conference in Paris, self-government was agreed on for 1978, to be followed by a 1980 referendum on independence. After considerable difficulty, a constitutional conference in 1979 finally agreed on an independence constitution. In the November 1979 elections for a newly constituted, fully elective assembly, the National Party, led by Father Walter Lini, obtained 26 of the 39 seats.

In May 1980 however, a dissident francophone group, based on Espiritu Santo, attempted to break away and declared an independent government of Vemarana, under Jimmy Stevens and the Nagriamal Party. Attempts made during June to resolve the differences between the new central government and the rebels failed, and UK and French troops were sent to Luganville on 24 July. No shots were fired, but the soldiers remained until Vanuatu's formal declaration of independence on 30 July 1980. They were then replaced at the new government's request by forces from Papua New Guinea, who were assisted by the local police in putting down the rebellion.

Since independence, Vanuatu (Our Land Forever) has followed a nonaligned foreign policy. It became the first South Pacific nation to join the nonaligned movement, and in January 1987 it signed a controversial fishing agreement with the USSR. In May 1987 Vanuatu announced a ban on all military ships and aircraft in a dispute over a proposed Libyan diplomatic mission. The dispute ended with the expulsion of two Libyan diplomats. Relations with the French government remained strained throughout much of the Lini government's rule, though they improved at the end of 1989 with the signing of the Matignon Accord relating to New Caledonia.

In December 1988 President George Ati Sokomanu attempted to dismiss the Lini government by ordering the dissolution of the country's parliament. Sokomanu appointed Barak Sope as prime minister. Lini refused to surrender office and reconvened parliament. Sope and several supporters were arrested and charged with inciting mutiny. Sope was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

Fr. Lini lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in September 1991 and he was replaced by Donald Kalpokas. In December 1991 the francophone Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), led by Maxime Carlot Korman, won the largest bloc of seats and formed a coalition government with the National United Party (NUP), led by Lini. Strains between the coalition members led to Lini joining the opposition in August 1993, but Carlot Korman's government survived the defection.

Parliamentary elections were again held in 1995, with the UMP winning slightly more seats than the Vanuatu Party (VP), led by Donald Kalpokas. Rialuth Serge Vohor was prime minister from November 1995 until a no-confidence vote in parliament forced his resignation on 7 February 1996. Maxime Carlot Korman was elected prime minister, forming a coalition, and parliament appointed Kalpokas deputy prime minister. The coalition was considered to be weak, however. On 30 September 1996 Korman was ousted by a no-confidence motion. Vohor was reelected as prime minister. The Vohor government repealed the Ombudsman's Act, but President Jean Marie Leye refused to declare this piece of legislation as law. Leye, in the face of dissent and political crises, took action to dissolve parliament. The ruling coalition refused to step down, questioning the constitutional right of Leye to do this. The Court of Appeal ruled in January 1998 that Leye's actions were legal, thus opening the way for a new general election. In the election held 6 March 1998 the VP of Kalpokas improved its earlier performance, but could not claim a majority. Kalpokas rejoined forces with Fr. Lini and the NUP and coalesced with minority party legislators to gain a clear majority. Kalpokas was elected prime minister. Willie Jimmy was named deputy prime minister on 19 October 1998. Kalpokas resigned to avoid a no-confidence vote in late 1999, and Barak Sope of Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP) became prime minister. In 1999, the government introduced a Comprehensive Reform Program, to combat corruption and abuse of power by government officials. It included a revamping of state administration, an increase in private sector development, a reduction in the public service sector, and the enactment of a leadership code of conduct.

At the South Pacific Forum in June 1999 Vanuatu supported a proposed Pacific Free Trade Area (FTA) that would initially include 14 countries in the region. The South Pacific Forum set up the Pacific Kava Council to work at protecting the regional rights to kava and its uses. The kava plant's reputed relaxation properties had attracted the attention of producers of herbal medicines. The establishment of kava plantations in Central America threatened the Pacific Islands' production. Vanuatu joined with other small island developing states (SIDS) through the United Nations SIDSnet, an Internet project linking over 40 island nations worldwide to address issues like the economic hurdles of isolation and small markets. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) issued a report assessing the ecological and population threats faced by SIDS, Vanuatu included. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced its predictions on the consequences of global warming. Vanuatu was mentioned as already affected by inundation of low-lying areas and coastal regions by rising oceans.

In April 2001, Barak Sope was ousted as prime minister in a vote of no confidence, and Edward Natapei became prime minister. The new government undertook investigations into Sope's business dealings, and in November, Sope was charged with two counts of forgery. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment but was subsequently pardoned by President Fr. John Bani. Natapei was reelected prime minister in May 2002, after parliamentary elections held on 30 April, in which his Vanua'aku Party took 15 seats and the Union of Moderate Parties took 14 seats.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in 2004. The controversial prime minister Serge Vohor, who took office in July 2004, was ousted following a no-confidence vote that December; Vohor had attempted to switch Vanuatu's diplomatic recognition of China to Taiwan. Ham Lini became prime minister in December 2004. In April and May 2004, Alfred Masing Nalo was elected president, but was later removed from office after the Supreme Court invalidated the result of the election. Kalkot Matas Kelekele was elected president in August 2004. The next presidential election was to be held in 2009, and the next prime minister election was scheduled to take place after the general elections in 2008.


Under the independence constitution adopted in 1979 and effective in 1980, Vanuatu is an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state is the president (Kalkot Matas Kelekele since August 2004); the head of government is the prime minister (Ham Lini since December 2004). The unicameral legislature consists of 52 members (39 before 1987, and 50 before 1998) elected by universal adult suffrage to four-year terms. The cabinet is responsible to parliament, and the president is chosen by an electoral college for a five-year term. The electoral system includes a degree of proportional representation. A Council of Chiefs chosen by their peers in the chiefs' district councils advises the government on the protection of Vanuatuan languages and culture.


The country saw six political parties be represented in parliament in the April 2002 elections: the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP, Serge Vohor); the National United Party (NUP, led by Father Walter Lini until his death in February 1999; thereafter by Dinh Van Than; leadership in 2005 was in question); the Vanua'aku Party (VP, Edward Natapei); Melanesian Progressive Party (MPP, Barak Sope); the Vanuatu Republic Party (VRP, Maxime Carlot Korman), and the Vanuatu Green Party (VGP, Moana Carcasses). Also represented in Vanuatu are the Jon Frum Movement (Song Keaspai); the Friend Melanesian Party (FMP, Albert Ravutia); and the Tan Union (TU, Vincent Boulekone). In the July 2004 elections, the NUP took 10 seats, UMP took 8, the VP won 8, VRP 4, MPP 3, VGP 3, and other candidates held 16 seats. The next parliamentary elections were to be held in 2008.


Vanuatu is divided into six provinces (Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea, Torba). There are municipal councils in Port-Vila and Luganville, and community councils elsewhere. Espiritu Santo and Tanna have special regional councils.


Despite the great difficulty in unifying laws based on the very different English and French traditions, Vanuatu has sought to establish a single system based on British criminal procedure and the French penal code. The constitution establishes a Supreme Court, with a chief justice and three other judges, as well as an appeals court. Village and island courts have jurisdiction over customary and other matters.

The judiciary is independent of the executive and free from military influence. The constitution guarantees a range of procedural due process protections including the presumption of innocence, fair public trial, habeas corpus, and the prohibition against double jeopardy.


The nation maintains close links with Papua New Guinea, where Vanuatuan cadets train for a mobile defense force under the auspices of the Australian Ministry of Defense, which also helps to train skilled manpower for national development tasks.


Vanuatu joined the United Nations on 15 September 1981 and participates in ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. It also belongs to the Asian Development Bank (which opened a regional office in Port-Vila in 1984), the ACP Group, G-77, the Pacific Island Forum, the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (Sparteca), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the Commonwealth of Nations. The country holds observer status in the WTO.

Vanuatu has taken an active role in Pacific affairs, campaigning for a nuclear-free zone and advocating independence for New Caledonia. Vanuatu has established diplomatic relations with a number of OECD countries, as well as China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Libya. The country is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Vanuatu is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Vanuatu has a mixed traditional and modern economy. Agriculture supports about 65% of the population, but the service industry is playing an increasingly important role in the economy. Tourism has been developed since the 1980s and, together with financial services, has become an important foreign exchange earner. GDP grew by less than 3% a year in the 1990s. For the three years 2000 to 2002, GDP growth averaged 3% and inflation averaged 3%. During this period the islands had to deal with the extensive damage from two severe earthquakes, each followed by sizeable tsunamis: in November, 1999 on the northern island of Pentecote, and in January 2002, centered on the capital and surrounding areas. The absence of personal and corporate income taxes has made Vanuatu an offshore financial center, and the government also earns fees from a "flag of convenience" shipping registry.

The GDP growth rate was 2.8% in 2004, up from 1.6% in 2003; in 2005, the economy was expected to grow by 2.8%. The inflation rate has fluctuated slightly, but at 1.8% in 2004, it did not pose a problem to the economy. Strong economic development is hindered by the geographic isolation of the country, its vulnerability to natural disasters, and its dependency on relatively few export commodities.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Vanuatu's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $580.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.1%. The average inflation rate in 2003 was 3.1%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 26% of GDP, industry 12%, and services 62%.

According to the World Bank, in 2001 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $16 million or about $76 per capita and accounted for approximately 6.8% of GDP.


About 80% of the population is engaged in peasant labor either for subsistence or producing cash crops such as copra. As of 2002, there were approximately 25,000 persons participating in the formal economy as wage earners. In 2000 (the latest year for which data was available), agriculture accounted for 65% of the labor force, with industry at 5% and the services sector at 30%. There was no unemployment data available. The wage-labor force is concentrated in Port-Vila and Luganville.

For persons engaged in government enterprises, port work, construction, and certain other jobs, the terms of employment and wages are set by legislation. The nation's first trade unions were formed in 1984. In 2002 there were seven trade unions; the largest two were the Oil and Gas Workers' Union and the Vanuatu Airline Workers' Union. Union membership has fallen from 4,000 in 1994 to less than 1,000 in 2002.

The law prohibits children under 12 from working. Children between 12 and 18 may work under restricted hours and conditions. The Labor Department effectively enforces these laws. In 2002, the minimum wage was $143 per month for all workers. This does not provide an adequate living and most families subsidize this amount with subsistence farming. The law mandates a 44-hour maximum workweek. The Employment Act provides health and safety standards but these are not effectively enforced.


About 9% of the land is cultivated. While most crops, including yams, taro, manioc, sweet potato, and breadfruit, are raised for local consumption, cash crops like copra, cocoa, and coffee have been increasingly important. Production of coconuts totaled 240,000 tons in 2004. Copra exports have been declining as a share of total exports, from 43% in 1995 to 8% in 2002. Vanuatu maintained an agricultural surplus of $2.6 million in 2004, with Bangladesh and Japan as the leading markets.

In 1983, Vanuatu's first agricultural census was taken, with British assistance. A land alienation act passed in 1982 limits land ownership to indigenous owners and their descendants, but expatriates can lease land for up to 75 years.


Hogs and fowl form part of the village economy. Vanuatu is ideal for cattle, and large numbers are raised on plantations; in 2005 there were an estimated 152,000 head of cattle, up from around 124,000 in 1990. The growing meat-packing industry produces frozen, chilled, and tinned beef; production of beef totaled about 3,300 tons (dressed carcass weight) in 2005. The beef industry is centered on the island of Espiritu Santo, where the country's main abattoir is located. Beef is exported primarily to Japan, with a lesser amount going to New Caledonia.


Although the South Pacific Fishing Co., a joint Vanuatuan government and Japanese venture, has facilities at Luganville that freeze and export both tuna and bonito to Japan and the United States, the full fishery potential has not been realized. Fishing is focused on domestic consumption; exporting fish requires a government permit. Vanuatu's catch was 31,394 tons in 2003; exports totaled $1.9 million that year.


About 37% of the total land area is forest or bushland. Total roundwood production in 2004 was 119,000 cu m (4.2 million cu ft), with 76% burned as fuel. Sawnwood production totaled 28,000 cu m (988,000 cu ft) that year, and exports of forest products were valued at $3 million. The government approved the establishment of a large commercial forestry plantation on Espirito Santo in 1987.


Vanuatu had few known minerals, although gold deposits have been discovered. A small manganese mine on Éfaté ceased exports in 1980.


Temporary generators established throughout the islands by the United States during World War II (193945) have mostly deteriorated. Total installed capacity was about 12,000 kW in 2002, all of it conventional thermal. Electricity production in 2002 totaled 42 million kWh, all of it from fossil fuels. Consumption of electricity that year was 39 million kWh.

All hydrocarbon needs were met by imports. In 2002, imports and demand for refined petroleum products each averaged 610 barrels per day. There were no imports or consumption of natural gas or coal in 2002.


The industrial sector is small: in 1990 it contributed about 12.3% to GDP; in 1996, 13% and in 2001, 11.5%. The leading industries are fish and food freezing, wood processing, and meat canning. The small manufacturing sector, accounting for 5.5% of GDP in 1990 and 5% in 2001, is geared to toward domestic consumption. Indigenous crafts include basketry, canoe building, and pottery. In 1990, National Breweries, a joint venture with Sweden, began producing Tusker beer and Pripps Lager.

In 2003, the main contributor to the GDP was the transport and communications sector (32.4%); agriculture came in second with 19.3%. Manufacturing and construction had the smallest share in the economy, with 3.6% and 2.5% respectively.


There is no advanced technology apart from overseas aid programs.


A large part of the population still relies on barter. In Port-Vila, European businesses dominate commercial life; there are hotels, supermarkets, fashion shops, and patisseries, as well as Australian steak houses and small Chinese restaurants. Some Vanuatuans have entered the cash economy in urban areas. There is a very small light industry section that supplies the local markets. The nation's numerous cooperative societies handle most of the distribution of goods on the islands. A value-added tax applies to most goods and services.

Normal business hours in the capital are 7:30 to 11:30 am and 1:30 to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Banks in Vanuatu are open on weekdays from 8 to 11:30 am and 1:30 to 3 pm.


In 2000, exports totaled $23.2 million and imports amounted to $86.7 million. Service receipts have helped offset the traditionally adverse trade balances. A commodities marketing board exports copra and cocoa, and cooperatives play a major role in foreign trade. Most of Vanuatu's export commodities are foodstuffs, including oil seeds, (34%), vegetables (15%), wood (13%), meat (12%), cocoa (4.7%), and fish (1.3%).

In 2004, exports totaled $205 million (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $233 million (CIFCost and Freight). Most of the exports went to Thailand (47%), Malaysia (18.4%), Japan (7.5%), Belgium (5.4%), and China (4.9%). Imports included machinery and transport equipment, food and live animals, basic manufactures, and mineral fuels, and primarily came from Taiwan (24%), Australia (16.5%), Japan (11.4%), Singapore (8.5%), New Zealand (7.2%), Fiji (6.3%), and the United States (4.4%).

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 23.2 86.7 -63.5
Bangladesh 5.0 5.0
Japan 2.8 4.4 -1.6
United Kingdom 2.4 0.1 2.3
China, Hong Kong SAR 1.4 1.8 -0.4
Australia 1.4 38.5 -37.1
New Caledonia 1.4 5.0 -3.6
Fiji 1.3 7.9 -6.6
French South Antartic Territories 0.8 0.8
New Zealand 0.7 10.0 -9.3
Netherlands 0.7 0.1 0.6
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -41.3
     Balance on goods -65.0
         Imports -91.8
         Exports 26.8
     Balance on services 40.6
     Balance on income -11.8
     Current transfers -5.1
Capital Account -4.7
Financial Account 39.6
     Direct investment abroad -0.7
     Direct investment in Vanuatu 15.5
     Portfolio investment assets 2.1
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets 51.8
     Other investment liabilities -29.1
Net Errors and Omissions -5.0
Reserves and Related Items 11.3
() data not available or not significant.


Continuing trade deficits have been offset by aid from the United Kingdom and France, but this assistance is being steadily reduced.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2000 the purchasing power parity of Vanuatu's exports was $22.8 million while imports totaled $87.5 million resulting in a trade deficit of $64.7 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Vanuatu had exports of goods totaling $20 million and imports totaling $78 million. The services credit totaled $119 million and debit $73 million.

Exports of goods and services totaled $38 million in 2004, up from $27 million in 2003. Imports grew from $91 million in 2003, to $112 million in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative, and on a downward pathfrom -$64 million in 2003 to -$74 million in 2004. A different trend was registered for the current account balance, which improved from -$28 million in 2003, to -$15 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to $62 million in 2004, covering more than six months of imports.


Vanuatu's banking system includes a Central Bank, local retail banks, and a Development Bank that provides loans for agricultural projects, housing, and industrial development. The country's Financial Centre, a tax haven created by the British in 1971, is the third-largest source of government revenue. Favorable regulatory and tax structures have stimulated foreign interest in Vanuatu as an international financial center; more than 600 offshore companies and banks were registered in Port-Vila in 1985. Local banks require no minimum deposits for vatu accounts and a minimum of us$5,000, or the equivalent in major specified currencies, for foreign currency holdings. Vanuatu has no double taxation agreements with other countries, ensuring maximum confidentiality for international financial transactions. In late 1999, a number of foreign bank-including Deutsche Bank, Banker's Trust, and the Bank of New York-banned trading in us with Vanuatu because of suspected illegal activity being carried on through the Vanuatu financial center. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $55.3 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $245.6 million. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 5.5%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6.5%.

There is no stock exchange.


Insurance coverage is available through agents of overseas companies, mainly British and French.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2003 Vanuatu's central government took in revenues of approximately $52.6 million and had expenditures of $54.3 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$1.7 million. Total external debt was $83.7 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1997, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were vt6,858 million and expenditures were vt7,023 million. The value of revenues was us$59 million and expenditures us$61 million, based on a official exchange rate for 1997 of us$1 = vt115.87 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 33.8%; public order and safety, 8.4%; economic affairs, 26.3%; housing and community

Revenue and Grants 6,858 100.0%
     Tax revenue 5,718 83.4%
     Social contributions
     Grants 653 9.5%
     Other revenue 487 7.1%
Expenditures 7,023 100.0%
     General public services 2,372 33.8%
     Public order and safety 587 8.4%
     Economic affairs 1,846 26.3%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 259 3.7%
     Health 655 9.3%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 35 0.5%
     Education 1,269 18.1%
     Social protection
() data not available or not significant.

amenities, 3.7%; health, 9.3%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.5%; and education, 18.1%.


Vanuatu has no income, corporation, or sales tax. Government revenues are derived from indirect taxes, which include stamp taxes, an excise tax on locally produced alcoholic beverages, a 10% hotel tax, and a rent tax. In 2000 the OECD listed Vanuatu as one of 38 uncooperative tax havens. In 2002, it was one of seven that remained on the list. In May 2003, however, Vanuatu was removed from the blacklist, having promised an OECD representative to make the required reforms.


Vanuatu imposes tariffs on both an ad valorem and specific basis. Tariff rates average 1520%; however, rates for luxury goods could reach 200%. Printed matter is exempt. A 5% service tax is also charged on all imported goods. Export duties are levied on the country's primary products.


The government encourages all forms of foreign investment, especially if there is joint local participation. There are no major foreign ownership restrictions, and duty exemptions are available on application to the Ministry of Finance. In late 1999 Vanuatu's Department of Trade announced that, to be considered, all foreign investment proposals must be accompanied by us$38,000. This action was taken because of the high number of project proposals approved that have not been implemented. According to statistics published by UNCTAD, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vanuatu was us$30.2 million in 1997, but dropped to us$20.4 million in 1998, and averaged us$20.275 for the three years following (1999 to 2001).


The British independence settlement provided grants of £23.4 million to Vanuatu, including £6.4 million in budgetary aid (with additional grants provided annually), £4 million for technical aid, and £13 million for development projects aimed at promoting national economic self-sufficiency. Projects under the five-year development plan for 198286 included harbor development, agricultural training, and road improvements. Aid for other infrastructural development is provided by Australia, New Zealand, the UN, and the EU. Government development projects emphasize local participation and preservation of Vanuatu's cultural heritage. In 1995, Vanuatu received us$45.8 million in aid from international sources. In 2000, Vanuatu was listed on the OECD's list of "uncooperative" tax havens. In 2002, it was one of only seven jurisdictions still on the list of not having take corrective action. In May 2003, however, Vanuatu was the first of the seven to be removed from the blacklist having agreed, after discussions with OECD representatives, to institute the necessary reforms. Vanuatu remains one of the top 10 "flags of convenience" registries.

The economy of Vanuatu recovered in 2003 and 2004, and the trend is expected to continue in coming years, although not at exceptional rates. The economic growth will primarily be driven by the beef industry, and by a rising output in the forestry industry.

The tourism industry is also expected to bring increasing foreign exchange in the country, although the country's main airline might be facing problems in the future (due to increasing oil prices).


The majority of the people cling to traditional village life. The extended family system ensures that no islanders starve, while church missions and the social development section of the Education Ministry concentrate on rural development and youth activities. The government incorporates family planning into its overall maternal and child health program. A provident fund system provides lump-sum benefits for old age, disability, and death. Workers contributed 4% of earnings and employers contribute 6% of payroll. Pensions are provided at the age of 55.

Women are still largely confined to traditional cultural roles, and most marriages include a "bride-price" that encourages men to consider their wives as possessions. Women generally do not own land. Village chiefs usually act to reinforce the subordinate roles of women and are thus viewed as a primary obstacle to female advancement. There are no female leaders in Vanuatu's civic, business, or religious institutions. A disproportionate number of women lost their jobs due to cutbacks in government employment. Violence against women, especially domestic abuse, is common. Most cases of violence against women go unreported because women are afraid of further abuse and do not understand their rights. As of 2004, there were no governmental agencies to support victims of domestic violence.

Human rights are generally well respected in Vanuatu.


Malaria is the most serious of the country's diseases, which also include leprosy, tuberculosis, filariasis, and venereal diseases. Safe water was available to 87% of Vanuatu's population.

Medical care is provided by 94 hospitals, health centers, and clinics administered by the Ministry of Health, assisted by the World Health Organization and a number of voluntary agencies. Local training schemes in basic community nursing are provided by Port-Vila hospitals and local clinics train health and sanitation orderlies. In 2004, there were an estimated 11 physicians and 235 nurses per 100,000 people.

Only 12% of married women were using contraception. In 2005, the infant mortality rate was estimated at 55.16 per 1,000 live births. In the same year the estimated birth rate (24.8 per 1,000 people) far exceeded the general mortality rate (8.3 per 1,000 people). The fertility rate was 3.1 children per woman. Average life expectancy was an estimated 62.85 years in 2004. The immunization rates for children under one were as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 74%; polio, 74%; measles, 53%; and tuberculosis, 86%.


In urban areas only the emerging middle class can afford government-built housing. Other migrants to the towns buy plots of land and build cheap shacks of corrugated iron and waste materials, principally near Port-Vila and Luganville. The vast majority of villagers still build their own homes from local materials. The majority of dwellings are traditional Melanesian houses with earth or coral floors, no glass windows, and palm, bamboo, or cane walls and roofing. The most widely used exterior construction material was bush. In 1998, 87% of the population had access to safe drinking water. In 2001, there were 89 construction approvals granted for residential housing.


Primary education is available for almost all children except in a few remote tribal areas. Education is provided in either English or French. Full secondary education is provided by the Anglophone Malapoa College and the French Lycée at Port-Vila; limited secondary education is also available in five English postprimary schools and three French mission schools.

In 2001, about 75% of children between the ages of four and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 94% of age-eligible students. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was about 27% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 96.2% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 23:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 16:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 3.8% of primary school enrollment and 20.6% of secondary enrollment.

For postsecondary education, especially medical and technical training, selected students go principally to Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 74%. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.3% of GDP, or 28.6% of total government expenditures.


The National Library is housed in the Vanuatu Cultural Center in Port-Vila. The Port-Vila Public Library, also a part of the Cultural Center, has a fairly well-stocked library of both French and English books and periodicals and houses fine collections of Melanesian art and artifacts, as well as a valuable stamp collection; it is the only public library service in the country. The secondary schools also have libraries, and there is a small library in the parliament building. Éfaté has a small museum displaying South Pacific artifacts and current works of art. The Vanuatu Cultural Center maintains a National Museum. There is a private fine arts museum are located in Port-Vila.


Vanuatu is linked by telegraph and telex to Hong Kong; Paris; Noumea, New Caledonia; and Sydney, Australia. An earth satellite tracking station came into service in 1979. In 2003, there were 6,500 mainline phones and 7,800 mobile phones in use nationwide. Radio Vanuatu (founded 1966) broadcasts daily in English, French, and Bislama. As of 2002, there were four radio stations and one television station, all operated by the state. In 1997 there were 254 radios and 10 television sets per 1,000 population. In 2003, there were 7,500 Internet subscribers served by 512 Internet hosts. The weekly government newspaper, The Vanuatu Weekly, appears in English, French, and Bislama. In 2002, it had a circulation of 1,700. In 2005, there were also four privately owned weekly papers. The constitution provides for free speech and a free press; however, in practice these provisions are not always honored, threatening opposition groups and media representatives with revocations of licenses and permits.


There are a great number of European organizations, but the cooperative movement has had the greatest local impact. Cooperative units have organized a training center in Port-Vila for such skills as accounting, management, law, and marketing. Cooperatives receive British aid and government support but remain firmly independent. There is an active Vanuatu Credit Union League offering educational opportunities as well as financial services to members.

National youth organizations include the Vanuatu National Youth Council and the Vanuatu National Union of Students. There are several active sports associations promoting amateur competition for all ages in a variety of pastimes, including cricket, tennis, tae kwon do, and track and field. Many sports clubs are affiliated with the national Olympic Committee. The Vanuatu Association of Women Graduates promotes higher education opportunities for women. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, and UNICEF, and Habitat for Humanity.


The most popular recreations in Vanuatu include marine sightseeing, deep-sea fishing, sailing, and beachcombing for shells. Citizens from most nations do not require visas. However, a valid passport and onward/return ticket are necessary. The number of tourist arrivals reached 50,400 in 2003, almost 58% of whom came from Australia. Tourist receipts totaled $71 million the same year. There were 10,793 rooms in hotels and other establishments with 28,235 beds and an occupancy rate of 35%. The average length of stay was nine nights.

The US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Port Vila at $258 in 2005. Other areas ranged from $33 to $166 per day.


Father Walter Hayde Lini (194399), ordained as an Anglican priest in 1970, served as prime minister in Vanuatu from 1980 to 1991.


Vanuatu has no territories or colonies.


Bennett, Michelle. Vanuatu. 4th ed. London, Eng.: Lonely Planet, 2003.

Bolton, Lissant. Unfolding the Moon: Enacting Women's Kastom in Vanuatu. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

Craig, Robert D. Historical Dictionary of Polynesia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Lindstrom, Lamont. Knowledge and Power in a South Pacific Society. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

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Republic of Vanuatu

République de Vanuatu

Ripablik blong Vanuatu



Vanuatu is located in Oceania, about 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) to the northeast of Australia, to the south of Solomon Islands, and north of New Caledonia. It consists of a group of more than 80 islands with a land area of 14,760 square kilometers (5,699 square miles) (slightly larger than the state of Connecticut) and a coastline of 2,528 kilometers (1,570 miles).


The population of Vanuatu was estimated at 199,800 in mid-2000, an increase of 3.4 percent from the 1999 census population of 193,219. In 2000, the birth rate was 36.0 per 1,000 while the death rate stood at 6.2 per 1,000. With a projected annual population growth rate of 3.0 percent between 2000 and 2010, the population is expected to reach 267,600 by 2010 and to double in 23 years.

About 94 percent of the population are Melanesian by origin, made up of about 100 different cultural groups. A further 4 percent is French, and there are small but significant populations of Vietnamese and Chinese.

With a high total fertility rate of 5.3, the population is very young, with about 37 percent under the age of 15 and only about 3 percent over 65 years. This is a result of both the high birth rate and a relatively low life expectancy. The majority of the population is rural, with only 21 percent of the people living in urban areas. However, the urban growth rate is about 50 percent higher than the total growth rate, and this growth is mainly centered on the 2 largest urban centers, Port Vila and Luganville.


Lying in the Western Pacific Ocean, Vanuatu is made up of a chain of islands with diverse physical characteristics and economic potential. The islands range from small coral atolls to relatively large islands of volcanic origin. Nearly 80 percent of the population of Vanuatu live in villages, so subsistence production of food, housing, and other items is the mainstay of the household economy. Most households also participate in some cash production, mainly of agricultural products such as copra (dried coconut flesh), cocoa, and coffee. Recently, new items that have entered the village cash economy, and which are of relatively high value, are kava and squash.

The formal economy of Vanuatu is based mainly on agricultural products and services. Copra and coconut oil are produced on large-scale plantations as well as in the villages. Coconut plantations often have cattle as well. Other products common to the village economy are also produced in plantations, in particular cocoa and coffee. Fishing supplies the internal market and is also a source of export income.

Vanuatu regularly has a negative balance of trade , and this is balanced by the services sector. Tourism has been growing steadily in recent years, partly because of heavy promotion in nearby countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Another significant source of employment and government revenues is the Offshore Financial Centre (OFC), which provides a tax haven for offshore banks , trust companies, insurance companies, and shipping companies.

International aid accounts for about 35 percent of GDP and development expenditure since independence in 1980 has been mainly financed by aid. Australia is the largest aid donor, followed by Asian Development Bank, France, Japan, and New Zealand.


During the colonial period from 1906 to 1980, Vanuatu, then known as the New Hebrides, had the distinction of being ruled by 2 colonial powers, Great Britain and France. This "condominium" arrangement has sometimes been termed "pandemonium" since there were 2 systems of administration, education, and courts. Furthermore, in addition to the 2 colonial languages of English and French, inhabitants spoke one or more of about 100 indigenous languages. For most ni-Vanuatu (people of Vanuatu) the only effective language of communication was, and is, Bislama (a kind of Pidgin which has strong elements of English vocabulary and Melanesian grammar).

After obtaining independence from Great Britain and France in 1980, dual systems continued to operate in some contexts, especially education. Systems of administration, courts, etc. were combined, but still operated in at least 2 languages. The country adopted a republican system, with a president as head of state (elected by an electoral college of parliament and regional council presidents), and a prime minister selected by a parliament of 52 members elected by universal suffrage of all citizens aged 18 and over. A considerable number of political parties have formed and reformed since independence, but in most cases they are based on the colonial language split, either being Anglophone (English-speaking) or Francophone (French-speaking) parties.

The primarily Anglophone Vanua'aku Party, with Father Walter Lini as prime minister, held power from 1980 to 1991, when parliament voted him out in a no-confidence motion. Subsequently, Francophone parties, usually in coalition, have tended to form the governments. In the late 1990s, there was a great deal of political turmoil as governments changed and various political leaders were accused of corruption. In early 2001, Barak Sope, an English speaker, was selected as prime minister of a coalition government. Following much political turmoil in the late 1990s, the English-French divide appeared to be less important, as coalitions were sometimes forged across languages.

Local government is administered by 6 regional councils, and there are municipal councils in the 2 urban areas of Port Vila and Luganville. Authority over matters of tradition is held by malvatumauri (national council of chiefs) who are elected by district councils. These chiefs usually represent land-holding groups. As in many parts of Melanesia, they do not necessarily gain their position by inheritance but rather through skill in achieving economic and political power at the local level.

There is no corporate or personal income tax in Vanuatu. Import taxes accounted for 66 percent of all tax revenues in the country in 1997. There are also export tariffs that account for most of the other tax revenues. Application for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) means that in the future, these trade taxes will have to be progressively reduced. This means other types of tax may have to be imposed, according to David Ambrose and Savenaca Siwatibau in the Pacific Economic Bulletin.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations a Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Vanuatu 4,000 (1996) 154 (1996) AM 2; FM 2; shortwave 1 62,000 1 2,000 1 3,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Philippines 1.9 M 1.959 M (1998) AM 366; FM 290; shortwave 3 (1999) 11.5 M 31 3.7 M 33 500,000
Solomon Islands 8,000 658 AM 3; FM 0; shortwave 0 57,000 0 3,000 1 3,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].


Because of the numerous islands in the country, the main internal transport linkages are by sea and air. The islands are served by a number of government and private passenger and cargo ships, although they do not usually run on a schedule and are not much cheaper than flying. International sea linkages are well served by shipping lines from Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. However, because Vanuatu is a flag of convenience registry, there were 78 vessels (some very large) from 15 different countries registered in Vanuatu in 1998. Most of these are not seen in Vanuatu waters.

Internal air services are provided by the government-owned Vanair, which flies to 29 destinations within the country. International air services link neighboring Pacific states including Fiji, New Caledonia, and Solomon Islands and most longer distance air linkages are routed through Brisbane, Australia, and Nadi, Fiji. The national airline Air Vanuatu flies to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Auckland, and Nadi. Within the country there are 32 airports, 2 of which have paved runways, but nearly all international traffic is channeled through Port Vila.

Electricity is mainly concentrated in the towns and is generated exclusively using imported fuels. Similarly, telephone services are mainly available in towns, and communication with rural areas is generally by 2-way radio or radio bulletins on the government-owned radio station.


In 1999, agriculture contributed 25.7 percent of Vanuatu's gross domestic product (GDP), while industry made up 14.0 percent and services contributed 60.4 percent of GDP. Some value is attributed to subsistence agriculture in the statistics for agriculture, and other significant contributors are copra production and beef production. Industry is mostly made up of small-scale manufacturing and construction. The large proportion of GDP that derives from services can be attributed to government employment, especially in education, as well as the tourism industry and offshore banking facilities. The only data available about the labor force in Vanuatu are from the 1989 census, and these are quite different from the GDP data (and 10 years older). Since the subsistence sector is such an important element in the economy, it was decided by Vanuatu's statistics department that "labor force" should include all workers, whether they were working for cash or not. Thus, the statistics show that about 75 percent of the labor force in 1989 was in agriculture, and this percentage includes all of those growing their own food for consumption as well as those selling crops and those working for wages on a plantation. Industry accounted for only 1.3 percent of the labor force, and services 23.9 percent; however, nearly all of those in industry and services were in the formal sector. Also, it is likely that these proportions will have increased during the 1990s, even when the subsistence component is included.


The most recent economic data available show that agriculture, forestry and fishing contributed 25.7 percent of Vanuatu's GDP in 1999. Although a further breakdown is not available from that year, data from 1995 shows that subsistence agriculture made up about a third of this sector, forestry and logging another third, and the rest made up of commercial agriculture, particularly copra production and beef production.

According to the Asian Development Bank, agriculture is more important to the Vanuatu economy than it is to any other Pacific economy, since it does not have the mineral and forestry resources of Papua New Guinea or Solomon Islands, the manufacturing base of Fiji, the marine resources of Micronesia, or the remittances of Polynesia. Throughout Vanuatu, subsistence agriculture is the mainstay of the village economy, since 80 percent of the population lives in villages. Food crops produced include taro, yams, kumara (sweet potato), bananas, coconut, and a great range of fruit and vegetables.

The most important agricultural product, in terms of cash production in the villages and in terms of export, is copra. This is the dried flesh of coconuts, produced by individual households and on large-scale plantations. Production of copra is highly variable year to year depending on weather conditions and world prices, although a general downward trend in production is noticeable since the early 1980s. One explanation is that the price in real terms paid to producers has declined over this period.

In recent decades there has been an attempt to diversify the rural economy away from coconuts to a variety of crops. Much effort went into the promotion of cocoa during the 1980s, but this was not very successful. By the late 1990s, cocoa exports were still only a small fraction of the value of exported coconut products. There has also been considerable promotion of coffee, but this too has not been very successful.

After copra, the second most important agricultural product by value is beef. Vanuatu is the only significant beef exporter in the Pacific, and this accounted for about 10 percent of all exports by value in the late 1990s. Cattle are often raised under coconut trees and serve both as a source of income and as a means of keeping plantations clear of weeds. The main export markets for beef have been Japan and the neighboring countries of Melanesia.

Two other crops that have increased in value recently are kava and squash. Kava, which is made into a drink that induces relaxation and mild euphoria, is a traditional crop that has recently been commercialized. The establishment of kava bars in the towns has accelerated since the 1980s, and in the 1990s kava was being exported around the world, where it can often be found in drugstores. The success of Tonga in securing a niche in the Japanese squash market caused other Pacific nations to look at this as a potential new crop. Vanuatu was one of the first to start squash production, but it is too early to determine whether this will be a successful case of agricultural diversification.

Logging in Vanuatu has never been on the scale seen in the neighboring countries of Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea. Nevertheless, in 1997 and 1998, timber was the second most important export by value, after copra. The logging industry has maintained a relatively small but steady rate of production for many years, and involves both foreign companies and village-based sawmills. A ban on the exports of whole logs was implemented in 1989. Although temporarily lifted in 1993, the ban has been quite successful in adding value to the industry within the country by generating jobs in sawmilling and related activities.

Fish are an important food source in most parts of Vanuatu. However, commercial exploitation of fish is much less than in neighboring countries, considering the large area of ocean within Vanuatu's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Fishing fleets based in the country in the 1960s and 1970s ceased operations in the 1980s after considerable losses. Thus, fish are not a significant source of export income. Vanuatu does, however, receive some income from royalties paid by offshore fleets fishing within its EEZ, especially Taiwanese and American. The catches of these offshore fleets are landed mainly in Fiji and American Samoa, so relatively little employment is generated within Vanuatu from these activities.


In 1999, industry made up 14 percent of GDP. Data from 4 years earlier showed that construction contributed about 48 percent of this sector. This contribution, however, varies considerably from year to year depending on new developments in the tourist sector and in private industry. Manufacturing made up 39 percent of the industry sector, and its contribution has been steady and slowly growing.

There was a manganese mine operating on the island of Efate in the 1960s and 1970s, but currently there is no significant mineral production. Nevertheless, there is much interest in the mineral possibilities of the country, since Vanuatu is similar geologically to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, where gold and other minerals are currently being mined. In the mid-1990s, Australian aid allowed a countrywide survey of mineral potential, and following this, a number of exploration licenses were taken out by private companies.

Manufacturing is a relatively minor industry in Vanuatu, although in the late 1990s it contributed just over 5 percent of GDP. The most important manufacturing enterprises cater for the local market in areas such as food processing (especially meat), wood processing and construction materials. Most of the manufacturing is located in the capital, Port Vila, although small operations such as production of soap from coconut oil take place elsewhere. The growth of tourism has encouraged the production of traditional handicrafts.


The services sector is the largest broad economic sector in the Vanuatu economy, contributing 60.4 percent of GDP in 1999. The makeup of this sector is suggested by data from 1995, which showed that the most important service subsectors, in order, were wholesale and retail trade, government services, transport, storage and communication, finance and insurance, real estate, and hotels and restaurants. Although the last of these subsectors is mostly generated by tourism, a considerable amount of the income generated in other subsectors also relates to tourism. Specific amounts were not available.

The sector that is often thought to have the greater future potential in the Pacific is tourism, and it has been heavily promoted in Vanuatu in recent years. Visitor arrivals have doubled in the 2 decades since independence in 1980, rising from about 25,000 per year at that time to about 50,000 in the late 1990s. Tourism in Vanuatu is still a small industry compared to Fiji, but larger than neighboring Solomon Islands. The majority of tourists (about 60 percent) come from Australia, with smaller numbers from New Zealand and New Caledonia. So far, relatively few have come from the largest potential markets of Japan, North America, and Europe.

Tourism is largely focussed on the capital, Port Vila, on the island of Efate. There are several international standard hotels in Port Vila, but in the rest of the country tourist facilities are rare, despite the great potential of some islands. With over 100 indigenous cultural groups, one of the main attractions of Vanuatu is its cultural diversity, represented in different housing styles, dances, and art-forms, especially carvings. There are also the typical Pacific attractions of beaches, diving and a tropical climate.

The national airline Air Vanuatu links Port Vila to Noumea, Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Nadi and Honiara, and other airlines serve the capital as well, including Air Pacific, Aircalin (New Caledonia) and Solomon Airlines.

Vanuatu is one of several tax havens in the South Pacific. The Offshore Financial Centre (OFC) was established in 1971 and has been maintained since independence. This provides a tax haven for offshore banks, trust companies, insurance companies, and shipping companies. It has been estimated that the OFC employs about 400 people. OFC pays registration fees to the government, which contribute about 2.5 percent of the overall gross domestic product, according to Ambrose and Siwatibau. Local banking services are provided by the National Bank of Vanuatu, ANZ (Australia New Zealand) Bank, Bank of Hawaii, and Westpac.

Like many Pacific countries, retail services are somewhat limited. In Port Vila there are medium-sized shops and supermarkets, but in most of the country there are only small shops with a very limited range of goods.


Vanuatu has a large imbalance in trade, with imports exceeding exports by 3 or 4 times. This imbalance is made up for by income from tourism, tax haven revenue, and international aid.

Copra has dominated Vanuatu's exports for many years; it made up 45 percent of all exports in the years 1995 to 1998. In those years, beef and timber were almost as equally important as each other, making up about

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Vanuatu
Exports Imports
1975 .012 .040
1980 .036 .073
1985 .031 .070
1990 .019 .096
1995 .028 .095
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

12 percent each, while cocoa made up about 5 percent of all exports. For copra, timber, and cocoa, the processing countries of these products are significant; the 3 most important export destinations were Japan, Belgium, and Germany. Beef was mostly exported to the nearby countries of New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, and Fiji, and to more distant Japan.

The most important imports into Vanuatu are machines and transport equipment, foodstuffs, basic manufactures, and fuels. Japan is the most important source of imports, accounting for about half of these in value. Australia is the next major source of imports, especially for food and certain types of manufactures, followed by United States, Singapore, and New Zealand.


In the period since 1982, the vatu has declined in value against the American dollar by about 40 percent. However, this is not as great a relative decline as experienced in many other Pacific countries. This may be because, despite a negative balance of trade, Vanuatu has a reasonably consistent source of foreign revenue coming from tourism and its tax haven activities. Also, the vatu is pegged against a group of currencies, and although these currencies are secret, it is believed that the most important are the Australian and U.S. dollars, with smaller weight given to the Japanese yen and French franc, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Exchange rates: Vanuatu
vatu (VT) per US$1
Dec 2000 143.95
2000 137.82
1999 129.08
1998 127.52
1997 115.87
1996 111.72
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

The Reserve Bank of Vanuatu has the usual functions of a central bank, including regulating the money supply, providing economic advice to the government, and general economic monitoring.


A total of 174 countries are ranked in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report 2000 according to the Human Development Indicator (HDI), which measures a country's state of well-being using income, education, and health measures. The HDI rank for Vanuatu was 118, meaning that it was better off than many African countries, but was the third poorest country in the Pacific. GDP per capita in 1998 was US$1403, nearly twice as much as neighboring Solomon Islands but only about one-twentieth that of the United States.

While there is no adequate information on income distribution, partly because subsistence income is hard to measure, there is evidence that there are varying levels of well-being within the country. Another indicator developed by UNDP is the Human Poverty Index (HPI). It measures conditions for those worst off in a country, such as their health status, education level, access to health services, access to safe water, and malnutrition in children. While to a traveler in Vanuatu there appears to be a kind of "subsistence affluence" in most areas, the HPI suggests that Vanuatu is still a poor country, with the third lowest HPI in the Pacific, at a level similar to that of many of the poorest African countries. For example, illiteracy is estimated at 66 percent, about 23 percent of children under 5 are underweight, and about 20 percent of the population does not have access to adequate health services, according to the UNDP. However, since there is no poverty index in Vanuatu, it is not possible to determine how many people or households can be considered to be poor. The government has many different programs underway to try to overcome some of these problems, and often these are funded by international aid, especially in the areas of education and health.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Vanuatu N/A 1,426 1,672 1,596 1,403
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Philippines 974 1,166 967 1,064 1,092
Solomon Islands 419 583 666 784 753
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


The situation of the labor force is difficult to determine, due to a lack of recent data. Using Vanuatu's definition of labor force, the bulk of the adult population is said to be in the labor force, with most of these being involved in village agriculture. Most of those working in the wage and salary economy are located in Port Vila or Luganville, the 2 largest urban centers. At the time of the last census, the unemployment rate was calculated to be only 1 percent, although there appeared to be a great deal of underemployment involving people who were working only part time. As in most Pacific island nations, there is no unemployment benefit. The minimum wage was set at 16,000 vatu (US$140) per month in 1995, and this applied to both rural and urban employment. Earlier minimum wage levels had been lower in the rural sector, and it was felt by some that the rural minimum was above market rates and would inhibit job creation, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Workers in the formal sector are represented by at least 16 trade unions, generally organized according to industrial sector, but coordinated by the Vanuatu Council of Trade Unions.


1000 B.C. Evidence of human settlement on many islands.

1606 A.D. First European sighting of Vanuatu by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, who founded an unsuccessful settlement on Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the Vanuatu group, and claimed the islands for Spain.

1768-89. Various European explorersmost commonly British and Frenchvisit islands and introduce metal tools and weapons and new trade goods.

1825. Sandalwood trade starts, which accelerated trade even though the sandalwood resource was exhausted quickly.

1839. First Christian missionaries land; progress in conversion is slow, and some areas resist Christianity to the present day.

1864-1911. Labor recruitment for plantations in Fiji and Queensland, sometimes called "blackbirding."

1887. Condominium of New Hebrides established by French and British.

1940-41. New Hebrides joins Free French in WWII; Vila and Santo become American bases; Jon Frum movement starts proposing that Americans can deliver followers from missionaries and other Europeans.

1960s. Nagriamel, first political party, forms and demands independence and the return of some land.

1971. Tax haven established.

1980. Vanuatu granted independence; islands of Espiritu Santo and Tanna declare themselves independent under Nagriamel and Jon Frum movements; Britain and France refuse to take military action, so troops from Papua New Guinea defeat rebels and secure country for first prime minister, Walter Lini, leader of the Vanua'aku Party.

1982. Vanuatu declares itself nuclear free.

1991-2001. Series of coalition governments, often involving French-English party coalitions.


In the late 1990s, much attention was being paid to the political struggles pitting one party against another. However, the party disputes tended to be based on regional and language interests rather than fundamental differences of opinion on economic policy. There was not much dynamism in the economy, with agricultural production and tourist numbers being relatively stable. In the future, the greatest hope appears to be held for tourism, since the country has many undeveloped possibilities. There is some potential for expansion in other sectors; for example, some localization in the fishing industry is possible, although these possibilities will depend to a great extent on a higher degree of political stability than has been seen recently. In terms of the development of human resources, especially in education and health, there will be an ongoing dependence on international aid.


Vanuatu has no territories or colonies.


Ambrose, David, and Savenaca Siwatibau. "Recent Development in Vanuatu." Pacific Economic Bulletin. Vol. 12, No. 1, 1997.

Asian Development Bank. Vanuatu: Economic Performance, Policy and Reform Issues. Manila: Asian Development Bank, 1997.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Vanuatu. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

"Key Indicators for Developing Asian and Pacific Countries." Asian Development Bank. <>. Accessed February 2001.

United Nations Development Programme, Pacific Human Development Report 1999: Creating Opportunities. Suva: United Nations Development Programme, 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://>. Accessed August 2001.

Wardlow Friesen


Port Vila.


Vatu (VT). There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 vatu and notes of 500, 1,000 and 5,000 vatu. One vatu equals 100 centimes, although there are no centime coins still in circulation.


Copra, beef, cocoa, coffee, timber, kava, squash.


Food, machinery and equipment, fuels.


US$245 million (1999 est.).


Exports: US$33.8 million (1998 est.). Imports: US$76.2 million (1998 est.).

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Republic of Vanuatu

Major City:


VANUATU is probably best known to Americans as the setting for James Michener's 1947 novel Tales of the South Pacific that was later made into a musical, but the islands have a long history and a diverse population. Human habitation of the Vanuatu island group may have begun as far back as 4,000 years ago. In 1606, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the island group. Europeans did not return until 1768, and in 1774 the British Captain James Cook named the islands the New Hebrides. During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands encouraged long-term indentured labor of the islanders, a term called "black-birding." Missionaries and settlers then came. A mixture of French and British interests in the islands brought a unique form of government where France and the United Kingdom jointly administered the islands from 1906 until the arrival of Americans in World War II. Indigenous political activity developed in the post-war years. In early 1980, several northern islands seceded before the upcoming fixed date for independence that year. On July 30, 1980, New Hebrides became the independent Republic of Vanuatu. The new government restored order and arrested the secessionists, who had been secretly supported by France.



Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, is located on the island of Efate, the most populous island. The capital is perched on the sides of steep hills along the shores of a horseshoe bay. The town was little more than a row of warehouses along a dirt path until the 1890s, when drought and malaria caused the island's population to relocate its business district from Havannah Harbour. Port-Vila was made the seat of government in 1906. During the 1920s, Port-Vila had a reputation of being a wild frontier town, complete with drunken brawls, gambling, and sporadic gunfights and public executions. During the 1930s, the town was an enclave for the resident Europeans, and Ni-Vanuatu residents were only permitted to live there if they had employment in the town.

Port-Vila has a population of 23,000. In February 1987, a cyclone damaged 95% of the buildings in Port-Vila. Bauerfeld, on Efate, and Pekoa, on Espiritu Santo, are the main airfields. Port-Vila and Luganville are the principal seaports. Agriculture and services account for most of the domestic economy. There is high-grade manganese ore on Efaté, but it is not currently mined. Tourism is regarded as a secondary part of the economy, and has developed since the 1980s. The country's Financial Centre, a tax haven created by the British in 1971, is the third-largest source of the national government's revenue. Its creation was the catalyst for an increase in construction in Port-Vila area during the 1970sa new wharf significantly increased cruise ship traffic.


Though most Ni-Vanuatu wear Western style clothing, there may be special circumstances within small communities of natives.

For instance, the chief of the small Paama Island community (about 600 people) in the capital of Port Vila has recently banned women from wearing pants, saying that such clothing is an unwelcome Western influence. The all male, honorary police force of the community will uphold the ban. However, there has been no indication, as of yet, that non-Paama women will be cited for wearing pants.

Recreation and Entertainment

Tennis and golf are sports that are popular around Port-Vila. Tennis matches on the international circuit are occasionally held in Vanuatu. Korman Stadium was built for the 4th South Pacific Mini Games that were held in Port-Vila in December 1993. Basketball, boxing, volleyball, and soccer are played there. Netball, handball, squash, and rugby are also played in town. Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular tourist activities, and there are several shipwreck dive sites near Port-Vila.

Port-Vila's panorama, tropical flora, and historic French persuasion make it one of the South Pacific's most picturesque cities. The central business district is concentrated in a half-mile strip along Kumel Highway that follows the waterfront's contour. An area known as Chinatown in central Port-Vila is the commercial center of the islands' Chinese merchant community. The waterfront market is the country's largest, and offers a wide variety of produce, as well as flowers, handicrafts, and artifacts. Independence Park is lined with English-style buildings and is the site of weekend cricket matches. Port-Vila's Quartier Français (French Quarter) contains several houses and the city's town hall, all built in the French colonial style.

Port-Vila has several fine restaurants encompassing Continental French, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine. The city also has many nakamals, or kava bars (kava is a popular beverage in the South Pacific, a mild tranquilizer made from ground pepper roots). Movie theaters and other places for nighttime entertainment are available. A new tourist attraction at Vatusala on Efatéprovides demonstrations of traditional village activities. Several islands of Vanuatu have caves decorated with ancient paintings.

A cultural center in Port-Vila has a library of both French and English books. The library's reading room contains French and English periodicals and articles on Vanuatu's history. The center also houses a collection of fine Melanesian art and artifacts. There is also a display of preserved native flora and fauna, photographs, and a collection of valuable stamps. The Michoutouchkine and Pilioko Foundation Art Gallery has a display of Pacific art, carvings, masks, prints, and embroideries.

Dancing is an important part of the traditional culture of the Ni-Vanuatu people.


Geography and Climate

Vanuatu is an irregular Y-shaped chain of 84 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Australia. The island chain extends for about 500 miles and lies 600 miles west of Fiji and 250 miles northeast of New Caledonia. The total land area of the islands is 5,699 square miles (about the size of Connecticut), with a total coastline of 1,571 miles. The largest island is Espiritu Santo (sometimes just called Santo), with an area of 1,524 square miles. The islands are of coral and volcanic origin. There are active volcanos on Ambrym, Lopevi, and Tanna. Earthquakes are common, with the most recent severe one happening in 1994. Earthquakes in 1875 and 1948 created tsunamis that wiped out entire villages. The tropical climate is moderated by southeastern trade winds, which blow from May to October. Average temperatures in Port-Vila range from 77° F in winter to 84° F in summer. Cyclones strike the islands an average of 2.5 times each year. In 1987, Cyclone Uma hit Port-Vila and caused widespread damage and many fatalities.


There are approximately 193,000 inhabitants. Only 70 of the islands are inhabited. Two-thirds of Vanuatu's population live on Efate, Espiritu Santo, Malekula, and Tanna. The Ni-Vanuatu are the Melanesian inhabitants of the country, and make up about 95% of the population. Europeans (mostly French) and other Pacific Islanders account for the remainder. About 80% of the population is Christian; the largest sects are Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic. In the 1940s, an indigenous cult became popular, especially on Tanna. There was a belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum, who could obtain industrial goods through magic. There are 105 languages spoken among Vanuatu's small population, some of which have never been classified. The three official languages are English, French, and Bislama (also known as pidgin English or Bichelama). A child may speak as many as four different languages, and public life is often complicated by language problems.


The Anglo-French Convention of 1887 established a joint naval commission over New Hebrides (as Vanuatu was then known) to protect the lives and interests of islanders. In 1906, the Anglo-French Condominium was established. Indigenous political activity developed after World War II, with increasing concern over land alienation and European dominance. In 1975, a representative assembly replaced the nominated advisory council under which New Hebrides had been governed. Self-government was agreed upon in 1978, and independence was attained in 1980. Under the 1980 constitution, the head of state is the president; the head of government is the prime minister. The unicameral legislature consists of 50 members, elected to four-year terms by popular vote. The judicial system is based on British criminal procedure and the French penal code. The Supreme Court has a chief justice and three other judges; there is also an appeals court.

Vanuatu's flag has a red upper section and a green lower section divided horizontally by a gold stripe running within a black border and widening at the hoist into a black triangle. A pig's tusk and two crossed yellow mele leaves are depicted on the black triangle.

Arts, Science, Education

Children are instructed in either English or French during elementary school, then switch to the other language for secondary school. About 90% of Ni-Vanuatu children attend elementary school, but less than 10% go to secondary schools. Cooperative units have organized a training center at Port-Vila for such skills as accounting, management, law, and marketing. The University of the South Pacific has an annex in Port-Vila with a Pacific languages curriculum that attracts students from all over Oceania. For higher education, especially medical or technical training, selected students go to Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand.

Commerce and Industry

Subsistence farming provides a living for most of the population. Fishing and tourism are the other mainstays of the economy. Mineral deposits are negligible; the country has no known petroleum deposits, but the government is encouraging gold and copper mining. A small light industry sector caters to the local market. Offshore banking, insurance, and trusts generate a significant amount of the country's income, due to the lack of taxes, duties, and controls. The government attracts international investors through tax exemptions and the ability to repatriate funds.


Only Port Vila and the town of Luganville, located on Espiritu Santo Island, have surfaced roads on which a speed limit of 50 kilometers an hour is enforced. Surfaced roads are two lane and can be narrow in spots; care should be taken especially when driving at night or along unfamiliar routes. The roads found in all other areas are unsurfaced and dirt tracks. Drivers on all roads should give way to traffic coming from the right. Travelers must take care when driving off main roads to avoid trespassing on communal land.

Travel between the islands is mainly done by light plane and boat. There are 31 small airfields that serve all the main islands. The chief airports are on Efate and Espiritu Santo, but these are still too small to accommodate jumbo jets, limiting the number of flights to and from the islands. Port-Vila and Luganville are the main seaports. Small ships provide interisland service. Vanuatu maintains a policy of open registry for merchant ships, allowing foreign shipowners to avoid the higher costs and regulations of registration under their own flags.


Vanuatu has an Intelsat satellite earth station that links the country to the rest of the world. Radio Vanuatu broadcasts daily in English, French, and Bislama through AM, FM, and shortwave transmissions. A single television station is also available. The weekly government newspaper is Vanuatu Weekly Hebdomadaire. The only private newspaper is the English-language Trading Post.


Port-Vila and Luganville have the country's main medical facilities. There are five hospitals (with approximately 370 beds) and about 90 clinics, health centers, and dispensaries scattered throughout the islands. Vanuatu has only about 15 physicians.

Medical conditions resulting from diving accidents may require medical evacuation to Australia or New Zealand. A hyperbaric recompression chamber is located in Luganville on Espititu Santo Island.

Malaria is a significant danger in most areas. Leprosy, tuberculosis, filariasis, and venereal diseases are also medical problems in Vanuatu.


Passage, Customs & Duties

A passport and onward/return ticket are required. Visas are not required for stays up to 30 days. Travelers who anticipate the possibility of transiting or visiting Australia are advised to obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) or visa for Australia before leaving the United States. The ETA is available to eligible U.S. citizens at time of ticket purchase through travel agents and airlines. For more information about entry requirements, travelers, particularly those planning to enter by sailing vessel, may consult the Vanuatu Mission to the United Nations at 42 Broadway, Room No. 1200-18, New York, NY 10004; tel (212) 425-9652, fax (212) 422-3427.

.Vanuatu customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Vanuatu of items such as firearms and ammunition, sexually explicit material and certain prescription medications. Other goods may be subject to quarantine or import duty. The government of Vanuatu prohibits the export of artifacts from the Second World War without prior permission. It is advisable to contact the Vanuatu Mission to the United Nations for specific information regarding customs requirements.

There is no U.S. Embassy or diplomatic post in Vanuatu. Assistance for U.S. citizens is provided by the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, which is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea. This address should be used for courier service deliveries. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby, N.C.D. 121, Papua New Guinea; Tel: (675) 321-1455; fax (675) 321-1593. There is a voluntary American Warden located in Port Vila who has general information and forms (such as passport application forms). The U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby can provide information on how to get in touch with the warden in Vanuatu.

Americans are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Vanuatu from the Embassy. Information can also be obtained from the homepage of the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby at

Disaster Preparedness

Vanuatu lies in the South Pacific cyclonic trajectory, and is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and sudden tidal movements. The Pacific Cyclone season extends from November through March. General information regarding disaster preparedness is available via the Internet at, and from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) home page at


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Mar.(2nd Mon) Commonwealth

Day* Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1 May Day

May/June Ascension Day*

July 24 Children's Day

July 30 Independence Day

Aug.15 Feast of the Assumption

Oct. 5 Constitution Day

Nov. 29 National Unity Day

Dec. 25 Christmas

Dec. Family Day



Harcombe, David. Vanuatu: a

Travel Survival Kit. Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1995.

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Official name: Republic of Vanuatu

Area: 12,200 square kilometers (4,710 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Tabwemasana (1,877 meters/6,158 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 11 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 2,528 kilometers (1,570 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of more than eighty islands located northeast of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean area known as Oceania. With a total area of about 12,200 square kilometers (4,710 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Connecticut. Vanuatu is divided into six provinces.


Vanuatu has no territories or dependencies.


Vanuatu's climate is tropical, moderated by southeast trade winds from May to September each year. It is hot, with humidity averaging 83 percent year-round. Average midday temperatures in Port-Vila range from 25°C (77°F) in winter to 29°C (84°F) in summer.

Rainfall averages about 239 centimeters (94 inches) per year, with a high of about 406 centimeters (160 inches) in the northern islands. During November to April, the islands are threatened by tropical cyclones.


The entire island chain of Vanuatu is the result of active volcanism as the Australian and Pacific Tectonic Plates converge at a rate of 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) per year, uplifting Vanuatu around 4 centimeters (1.5 inches) per year. Lying along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country has active volcanoes on Tanna, Ambrim, and Lopevi. Seventy of the eighty islands in Vanuatu are inhabited.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Pacific Ocean surrounding the islands contains many coral reefs that plunge to hundreds of meters below the surface. There are also a number of underwater volcanoes.

Islands and Archipelagos

The larger islands are of volcanic origin over-laid with limestone formations. The smaller islands are coral and limestone. The thirteen major islands are Torres Islands (Îles Torres), Bank Islands (Îles BanksMota Lava, Sola, Gaua), Espíritu Santo, Ambae, Maéwo, Pentecost, Malakula, Ambrim, Epi, Tongoa, Éfaté, Erromango, Aniwa, Tanna, Fortuna, and Aneityum. The largest islands are Espíritu Santo, Malakula, and Éfaté.

Vanuatu also makes a disputed claim on Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia. Ownership of these would considerably extend Vanuatu's Maritime Economic Zone.

Coastal Features

The beach rock along Vanuatu's coast is an unusual aspect of the local geology. Rainfall causes the calcium carbonate from decayed shells and zooplankton skeletons to leach onto the beaches, forming a paste-like solution. When the water evaporates, the resulting calcium carbonate cements together everything it touches into large blocks of rock. As a result, the beach rock on Espíritu Santo includes large portions of sand and shells welded to the remains of World War II machinery and thousands of glass bottles.


There are no major lakes on Vanuatu. Some small lakes do exist in extinct volcanic craters and other low-lying areas, however, including Lakes Manaro Ngoro, Manaro Lakua, Voui, and Siwi.


Because the islands are generally very small, there are no rivers of significant size. Many small streams do drain the mountains, however, including the Jourdain, Sarakana, and Wamb Rivers.


There are no desert regions on Vanuatu.


Oceania is a term that refers to the islands in the central and south Pacific and adjacent seas. The boundaries for the region are the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the southern tip of New Zealand.


Lowland forests cover the southeastern, or windward, sides of Vanuatu's islands. At approximately 500 meters (1,640 feet) of elevation, montane (mountain) forests begin. Hardwood forests cover 75 percent of the land area, but these woodlands are threatened by the logging industry.


Most of the islands are rugged and mountainous with cultivated narrow coastal plains. The principal peak, Mount Tabwemasana, rises to a height of 1,877 meters (6,158 feet) on Espíritu Santo. Other significant peaks include the 1,270-meter- (4,166-feet-) high Mount Maroum on Ambrim, and Mount Tukosmera, which reaches 1,084 meters (3,556 feet) on Tanna.


Vanuatu has a number of underwater and underground caves that have been formed as a result of volcanic activity and the erosion of limestone and ash formations. In Siviri village on the island of Éfaté, Valeafau Cave has been known to emit a mysterious phosphorous glow when village children jump up and down on the cave floor. A large number of underwater and submerged entrance caves also exist in the coral reefs surrounding the islands. Some of these caverns serve as homes to turtles and other marine life.


There are no plateau regions on Vanuatu.


There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Vanuatu.



Bonnemaison, Joël. The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Douglas, Norman. Vanuatu: A Guide. Sydney: Pacific Publications, 1987.

Jolly, Margaret. Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism, and Gender in Vanuatu. Philadelphia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994.

Kilham, Christopher. Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1996.

Web Sites

Vanuatu Tourism: Geography. (accessed May 6, 2003).

Volcano Live. (accessed May 6, 2003).

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Vanuatu (vän´wätōō´), formerly New Hebrides (hĕb´rĬdēz), officially Republic of Vanuatu, independent republic (2009 pop. 243,304), c.5,700 sq mi (14,760 sq km), South Pacific, E of Australia. Vanuatu is a 450-mi (724-km) chain of 80 islands, of which the most important are Espíritu Santo (the largest), Efate, Malakula, Malo, Pentecost, and Tanna. South of Vanuatu and east of New Caledonia are the uninhabited Matthew and Hunter islands, which are claimed by both. The capital, Port Vila, is on Efate. Vanuatu's islands are forested and mountainous, formed by volcanic eruptions (and still subject to them). The highest peak (c.6,195 ft/1,890 m) is on Espiritu Santo.

People, Economy, and Government

The inhabitants are mainly Melanesians, with some Polynesians. There are more than 100 indigenous languages, but a local pidgin called Bislama or Bichelama is widely spoken. Bislama, English, and French are the official languages. The majority of the population is Christian, primarily Protestant.

The chief industries are copra production, cattle raising, and fishing, but the majority of the population depends on subsistence agriculture. Manganese mining halted in 1978, but in 2006 an agreement was signed to export manganese already mined but not yet exported. Additional revenues derive from a growing tourist industry and the development of Vila as an offshore financial center. Copra, beef, cocoa, and timber are the main exports; machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, and fuels are imported. Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Poland are the main trading partners.

Vanuatu is governed under the constitution of 1980. The president, who is head of state, is indirectly elected for a five-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by Parliament from among its members. Members of the 52-seat Parliament are popularly elected to serve four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces. Vanuatu is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.


Vanuatu has been inhabited since at least 1000 BC; remains of the Lapita culture from that time have been excavated. Legends dating to the 15th cent. describe a huge explosion in the South Pacific; in 1993 a scientist suggested that the Vanuatan islands of Tongoa and Epi (since separated by the island of Kuwae) were created in 1453 when a larger island was split in two by an enormous volcanic explosion. The archipelago was visited in 1606 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Queiros, and in 1774 Capt. James Cook made the first systematic exploration of the islands, which became known as the New Hebrides.

English missionaries began arriving in the early 19th cent. With them came the "sandalwooders," who, once the local sources of sandalwood ran out, began kidnapping natives for the sugar and cotton plantations in Queensland, Australia. British attempts to halt the decimation of the native population met success in 1887, when the islands were placed under an Anglo-French naval commission. The commission was replaced by a condominium in 1906. During World War II the islands served as bases for Allied forces in the Pacific theater.

In 1980 the New Hebrides became independent as Vanuatu, and a secession movement on Espiritu Santo was put down with aid from Papua New Guinea and Britain. A coalition government led by Prime Minister Maxime Carlot took office in 1991. Jean-Marie Léyé was elected president in 1994. Carlot's government lost power after the 1995 general elections, but the new coalition foundered, and Corlot again was prime minister from April to September in 1996, when Serge Vohor took office. After new elections in 1998, Donald Kalpokas became prime minister, but a no-confidence motion in 1999, led to his resignation, and Barak Sopé succeeded him. Also in 1999, John Bernard Bani was elected president. Edward Natapei replaced Sopé as prime minister in 2001.

Alfred Maseng became the country's fifth president in Apr., 2004, but he was removed from office the following month. After parliamentary elections in July, Serge Vohor became prime minister for a second time, and in August, Kalkot Mataskelekele was elected president. Vohor's government fell in Dec., 2004, after government ministers resigned over actions he had taken without consulting with them; Ham Lini succeeded him.

Elections in 2008 brought a new governing coalition, with Natapei again as prime minister, into office. In 2009, Iolu Johnson Abil was elected president. Natapei was ousted in no-confidence vote in Dec., 2010, and Sato Kilman succeeded him. Kilman was ousted four months later and Vohor replaced him, but in May, 2011, the no-confidence vote was declared unconstitutional and Kilman restored to office. In June, Kilman's election also was voided. Natapei became prime minister pending a new vote, in which Kilman was reelected. Kilman remained prime minister after the 2012 elections but resigned prior to a no-confidence vote in Mar., 2013. Moana Carcasses Kalosil succeeded Kilman but was replaced in May, 2014, by Joe Natuman after a no-confidence vote; Natuman was replaced by Kilman in June, 2015, after a no-confidence vote. In Sept., 2014, Baldwin Lonsdale was elected to succeed Abil as president. A tropical cyclone devastated much of the nation in Mar., 2015.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Vanuatu
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 189,618
Language(s): English, French,Bislama (Bichelama)
Literacy rate: 53%

Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of more than 80 volcanic islands in the South Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia. Seventy of the islands are inhabited, and many boast active volcanoes. Formerly called New Hebrides, Vanuatu was settled by the British and the French in the nineteenth century. In 1906, both countries agreed to a joint administration of the island, which lasted until Vanuatu declared independence in 1980. The population is approximately 190,000. English and French are the official languages, but a pidgin dialect called Bislama or Bichelama is also spoken. The literacy rate is 53 percent. A President serves as chief of state, and a Prime Minister heads the government. The legislature is a unicameral, 52-seat Parliament. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, involving 65 percent of the population. Also important are fishing, offshore financial services, and tourism.

The media enjoys freedom of speech and press. In January 2001, however, the editor of the country's largest independent newspaper, the weekly Vanuatu Trading Post, was deported for his investigation of an investment scandal allegedly involving top government officials. In June 2000, the Freedom Telecommunications Law ended the government's 20-year telecommunications monopoly, but the government still owns most of the country'smedia. There is no daily newspaper. In addition to theVanuatu Trading Post, the other weekly newspaper is theVanuatu Weekly/Hebdomadaire, which is sponsored bythe government. The Post publishes every Sunday in English and in French. Vanuatu Weekly/Hebdomadaire ap-pears every Saturday. It prints in English, French, and Bislama, and has a circulation of 2,000. The Port Vila Presse is a weekly online newspaper founded in 2000. Itposts news every Sunday. There are also two English-language weeklies sponsored by political parties: Golden Express and Viewpoints.

There are four radio stations, two AM and two FM,broadcasting to 62,000 radios. There is one television station broadcasting to 2,000 televisions. There is one Internet service provider.


"CocoNET Wireless,' The University of Queensland, Australia (1997). Available from

"Country Profile: Vanuatu," BBC News. Available from

Port Vila Presse. Home Page. Available

"Vanuatu," CIA World Fact Book (2001). Availablefrom

"Vanuatu," Freedom House (2001). Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Vanuatu
Region: Oceania
Population: 189,618
Language(s): English, French, Bislama (Bichelama)
Literacy Rate: 53%

The Republic of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) comprises approximately 70 islands in the South Pacific and is located west of Fiji. Vanuatu's population of 189,618 people (in 2001) includes 94 percent Melanesian and 4 percent French. The British and French jointly governed Vanuatu before it achieved independence in 1980. This dual governance created diverse educational systems that utilize both English and French languages; however, Bislama (the native language) is practiced in some primary schools.

The Ministry of Education administers the formal system of education, which consists of six years of primary education, four years of junior secondary education, and three years of senior secondary education. Only the first six years are compulsory, leading to an adult literacy rate of 64 percent (1995). Government expenditures on public and private education were 19.2 percent of the annual budget and 4.4 percent of the gross national product in 1990.

Students from grades one to seven attend primary school. In 1990, some 26,267 (96 percent) children in this grade range were enrolled in the 78 primary schools. The ratio of female to male teachers in primary school was 2:3. Junior secondary school includes students from grade 8 to 10 and senior secondary school includes grade 11 to 13. Only 20 to 25 percent of students graduating from primary school continue to junior secondary education. In 1990, some 3,799 (17 percent) of students in this age group were enrolled in one of the 14 secondary schools. Female to male teacher ratios were 3:7 in 1990.

A Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate will be introduced to senior secondary students (for both English-speaking and French-speaking) at grade 12. After passing the examination, students complete the last year of foundation studies before admission to the University of the South Pacific. Tertiary (higher) education requires students to go overseas as there is no university in Vanuatu.


International Encyclopedia of National Systems of Education, 2nd. Ed. New Jersey: Pergamon Publications, 1995.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2001. New York: Press Publishing Co., 2001.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Institute for Statistics, Sept 2000. Available from

Kon-zue Lee and
Sanna J. Thompson

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Culture Name



Identification. The name "Vanuatu" is an important aspect of national identity. Leaders of the Vanua'aku Party, which led the first independent government, invented the term in 1980 to replace the colonial name New Hebrides. Vanua means "land" in many of Vanuatu's one hundred five languages, and translations of the new name include "Our Land" and "Abiding Land." Culturally, Vanuatu is complex. Some of the people follow matrilineal descent rules, while others follow patrilineal rules. Leadership on some islands depends on advancement within men's societies, and in others it depends on possession of chiefly titles or personal ability. Although most people depend on subsistence farming and fishing, the economy of the seaboard differs from that of interior mountain plateaus.

Political leaders have consciously cultivated national culture to foster a national identity, including political slogans such as "Unity in Diversity." Many rural people, however, are attached primarily to their home islands, while educated urbanites, refer to supranational identities such as Melanesian.

Location and Geography. Vanuatu is a Y-shaped tropical archipelago of over eighty islands, sixty-five of which are inhabited. The Solomon Islands lie to the north, New Caledonia to the south, Fiji to the east, and the Coral Sea and Australia to the west. The mostly volcanic archipelago extends 560 miles (900 kilometers) from north to south and has an area of 5,700 square miles (14,760 square kilometers). Espiritu Santo is the largest island. Port Vila, the capital, which was also the colonial headquarters, is on the south-central island of Efate.

Demography. The 1997 population of 185,000 is 94 percent Melanesian, 4 percent European (mostly French), and 4 percent other (Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Pacific Islander).

Linguistic Affiliation. Bislama, the nation's pidgin English which emerged in the nineteenth century, is essential for public discourse. Many aspects of the national culture are phrased in Bislama, which has become an important marker of national identity. Alongside Bislama, English and French are recognized as "official languages." These languages overlie one hundred five indigenous Austronesian languages, three of which are Polynesian in origin. There are strong links between local language, place, and identity, but many people are multilingual. Most children pursue elementary schooling in English or French, although few residents are fluent in either language. Most national discourse takes place in Bislama, which is becoming creolized.

Symbolism. The politicians who forged independence emphasized shared culture (kastom ) and shared Christianity to create a national identity and iconography. The national motto is Long God Yumi Stanap ("In (or with) God We Stand/Develop"). Leaders of the Vanua'aku Party, which governed during the nation's first eleven years, came mostly from the central and northern areas. Objects selected to represent the nation come principally from those regions, including circle pig tusks, palm leaves, and carved slit gongs. The name of the national currency, the vatu ("stone") derives from central northern languages, as does the name "Vanuatu." After independence, holidays were established to celebrate the nation and promote national identity and unity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The New Hebrides was a unique "condominium" colony ruled jointly by Great Britain and France after 1906. Although they instituted a joint court and a few other combined services, each ran separate and parallel administrative bureaucracies, medical systems, police forces, and school systems. Competition and conflict between Anglophones and Francophones culminated in the 1970s, when both groups backed different political parties in the run-up to independence. The French had greatly expanded their educational system, leaving a legacy of Francophones who commonly find themselves opposed politically to their Anglophone compatriots.

The main parties in favor of independence in the 1970s were British-supported and Anglophone, drawing on English and Protestant roots more than on French and Roman Catholic. Still, all the citizens distinguish themselves from European colonialists as they assume their national identity. Since independence, the French have provided aid in periods when the country has been ruled by Francophone political parties. Australia and New Zealand have largely replaced British assistance and influence.

Ethnic Relations. A relatively small population of Vietnamese (which the French recruited as plantation workers beginning in the 1920s) and overseas Chinese control a significant proportion of the economies of Port Vila and Luganville. These wealthy families are linked by kinship, economic, and other relations with the majority Melanesian population.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Vanuatu is still a rural country. Most ni-Vanuatu live on their home islands, although the population of the two towns has increased significantly since independence. Town layout and architecture reflect French and British sensibilities. A huge American military base that grew up around Luganville during the World War II still displays that heritage. Rural architecture remains largely traditional. Local notions of gender and rank influence village layout. Women's mobility is more restricted than that of men, and in many churches, men and women sit on opposite sides of a central aisle. People use "bush" materials in the construction of housing, although they also use cement brick and aluminum sheet roofing. Houses have one or two rooms for sleeping and storage. Cooking is done in fireplaces or lean-to kitchens outdoors.

After independence, the government erected several public buildings, including a national museum, the House of Parliament, and the House of Custom Chiefs. These buildings incorporate slit gongs and other architectural details that display the cultural heritage. The latter two also model the traditional nakamal (men's house or meeting ground), a ritual space where public discussion and decision making take place. In many cultures, men and occasionally women retire each evening to the nakamal to prepare and drink kava, an infusion of the pepper plant. Scores of urban kava bars have opened in Port Vila, Luganville, and government centers around the islands. Employed urbanites gather there at the end of the day, just as their rural kin congregate at nakamal on their home islands.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Ni-Vanuatu combine traditional south Pacific cuisine with introduced elements. Before contact with the West, staple foods included yam, taro, banana, coconut, sugarcane, tropical nuts, greens, pigs, fowl, and seafood. After contact, other tropical crops (manioc, plantain, sweet potato, papaya, mango) and temperate crops (cabbage, beans, corn, peppers, carrots, pumpkin) were added to the diet. Rural people typically produce most of what they eat, supplementing this with luxury foods (rice and tinned fish) purchased in stores. The urban diet relies on rice, bread, and tinned fish supplemented with rural products. Port Vila, and Luganville have restaurants that serve mostly the foreign and tourist communities.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Ceremonies typically involve an exchange of food, such as the traditional taro and yam, kava, fowl, pigs, and chicken, along with a feast. Pigs are exchanged and eaten at all important ritual occasions. The national ceremonial dish is laplap, pudding made of grated root crops or plantain mixed with coconut milk and sometimes greens and meat, wrapped in leaves, and baked for hours in a traditional earth oven. In rural areas, during the week many people rely on simple boiling to cook roots and greens. On weekends, they prepare earth ovens and bake laplap for the evening meal and a Sunday feast. The exchange, preparation, and consumption of kava are integral parts of ceremonial occasions.

Basic Economy. Most ni-Vanuatu are subsistence farmers who do cash cropping on the side. The mode of production is swidden ("slash-and burn") horticulture, with farmers clearing and then burning new forest plots each season. Vanuatu has significant economic difficulties. Transportation costs are high, the economic infrastructure is undeveloped, and cyclone damage is common. Major export crops include copra, beef, tropical woods, squash, and cacao. Vanuatu is a tax haven that earns income from company registrations and fees and an offshore shipping registry. Tourism has become a major growth area. The government remains the largest employer of wage labor, and few employment activities exist outside the towns and regional government centers.

Land Tenure and Property. After independence, all alienated plantation land reverted to the customary owners. Only citizens may own land, although they can lease it to foreigners and investors. Generally, land belongs jointly to the members of lineages or other kin groups. Men typically have greater management fights to land than do women, although women may control land, particularly in matrilineal areas.

Commercial Activities, Major Industries, and Trade. Rural families produce cash crops (coconut, cacao, coffee, and foodstuffs) for sale in local markets. The opening of urban kava bars has stimulated an internal market for kava. With the growing tourist industry, there is a small market for traditional handicrafts, including woven baskets and mats, wood cavings, and jewelry. Manufacturing and industry contribute only 5 to 9 percent of the gross domestic product, and this mostly consists of fish, beef, and wood processing for export. The major trade partners are Australia, Japan, France, New Zealand, and New Caledonia

Social Stratification

Chiefly status exists in many of the indigenous cultures, though differences between chiefly and commoner lineages are slight. Symbolically, a man and his family's possession of a title is often marked in details of dance costume, adornment, and architecture. Leadership in the north rests largely on a man's success in "graded societies" which able individuals work their way up a ladder of status grades by killing and exchanging circle-tusked pigs. In the central and southern regions, the acquisition of titles also depends on individual effort and ability. Everywhere leadership correlates with ability, gender, and age, with able, older men typically being the most influential members of their villages.

Since rural society is still rooted in subsistence agriculture, economic and political inequalities are muted. However, there is increasing economic stratification between the educated and employed, most of whom live in urban areas, and rural subsistence farmers. The middle-class elite is relatively small, and urbanites remain connected by important kin ties to their villages.

Political Life

Government. Vanuatu is a republic with a unicameral parliament with fifty seats. An electoral college elects a nonexecutive president every five years. There are six regions whose elected councils share responsibility for local governance with the national government. An elected national council of chiefs, the Malvatumaori, advises the parliament on land tenure and customs.

Leadership and Political Officials. Since independence, elected officials have mostly been educated younger men who were originally pastors and leaders of Christian churches. The elders remain in the islands, serving as village chiefs, though the country's prime ministers, presidents, and members of parliament have typically acquired honorary chiefly titles from various regions.

Social Problems and Control. The pattern of "circular migration" between rural village and urban center from the colonial era has broken down as more people have become permanent residents of Port Vila and Luganville. Many underemployed people live in periurban settlements, and urban migration has correlated with increasing rates of burglary and other property crimes. Demonstrations associated with political factions occur occasionally. The urban crime rate is very low.

An informal system of "town chiefs" supplements the state police force and judiciary. Leading elders in the towns meet to resolve disputes and punish offenders. Punishment sometimes involves the informal banishment of an accused person back to his or her home island. Unofficial settlement procedures frequently are used to handle disputes in rural areas.

Military Activity. The Vanuatu Mobile Force has been active only occasionally, mostly in international endeavors such as serving as peacekeepers.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

State and nongovernmental organizations have focused on developing economic infrastructure and public services. Most villages have no electricity, and many people lack access to piped water despite efforts to expand rural water systems. Several organizations work with rural youth and women. The National Council of Women sponsors programs to improve women's access to the cash economy and reduce domestic violence.

A number of international and nongovernmental organizations are active in Vanuatu. Many international donors are encouraging a comprehensive reform program to make government more efficient and honest and lower deficit spending.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The principal nongovernmental organizations are the Christian churches. Religious affiliation is second in importance only to kinship and neighborhood ties. A few labor unions have attempted to organize urban and rural salaried workers (such as schoolteachers) but have not been effective in industrial action and political campaigning.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Generally, women have less control of land and other property, are less mobile, and have less of a say in marriage. In the northern region, women participate in graded societies that parallel those of men. In matrilineal regions, women have better land and sea rights. Many ni-Vanuatu continue to believe in the deleterious, polluting effects of menstrual blood and other body fluids, and men and women sleep apart during women's menstrual periods, when women often give up cooking. Both men and women farm, although men are responsible for clearing forest and brush for new garden plots. Both men and women fish and reef gather, though only men undertake deep-sea fishing. Although women have excelled in the school system, men continue to monopolize economic and political leadership positions. Few women drive cars, and only a handful have been elected to the parliament and the regional and town councils. Women do much of the work in town and roadside marketplaces.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. The marriage rate approaches 100 percent. Traditionally, leaders of kin groups arrange the marriages of their children. Marriage is an important event in ongoing exchange relations between kin groups and neighborhoods and typically involves the exchange of goods. Some educated urban residents have adopted Western notions of romantic love and arrange their own marriages with or without family approval. Marriage rules identify certain kin groups as the source of appropriate spouses. In the southern region, marriage is patterned as "sister exchange," in which a man who marries a woman from another family owes a woman in return. In some cases, this woman is an actual sister who marries one of her brother's new wife's brothers; in other cases, the woman is a classificatory sister or even a future daughter. In other areas, notable amounts of goods (bride wealth) change hands, including money, pigs, kava, mats, food, and cotton cloth. Traditionally, powerful leading men might marry polygynously, although after missionization, monogamy became the norm. There are three types of marriages: religious, civil, and "customary." Divorce rates are very low.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the principal domestic unit, forming the basic household and being responsible for day-to-day economic production and consumption. Households, however, continue to rely on extended kin groups in significant ways. Most people's access to land and sea rights derives from membership in lineages and clans. People call on extended kin as a labor pool when they build new houses, clear garden land, and raise money and collect goods for family exchanges (marriage, child initiation, funerals). Residence typically is patrivirilocal. Women move to live with their new husbands, who themselves live with their fathers' families. Formerly, many men and initiated boys lived in separate men's houses; today families typically live together as one unit. Both spouses may be involved in managing family affairs; men, however, citing custom and Christian scripture, typically assert basic authority their families.

Inheritance. Except in urban areas, where inheritance is modeled on European precedent, people follow local customs. Land rights pass patrilineally or matrilineally to surviving members of kin groups. In some areas, people destroy much of dead person's goods. Surviving spouses and children inherit what is left.

Kin Groups. Families are organized into larger patrilineages or matrilineages, patricians or matriclans, and moieties. Lineages tend to be localized in one or two villages, as kin live together on or near lineage land. The membership of larger clans is dispersed across a region or island.


Infant Care. Babies often nurse until they are three years old. Both parents are involved in child care, but siblings, especially older sisters, do much of the carrying, feeding, and amusing of infants. Babies are held by caregivers almost constantly until they can walk. Physical punishment of children is not common. Younger children may strike their older siblings, while older siblings are restrained from hitting back.

Child Rearing and Education. Many communities and ensure the growth of children through ritual initiation ceremonies that involve the exchange of pigs, mats, kava, and other goods between a child's father's and mother's families. Boys age six to twelve typically undergo circumcision as part of a ritual event.

Most children receive several years of primary education in English or French. Many walk to the nearest school or board there during the week. Less than 10 percent of children go on to attend one of the twenty-seven secondary schools.

Higher Education. Tertiary education includes a teachers' training college, an agricultural school, several church seminaries, and a branch of the University of the South Pacific in Port Vila. A few students pursue university education abroad. The adult literacy rate has been estimated at 55 to 70 percent.


Customary relationships are lubricated by the exchange of goods, and visitors often receive food and other gifts that should be reciprocated. Lines in rural stores are often amorphous, but clerks commonly serve overseas visitors first. People passing on the trails or streets commonly greet one another, and the handshake is an important aspect of initial encounters. A woman traveling alone through the countryside may receive unwelcome attention from men.


Religious Beliefs. Most families have been Christian since the late nineteenth century. The largest denominations are Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Church of Christ. Baha'i and Mormon missionaries have attracted local followings. Some people reject Christianity and retain traditional religious practices. Others belong to syncretic religious organizations that mix Christianity and local belief. Nearly everyone maintains firm beliefs in the power and presence of ancestral spirits.

Religious Practitioners. Christian priests, ministers, pastors, and deacons lead weekly services and conduct marriages and funerals. A number of people are recognized as clairvoyants and diviners, working sometimes within and sometimes outside the Christian churches. These people, who are often women, divine the causes of disease and other misfortunes, locate lost objects, and sometimes undertake antisorcery campaigns to uncover poesen (sorcery paraphernalia) hidden in a village. Other people specialize in rain, wind, earthquake, tidal wave, and other sorts of magical practice. Many ni-Vanuatu also suspect the existence of sorcerers.

Rituals and Holy Places. Ni-Vanuatu celebrate the Christian calendar, particularly the Christmas and New Year's season, which they call Bonane.At the year's end, urbanites return to their home islands. In villages, people form choruses and visit neighboring hamlets to perform religious and secular songs.

Ni-Vanuatu continue to celebrate traditional holidays. In many places, islanders organize first-fruit celebrations, particularly for the annual yam crop. The most spectacular celebration is the "land jump" on southern Pentecost Island. Tourists sometimes attend other traditional rites, such the dancing and feasting that accompany male initiation and grade-taking ceremonies in many of the cultures and the Toka (or Nakwiari ), a large-scale exchange of pigs and kava celebrated with two days of dancing.

Every community recognizes important places associated with ancestral and other spirits. These "taboo places" may be mountain peaks, offshore reef formations, or rocky outcroppings. People avoid these locations or treat them with respect.

Death and the Afterlife. Nearly all families turn to Christian funerary ritual to bury their dead. Ancestral ghosts continue to haunt their descendants. Many people experience their spiritual presence and receive their advice in dreams.

Medicine and Health Care

The national health service emerged from the separate French and British colonial systems. Most sick people turn initially to local diviners and healers who determine whether the source of disease is supernatural or natural and concoct medicines. Folk pharmacology includes hundreds of medical recipes, mostly infusions of leaves and other plant material.

Secular Celebrations

In addition to Independence Day (30 July), Constitution Day (5 October), and Unity Day (29 November), the government has established Family Day (26 December) and Custom Chiefs Day (5 March). Organized and impromptu sports matches are popular, as are money-raising carnivals, agricultural fairs, and arts festivals.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Although nineteenth-century missionaries created orthographies and dictionaries for some of the languages, indigenous literature is mostly oral. Ni-Vanuatu appreciate oratory and storytelling and have large archives of oral tales, myths, and legends. Since independence, an orthography committee has attempted to standardize Bislama spelling. Publications mostly consist of biblical material and newspapers, newsletters, and pamphlets. Writers working in English or French have published poems and short stories, particularly at the University of the South Pacific.

Graphic Arts. The tourist industry supports an active cottage handicraft and carving industry, including woven baskets and dyed mats, bark skirts, penis wrappers, miniature slit-gongs and other carvings, shell jewelry, bamboo flutes and panpipes. A few art galleries in Port Vila sell the work of local artists.

Performance Arts. The string band is the preeminent musical genre. Hundreds of bands perform at village dances and weddings, and their music has been important in the emergence of a national culture. Young musicians sing of local and national issues in local languages and Bislama. Popularized on cassette tapes or broadcast on the two radio stations, some of those songs have become national standards. Many bands travel to Port Vila in June to compete in an annual competition. Small community theater organizations whose dramas often address national issues perform in Port Vila, and occasionally tour the hinterlands.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Several international research associations, such as France's ORSTOM, have studied agriculture, volcanism, geology, geography, and marine biology in Vanuatu. A local amateur society, the Vanuatu Natural Science Society, emphasizes ornithology. The University of the South Pacific Centre in Port Vila houses that university's Pacific languages unit and law school. The Vanuatu Cultural Center supports a succesful local fieldwork program in which men and women are trained to study and document anthropological and linguistic information.


Allen, Michael, ed. Vanuatu: Politics, Economics and Ritual in Island Melanesia, 1981.

Bonnemaison, Joël. The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnography of Tanna, 1994.

, Kirk Huffman, Christian Kaufmann, and Darrell Tryon, eds. Arts of Vanuatu, 1996.

Coiffier, Christine. Traditional Architecture in Vanuatu, 1988.

Crowley, Terry. Beach-La-Mar to Bislama: The Emergence of a National Language in Vanuatu, 1991.

Foster, Robert J., ed. Nation Making: Emergent Identities in Postcolonial Melanesia, 1995.

Haberkorn, Gerald. Port Vila: Transit Station or Final Stop?, 1989.

Jolly, Margaret. Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism and Gender in Vanuatu, 1994.

Lindstrom, Lamont. Knowledge and Power in a South Pacific Society, 1990.

Lini, Walter. Beyond Pandemonium: From the New Hebrides to Vanuatu, 1980.

McClancy, Jeremy. To Kill a Bird with Two Stones: A Short History of Vanuatu, 1980.

Miles, William F. S. Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm: Identity and Development in Vanuatu, 1998.

Rodman, Margaret C. Masters of Tradition: Consequences of Customary Land Tenure in Longana, Vanuatu, 1987.

Van Trease, Howard, ed. Melanesian Politics: Stael Blong Vanuatu, 1995.

Weightman, Barry. Agriculture in Vanuatu: A Historical Review, 1989.

Lamont Lindstrom

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Vanuatu Volcanic island group in the sw Pacific Ocean, c.2300km (1430mi) e of Australia. The group consists of 13 large islands and 70 islets, the majority of them mountainous, which form a chain c.725km (450mi) in length. The main islands are Espiritu Santo, Efate (which has the capital Vila, 2002 pop. 33,900), Malekula, Pentecost, Malo, and Tanna. Discovered in 1606 by Pedro Fernandez de Queiros, the English and French settled the group in the early 1800s. Governed jointly by France and Britain as the New Hebrides from 1906, the islands became a republic in 1980. Industries: fishing, farming, mining. Copra accounts for almost half of export earnings. Area: 12,190sq km (4707sq mi). Pop. (2000) 206,000.

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Vanuatu, an independent republic in the Commonwealth, was formerly the islands of the New Hebrides, so named by Cook. They lie 1,000 miles east of Australia and have a population, largely Melanesian, of about 160,000. Their main support is agriculture (cocoa, coffee, and copra), fishing, and tourism. From 1906 they were under a condominium run by France and Britain, but became independent in 1980.

J. A. Cannon

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VANUATU. A country of Oceania and member of the COMMONWEALTH, consisting of twelve main islands and 70 islets. Languages: English, FRENCH, BISLAMA (all official), and ethnic languages. Until 1980 known as the New Hebrides, jointly administered since the late 19c by Britain and France. See BEACH LA MAR, MELANESIAN PIDGIN ENGLISH.

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Nearly 95 percent of the total population of Vanuatu is of Melanesian origin. Minority groups include Europeans (mostly French) and other Pacific Islanders.

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VanuatuBantu, stand-to •Manawatu, Vanuatu •passe-partout • gentoo • lean-to •pistou •into, thereinto •manitou • onto • Motu •Basotho, Hutu, Lesotho, Mobutu, Sotho, tutu •hereunto, thereunto, unto •surtout

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