30 Interesting Facts About Vanuatu

  1. Vanuatu is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. This archipelago consists of over 80 islands, and most of them are inhabited. Vanuatu claims sovereignty of two uninhabited islands of New Caledonia, Matthew and Hunter.
  2. Vanuatu is located in the area known as Melanesia, a sub-region of Oceania. It is the smallest of the four countries (including Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea) in this region.
  3. Nigol is a centuries-old tradition in Vanuatu where men of all ages jump from a 100-foot-long wooden structure with only vines tied to their ankles. This tradition inspired a less-frightening bungee jumping. According to a legend, women of these islands initiated these jumps as fun, but later men adopted them to display courage. This tradition follows a strict season and other measures to ensure safety. However, these jumps have caused few fatal incidents. (Source)
  4. The initial known inhabitants of Vanuatu settled on its northern islands around 1300 BCE. They arrived from other Melanesian islands and followed the Lapita culture. Later, people from Polynesia arrived and settled on its southern islands. 
  5. Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, was the first European to reach Vanuatu in 1606. He landed on one of these islands during an unsuccessful voyage to Terra Australis (Australia). He also named these islands “Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo.”
  6. The French and British navigators reached Vanuatu during the 18th Century. British naval officer Captain James Cook named this area the “New Hebrides,” which remained its official title until its independence in 1980.
  7. Unlike many other areas where France and Britain competed fiercely for control, both colonial empires worked together in Vanuatu. They formed a Joint Naval Commission in 1887 and later jointly ruled the local population through an Anglo-French condominium in 1906.
  8. Pigs are the most important domestic animal in Pacific cultures and are considered sacred in Vanuatu. Studies have confirmed that different kinds of sacred pigs in Vanuatu arrived from Southeast Asia and Europe. (Source)
    A family of feral pigs
    Pigs and their tusks are considered sacred in Vanuatu

  9. Circular pig tusks are traditionally related to Vanuatu (and some neighboring countries), where they have cultural and religious significance. Therefore, finding a similar pig tusk from the wreckage of Titanic is surprising for experts. They are unsure about the link of the Pacific country with the famous ship during its only voyage from England to New York. (Source)
  10. Vanuatu has a history of cannibalism. The most famous act was the cannibalism of two British missionaries (John Williams and James Harris) in 1839.  The last known cannibalism in Vanuatu occurred in 1969 on the island of Malekula.
  11. An American dual-function passenger and military vessel sank near Espiritu Santo (the largest and westernmost island in Vanuatu) in 1942 during WWII. This area is now known as the Million Dollar Point, which contains the world’s largest accessible shipwreck. The SS President Coolidge was the largest passenger ship of its time in the USA. Its shipwreck is famous for having a female statue and as a permanent residence for numerous fish and corals. (Source)
  12. The US military used Espiritu Santo, a Vanuatu island, as a base against the Japanese during World War II. After the war, the Americans offered the remaining military and general goods to the British and French at a marginal rate. Both these countries refused the offer in the hope of getting them free of cost. However, the Americans dumped all these goods, from vehicles to drinks, on its southern coast. It is now a famous scuba diving site, the Million Dollar Point. (Source)
  13. Several cargo cults emerged in Vanuatu during World War 2. It happened when American soldiers brought a lot of material wealth with them, and the remote tribal villagers considered it magical. Most of these cults have now disappeared except the John Frum Movement on the island of Tanna. People on this island still worship John Frum, an American who promised to bring a cargo of modern equipment from America in exchange for their prayer. (Source)
  14. Vanuatu has a single UNESCO World Heritage site. Chief Roi Mata’s Domain is a cultural site on three islands (Efate, Lelepa, and Artok) of central Vanuatu. It includes the residence, site of death, and burial place of Roi Mata, the last supreme chief of this region.
  15. New Hebrides gained independence from Britain and France in 1980 and became the Republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu, a Melanesian name, means “Our Land Forever.”
  16. A cargo cult on Santo Island rebelled before the independence of Vanuatu in July 1980 and established the “Republic of Vemarana.” These rebels were against the English-speaking independent government. However, the rebellion remained unsuccessful, and both colonial powers maintained their relationships in New Hebrides.
  17. Father Walter Lini became Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister in 1980 and retained this position until 1991. Since then, the country has faced political instability due to coalition governments and continuous no-confidence votes.
  18. Vanuatu is one of a few countries without a regular military. It has a police force and a paramilitary unit for internal security. After a defense pact at independence, Papua New Guinea took responsibility for protecting Vanuatu, replacing Britain and France.
  19. Vanuatu opened the world’s first underwater post office in 2003. It is located 160 feet off the coast and receives hundreds of postcards every week. The post office uses postcards of waterproof plastic and is open to divers. Several countries (Japan, Norway, and Malaysia) have now copied the same concept. (Source)
  20. Vanuatu started “honorary citizenship programs” in 2014 to increase its revenue. It allows people from other countries to purchase citizenship after spending a fixed and hefty amount for individuals, couples, or families. Unlike other countries with similar schemes, this program does not require applicants to stay or enter Vanuatu. This scheme has enabled the country to withstand difficult times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastating cyclone. However, this controversial program also assists fugitives from other nations. (Source)
  21. Mount Yasur on Tanna Island is famous as one of the most accessible active volcanoes. It is Vanuatu’s southernmost active volcano, erupting continuously since 1774 or prior.
  22. Ambrym Island in Vanuatu had five lava lakes until 2018 winter. However, magma in all these lakes disappeared suddenly after an extraordinary eruption in 2018. Scientists later found that the lava, having an amount enough for 160,000 Olympic swimming pools, moved underground because these earthquakes fractured the surface. This unusual event pushed the coast upward and brought corals and algae to harmful sunlight. Ambrym Island was one of the largest emitters of CO2 and other volcanic gases due to these lakes, but this event immediately stopped the release of these gases. (Source)
    A lava lake
    Five lava lakes in Vanuatu disappeared after an eruption in 2018

  23. A tribe in Vanuatu’s Tanna Island worshipped Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as a god for decades before he died in 2021. They considered him the son of a mountain spirit because his life was close to an ancient prophecy. Now, these people honor King Charles as holy for being the “son of their power.” (Source)
  24. Wildlife in Vanuatu includes many bird and insect species, but the mammalian life is sparse. A major example of mammals is ten types of bats, including three endemic species.
  25. Vanuatu experiences a hot and rainy season from November to April and a cool drier season from May to October. Northern islands receive more rain compared to islands in the south. Most islands are covered with dense rain forest, while drier areas have savanna grasslands.
  26. Vanuatu heavily depends on tourism and offshore financial services for foreign income. Both these sectors developed after independence. Beautiful islands with several active volcanoes, abundant sea life, and ancient cultures are the main tourist attractions in Vanuatu.
  27. Vanuatu is among the countries known as a tax haven due to the absence of most taxes. It also provides privacy and other facilities for foreign investors, making it an attractive location for illegal capital. However, OECD removed Vanuatu from its list of uncooperative tax havens in 2003 after it adopted several reforms.
  28. Bislama, an English-based Creole language, is the national and one of the three official languages (alongside English and French) in Vanuatu. People on various islands speak over 100 Melanesian languages and dialects.
  29. More than 80% of Vanuatu’s population follows Christianity, with a majority of (around 70%) Protestants. Minority religions include local beliefs, Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i faith, etc.
  30. The indigenous people of Vanuatu are called ni-Vanuatu. Nearly 99% of the country’s population is ni-Vanuatu of Melanesian ethnicity. Around 75% of Vanuatu’s population resides in rural areas.

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