Melanesia - Pacific Ocean
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The archipelago is some 1,750 km (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 500 km (310 mi) north-east of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and south of the Solomon Islands.
The archipelago is of volcanic origin.
Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people.
Europeans began to settle in the area in the late 18th century.
In the 1880s France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the country and in 1906 they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago through a British-French Condominium as the New Hebrides.
An independence movement was established in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was created in 1980.
Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, with the oldest traces of pottery dating back to 1300 BC.
The earliest known settlement dates back to around 4000 BC.
In 1606 a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese explorers Luis Váez de Torres and Pedro Fernandes de Queirós became the first from Europe to reach the islands which they believed to be part of Terra Australis.
Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century after the British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage and gave them the name New Hebrides.
In 1887 the islands came under the administration of a joint French-British naval commission.
For a few months in 1889, the settlement of Port Vila was an independent republic known as Franceville.
It was the first self-governing nation to practice universal suffrage without distinction of sex or race, although only whites were permitted to hold office.
In 1906 the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides.
Vanuatu suffered from the practice of blackbirding wherein half of the adult male population of some of the islands became indentured workers in Australia.
Due to diseases introduced by the new European populations, the native population fell to a mere 45,000 in 1935.
During World War II the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases.
In the 1960s the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and, later, independence.
Full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980 and Vanuatu became a republic with the Commonwealth of Nations.
Subsequently, Vanuatu joined the United Nations in 1981 and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.
During the 1990s Vanuatu experienced political instability which eventually resulted in a more decentralised government.
The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary group, attempted a coup in 1996 because of a pay dispute.
There were allegations of corruption in the government of Maxime Carlot Korman.
New elections have been called for, several times since 1997, most recently in 2004.
The nation's largest towns are the capital Port Vila, situated on Efate, and Luganville on Espiritu Santo.
The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879 m (6158 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo.
There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, as well as several underwater ones.
Volcanic activity is common with an ever-present danger of a major eruption, the last occurred in 1945.
Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimetres (93 in) per year but can be as high as 4,000 mm (157 in) in the northern islands.
Vanuatu is recognised as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rain forests.
It is part of the Australasia ecozone, which includes New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand. The ninth season of the reality TV series Survivor was filmed on Vanuatu, entitled Survivor: Vanuatu-Islands of Fire.
Two years later, Australia's Celebrity Survivor was filmed at the same location used by the U.S. version.
Vanuatu has a population of 221,506.
Most is rural, though Port Vila and Luganville have populations in the tens of thousands.
The inhabitants of Vanuatu, or Ni-Vanuatu, are in the majority (98.5%) of Melanesian descent, with the remainder made up of a mix of Europeans, Asians and other Pacific islanders.
Three islands were historically colonised by Polynesians.
About 2,000 Ni-Vanuatu live and work in New Caledonia.
In 2006 the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth environmentalist group rated Vanuatu as the happiest place to live out of 178 nations all over the world using the Happy Planet Index.
Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity through local regional variations and through foreign influence.
Vanuatu may be divided into three major cultural regions.
In the north, wealth is established by how much one can give away.
Pigs, particularly those with rounded tusks, are considered a symbol of wealth throughout Vanuatu.
In the centre, more traditional Melanesian cultural systems dominate.
In the south, a system involving grants of title with associated privileges has developed.
Young men undergo various coming-of-age ceremonies and rituals to initiate them into manhood, usually including circumcision.
There are three official languages: English, French, and Bislama.
Bislama is a pidgin language, and now a creole in urban areas, which essentially combines a typically Melanesian grammar with a mostly English vocabulary.
It is the only language that can be understood and spoken by the majority of Vanuatu's population as a second language.
In addition 113 indigenous languages are still actively spoken in Vanuatu.
The density of languages, per capita, is the highest of any nation in the world with an average of only 2000 speakers per language.
All of these vernacular languages belong to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu, consisting of several denominations.
The Church, adhered to by about one third of the population, is the largest of them.
Roman Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian are the common denominations.
Others are the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Neil Thomas Ministries (NTM), as well as many other religious sects and denominations.
Because of the modernities that the military in World War II brought with them when they came to the islands, several cargo cults developed.
Many died out, but the John Frum cult on Tanna Island is still large, and has adherents in the parliament.
Also on Tanna is the Prince Philip Movement, which reveres the United Kingdom's Prince Philip.
Villagers of the Yaohnanen tribe believed in an ancient story about the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit venturing across the seas to look for a powerful woman to marry.
Prince Philip, having visited the island with his new wife Queen Elizabeth, fitted the description exactly and is therefore revered and even held as a god around the isle of Tanna.
Islam in Vanuatu is made up of about 200 converts and growing fast.
It was introduced by Hussein Nabanga who converted to Islam while training to be a Christian missionary.
Traditional music (known in Bislama as kastom singsing or kastom tanis) is still thriving in the rural areas of Vanuatu.
Musical instruments consist mostly of idiophones: drums of various shape and size, slit gongs, as well as rattles, among others.
In various regions, aerophones, such as whistles or bamboo flutes, are or used to be played; membranophones and chordophones were also found in some areas, but have fallen into disuse during colonial times.
The large slit gongs which symbolize Vanuatu belong to these traditional instruments; they were most often used as musical drums to accompany certain dances, but also sometimes - though seldom - as a ritual means of communication; although widespread throughout Vanuatu, they are used vertically only in central areas of the archipelago (mainly on Ambrym).
Traditional music is actually a very general cover term encompassing a wide and complex variety of musical genres known by every local community - in a way very similar to the vague term classical music of Western societies.
Another musical genre that has become widely popular during the 20th century in all areas of Vanuatu, is known as string band music.
It combines guitars, ukulele, and popular songs.
More recently the music of Vanuatu, as an industry, grew rapidly in the 1990s and several bands have forged a distinctive ni-Vanuatu identity.
Popular genres of modern commercial music, which are currently being played in town include zouk music and reggaeton.
Reggaeton, a variation of hip-hop rapped in Spanish, played alongside its own distinctive beat, is especially played in the local nightclubs of Vanuatu with, mostly, an audience of Westerners and tourists.
For more information about Vanuatu see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This page was retrieved and condensed from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanuatu) see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, May 2008.
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).
This information was correct in May 2008. E. & O.E.
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