Melanesia - Pacific Ocean
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.
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands, two of which-Matthew and Hunter-are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia.
Of the 83 islands, 14 have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometres (38.6 sq mi).
From largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo 3,956 km² (1,527 sq mi), Malakula 2,041 km² (788 sq mi), Efate (900 km²/350 sq mi), Erromango (888 km²/343 sq mi), Ambrym (678 km²/262 sq mi), Tanna (555 km²/214 sq mi), Pentecost (491 km²/190 sq mi), Epi (445 km²/172 sq mi), Ambae or Aoba (402 km²/155 sq mi), Vanua Lava (334 km²/129 sq mi), Gaua (328 km²/127 sq mi), Maewo (304 km²/117 sq mi), Malo (180 km²/70 sq mi), and Anatom or Aneityum (159 km²/65 sq mi).
Most of the islands are mountainous, of volcanic origin and have a tropical or sub-tropical climate.
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.
It is part of the Australasia ecozone, which includes New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
Vanuatu has been divided into six provinces since 1994.
The names in English of all provinces are derived from the initial letters of their constituent islands:
Malampa (Malakula, Ambrym, Paama)
Penama (Pentecost, Ambae, Maewo - in French: Pénama)
Sanma (Santo, Malo)
Shefa (Shepherds group, Efate - in French: Shéfa)
Tafea (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango, Aneityum - in French: Taféa)
Torba (Torres islands, Banks islands)
Provinces are autonomous units with their own popularly elected local parliaments known officially as provincial councils.
They collect local taxes and make by-laws in local matters like tourism, the provincial budget or the provision of some basic services.
They are headed by a chairman elected from among the members of the local parliaments and assisted by a secretary appointed by the Public Service Commission.
Their executive arm consists of a provincial government headed by an executive officer who is appointed by the Prime Minister with the advice of the minister of local government.
The provincial government is usually formed by the party that has the majority in the provincial council and, like the national government, is advised in Ni-Vanuatu culture and language by the local council of chiefs.
The provincial president is constitutionally a member of the electoral college that elects the President of Vanuatu.
The provinces are in turn divided into municipalities (usually consisting of an individual island) headed by a council and a mayor elected from among the members of the council.
Up to this day almost 77.923% of the population speak French.
Vanuatu has a parliamentary democracy political system which is currently headed by a President who has, primarily, ceremonial powers and who is elected for 5-year terms by a two-thirds majority in an electoral college.
This electoral college consists of members of Parliament and the presidents of Regional Councils.
The President may be removed by the electoral college for gross misconduct or incapacity.
The Prime Minister, who is the head of government, is elected by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of the Parliament.
The prime minister, in turn, appoints the Council of Ministers, whose number may not exceed one-fourth of the number of parliamentary representatives.
The prime minister and the Council of Ministers constitute the executive government.
The Parliament of Vanuatu is unicameral and has 52 members who are elected by popular vote every four years, unless earlier dissolved by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or by a directive from the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The national Council of Chiefs, called the Malvatu Mauri and elected by district councils of chiefs, advises the government on all matters concerning ni-Vanuatu culture and language.
Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic French and English lines.
Forming coalition governments, however, has proved problematic at times due to differences between English and French speakers.
The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other judges.
Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of Appeal.
Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters.
The legal system is based on British common law and French civil law.
The constitution also provides for the establishment of village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal with questions of customary law.
Foreign relations and military
Vanuatu has joined the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, la Francophonie and the Commonwealth of Nations.
Since 1980 Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), France, and New Zealand have provided the bulk of Vanuatu's development aid.
Direct aid from the UK to Vanuatu ceased in 2005 following the decision by the AUS to no longer focus on the Pacific.
However, more recently new donors such as the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the People's Republic of China have been providing increased amounts of aid funding.
In 2005 the MCA announced that Vanuatu was one of the first 15 countries in the world selected to receive support - an amount of US$65 million was given for the provision and upgrading of key pieces of public infrastructure.
Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural ties to Australia, the European Union (in particular France) and New Zealand.
Australia now provides the bulk of external assistance, including to the police force, which has a paramilitary wing.
Vanuatu's military consist of a small, mobile, corps of 300 volunteers.
The Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) includes the paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF).
Total military expenditures are not available.
The economy is based primarily on subsistence or small-scale agriculture, which provides a living for 65% of the population.
Fishing, cattle farming, offshore financial services, and tourism (with about 50,000 visitors in 1997) are other mainstays of the economy.
Mineral deposits are negligible.
The country has no known petroleum deposits.
A small light-industry sector caters to the local market.
Tax revenues come mainly from import duties and a 12.5 percent VAT on goods and services.
Economic development is hindered by dependence on relatively few commodity exports, vulnerability to natural disasters, and long distances between constituent islands and from main markets.
A severe earthquake in November 1999, followed by a tsunami, caused extensive damage to the northern island of Pentecote, leaving thousands homeless.
Another powerful earthquake in January 2002 caused extensive damage in the capital, Port Vila, and surrounding areas, and was also followed by a tsunami.
Another earthquake of 7.2 struck on 2 August 2007.
GDP rose less than 3%, on average, in the 1990s.
In response to foreign concerns the government has promised to tighten regulation of its offshore financial centre.
In mid-2002, the government stepped up efforts to boost tourism.
Australia and New Zealand are the main suppliers of Vanuatu's foreign aid.
Vanuatu is a tax haven that until 2008 did not release account information to other governments or law-enforcement agencies.
International pressure, mainly from Australia, influenced the Vanuatu government to begin adhering to international norms to improve transparency.
In Vanuatu, there are no income tax, no withholding tax, no capital gains tax, no inheritance taxes, or exchange controls.
A disproportionately large number of ship-management companies choose to flag their ships under the Vanuatu flag, because of the tax benefits and favourable labour laws.
Several file-sharing groups, such as the providers of the KaZaA network of Sharman Networks and the developers of WinMX, have chosen to incorporate in Vanuatu to avoid regulation and legal challenges.
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.
Sport varies depending on the gender of those involved.
Volleyball is considered a 'girls' sport' and males play Football.
In Port Vila, and three other centres, are locations of the University of the South Pacific, an educational institution co-owned by twelve Pacific countries.
The campus in Port Vila, known as the Emalus Campus, houses the University's law school.
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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