Vanuatu State Overview

Vanuatu State Overview

In the Melanesian language, Vanuatu means “the island that rises above the sea”, it occupies the archipelago of the New Hebrides. According to abbreviationfinder, Vanuatu is made up of twelve large islands and several dozen small islands, the total surface of which covers an area of ​​12,190 km 2.

Geographic location

An island state located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 km west of the Fiji Islands and 400 km northeast of New Caledonia.


Melanesian peoples inhabited many of the islands in the north of the archipelago some 3,000 years ago. The southern island of Tannat had its first settlement in 420 BC In 1606, the Portuguese Pedro Fernández de Queirós discovered the islands, naming them Terra Australia del Espíritu Santo.

In 1768, the Count of Bougainville rediscovered them, baptizing them as the Great Cyclades. The Englishman James Cook, in 1774, called them New Hebrides. In 1824 the Protestant missions arrived and in 1887 the joint Franco-British administration began. The condominium of France and Great Britain was consolidated in 1906.

In 1979, the Constitution was promulgated, and regional parliaments were established on the islands of Espiritu Santo and Tanna. In 1980, a revolt of peasants armed with bows and arrows and led by Jimmy (Moli) Stevens, leader of the Na-Griamel group of Espiritu Santo, proclaimed the independent state of Vemarana. The condominium powers saw the time for an agreement arrived and granted Vanuatu independence.

In 1982, Vanuatu declared its rights to the small uninhabited islands of Matthew and Hunter, 200 km to the southeast, and disputed them to France. In 1986, Vanuatu was the first country in the South Pacific to establish relations with the USSRand Libya. In 1988, Vanuatu, Papua-New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands signed an agreement to preserve Melanesian culture and achieve New Caledonia’s independence.



The largest island in Vanuatu is Espiritu Santo, with an area of ​​3,680 km 2. Mount Tabuemasana (1,879 m above sea level) is the highest peak in the country. The archipelago presents a remarkable diversity of geophysical characters: rugged mountains, plateaus, mid-elevation hills, coastal beaches, and coral reefs.

Recently formed, sedimentary and coral limestone soils predominate, as well as volcanic rock. Active volcanoes (on Banks, Tanna, Lopevi and Ambryn islands), maintain incessant activity and are the cause of frequent earthquakes.


Between May and October, the trade winds temper the tropical oceanic climate of the archipelago. The rest of the year the winds vary, with sporadic hurricanes. In 1987, Vanuatu was devastated by the worst cyclone to hit the islands in their entire history. Annual rainfall ranges between 4,000 mm in the north and 2,000 mm in the south, while temperatures vary between 27 and 22 ° C, in Port Vila, in the center of the archipelago.


All the islands have abundant vegetation: tropical forests of tall trees and dense bushes with ferns and vines, as well as orchids in the high spaces. The southern islands, such as Erromango and Tanna, present a terrain of soft grasslands. Mangroves line the coastal strips of Malakula and Efaté.


Before the arrival of Europeans, the archipelago’s wildlife consisted of wild boars, bats and rats. There are various species of birds, such as parrots, pigeons and thrushes.


Ethnic groups

The country’s residents belong, for the most part, to the Melanesian ethnic group. Today, its population is made up of small communities of Europeans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Polynesians, and Micronesians. The official languages are Bislama (an Anglo-Melanesian dialect), English and French.


Christians predominate: 54.6% Protestant, 16.9% Catholic, 14.8% Anglican and 8.4% native Christian. Some residents practice traditional Polynesian cults, such as jonfrum, especially on the island of Tanna.


Vanuatu has high rates of birth and death, so that almost half of its population is under the age of fifteen. The archipelago’s population density is low. Efaté, Espiritu Santo, Tannay Malakula are the most populated islands. The vast majority of the residents live in rural areas.

There are only two cities in the country: Port Vila (the largest) and Luganville (or Santo), on the island of Espiritu Santo. In 1985, the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) accused the ruling Vanuaaku Party (VP) of not respecting the human rights of mestizos and of expatriating people without having committed any crime. In 1990, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Walter Lini, during a visit to Hong Kong, discussed the possibility of resettling a small number of Vietnamese refugees from that enclave in Vanuatu. See population of Vanuatu.

Economic development

In 1990 the agricultural sector contributed 20% of GDP. The main crops in the sector (export oriented) are coconuts, cocoa and coffee, sweet potatoes, cassava, breadfruit and vegetables for domestic consumption. The raising of cattle, pigs, goatsand poultry is also an important export product. The government has encouraged afforestation and some hardwood tree plantations already exist.

Fishing is one of the pillars of the national economy, given the considerable contribution of foreign companies for rights to fish in the archipelago’s waters.

The manufacturing industry is mainly concerned with the processing of agricultural products. The economy depends substantially on the services and commerce sector. Tourism, international banking, and ship registration (through the granting of “flags of convenience” to foreign fleets) are an important source of income for Vanuatu. In 1990, the main countries to which it was exported (copra, meat and frozen fish) were the Netherlands, France and Japan. That year, food, consumer goods, fuel, machinery and transport equipment were imported from Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

Vanuatu is a member of the South Pacific Commission and the South Pacific Forum. In 1990 there were 1,062 km of roads on the islands, 24% of which were paved. The main ports are those of Port Vila and Luganville. Bauerfield (Efaté) and Pekoa (Santo), have international airports.

Two cyclones devastated Vanuatu in 1985 and 1987, and seriously affected the economy, vulnerable since 1980 due to the decline in international prices of copra. The central planning system made a decisive contribution to the economic development that the archipelago experienced in the eighties, with strong incentives for agriculture (cocoa in the north, forestry and livestock in the central islands, and coffee in the south).

The tourism sector had, in 1984, eleven hotels (444 rooms) in Port Vila and Efaté del Sur. In 1989, a costly tourist campaign was carried out in Australia (the main market in the sector for Vanuatu). New hotels were also planned that year and air services were modernized to attract new visitors.

Social development


A network of services (state, but not free), made up of medical centers, clinics and dispensaries, serves the health needs of the residents of the islands. The best equipped hospitals are in Vila and Luganville. The most serious problem is malaria, which is widespread among the population. In 1983 the islands had eight hospitals and 32 health centers, where together 28 doctors worked.


Education in Vanuatu is state, paid and not compulsory. The languages ​​in which it is taught are mainly English and French. In 1986 there were 265 primary schools and 21 secondary schools operating in the country. Only one in five children attend the primary cycle. The capital has a vocational training school and a teacher’s college. Higher education is provided by the University of the South Pacific in Fiji (which has an extension center in Vanuatu) and the University of Papua New Guinea.


Two newspapers are published on the islands: the weekly Vanuatu Weekly, in Bislama, English and French, and the newspaper What’s doing in Vanuatu, tourist information in English.

In 1986 there were about 18,000 radio receivers in use. Radio Vanuatu, a state broadcaster, broadcasts in English, French and Bislama.

Other organizations

There are about 180 cooperative societies in the country, through which at least 85% of the distribution of goods is carried out. Almost all peasants belong to a cooperative society (generally family-oriented), as do many urban dwellers.

Its main labor organizations include the Vanuatu Congress of Trade Unions, which includes the Union of Oil and Gas Workers, the Union of Vanuatu Airline Workers, and the Union of Port, Maritime and Allied Workers.


Port Vila: It is the largest city in the country and is located in Melé Bay, on the southwest coast of the island of Efaté. A United States naval base during World War II, Port Vila is the main port and commercial center of the archipelago. Its French-style buildings are home to a diverse community of British, French, Vanuatuan and Vietnamese.

It has a cultural center, the Kawenu Teaching College, hospitals and a meat processing plant. A few kilometers away is Bauerfield, Vanuatu’s international airport.


  • Vanuatu’s accession to independence dates only from 1980. Previously, in 1979, general elections had been held in New Hebridesunder the supervision of the United Nations.

It was in July of 1980 to the Assembly granting powers to the government to gain independence, when the name of Vanuatu, an alternate form of the word vanuaaku, which bislama means “our land” was coined. Bislama is a Neomelanesian dialect that has now achieved the status of a national language.

  • In Vanuatu, coconut farming and fishing are essential. This is evident in his kitchen, where, for example, one of the usual dishes consists of fried fish tacos, which are served with coconut milk.

Vanuatu State Overview

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