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20 Fascinating Facts About Vanuatu

20 Fascinating Facts About Vanuatu


1. It is believed the first inhabitants of Vanuatu were the Melanesian people of the Lapita culture, arriving around 1300BC.

2. Vanuatu is a country in Oceania made up of 83 islands, of which around 65 are inhabited.

Vanuatu island

3. The first Europeans to see Vanuatu believed they had discovered Australia. In 1606, Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós named an island Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo. Today the island is called Espiritu Santo.

4. In 1774, British explorer Captain Cook charted the islands and named them the New Hebrides.

5. In 1906 the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides was created. The dual administration was often farcical and was nicknamed ‘the Pandemonium’ as multiple systems were created including two police forces, two health services, two education systems, two currencies, and two prison systems.

6. During the Second World War, Vanuatu played an important role in the liberation of the Pacific islands occupied by Japan. Over 500,000 Allied soldiers passed through the islands and left behind huge quantities of equipment.

7. One of the most famous sites is the wreck of the SS President Coolidge. The ship was an American luxury ocean liner converted to a troopship. In 1942, the ship struck a mine and sunk off the coast of Espiritu Santo. Today it is regarded as one of the world’s most accessible wreck dives.

8. In 1980 the New Hebrides achieved independence and was renamed Vanuatu. 

9. In the late 19th century, Vanuatu was among several Pacific islands to suffer from ‘blackbirding’. Blackbirding was the kidnapping of people for use as forced labor on plantations in Fiji and Australia. The despicable practice ended around 1872 and led to several countries banning overseas-labor recruitment.

10. Prince Phillip – the husband of British Queen Elizabeth II – is worshipped by villagers of Yaohnanen on Tanna Island in Vanuatu. Followers of the Prince Philip Movement believe the Duke is the son of their ancestral mountain god.

11. In the 1930s, the ‘John Frum cargo cult’ emerged and is still observed in some places today. Devotees believed that goods owned by American and European visitors were actually meant for locals but had been intercepted by the newcomers. Followers believe John Frum will one day return and shower them with riches.

12. Some of the world’s most recent cases of cannibalism were reported in Vanuatu. Most anthropologists agree that Vanuatu’s last recorded case of cannibalism took place on the island of Malekulu in 1969.

13. Vanuatu is the country most at risk of experiencing natural disasters according to the 2020 World Risk Report, compiled by the United Nations.

14. In 2015, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful tropical storms ever recorded in the South Pacific. The cyclone caused widespread wreckage, killed 16 people, and left thousands homeless.

15. Bungee jumping was invented in Vanuatu. For centuries men on Pentecost Island in Vanuatu practiced nagol – land diving. In a ritual associated with the annual yam harvest, men dive from a wooden tower up to 30m high with only vines attached to their ankles.

16. Vanuatu is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes. According to the Volcanic Explosivity Index, a ranking of the largest volcanic explosions in recent geological history, Ambrym is currently joint-second.

Vanuatu Volcano

17. Vanuatu is also home to Mount Yasur, considered to be the world’s most accessible active volcano. It is possible for visitors to hike to the crater rim and peer into its cauldron.

18. Vanuatu is one of just 22 countries without a standing army.

19. ‘Basket blong titi’ is the word for a bikini in Bislama. Bislama, a Melanesian pidgin-English, is the national language in Vanuatu and one of over 100 dialects spoken.

20. The English word ‘taboo’ comes from Vanuatu. The Bislama word ‘tabu’ means sacred, forbidden, or no entry when written across a doorway. Failure to observe tabu can require the payment of pigs or even death.

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