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Page: Vanuatu Facts - Information about Vanuatu Islands, Bislama Language and Melanesia

Vanuatu Facts

Some facts about Vanuatu, its location, population and language

Originally named New Hebrides, Vanuatu is an island nation spread over 83 islands in South Pacific. The meaning of Vanuatu in the local, Bislama language is "raising land". The main administrative island is Efate island, home of Vanuatu capital Port Vila, the largest town in Vanuatu. The largest island is Espiritu Santo, mostly known as Santo island. Its centre Louganville is the largest town on the island and also the second largest town in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu was first sighted by Portuguese in 1606 and charted by Captain James Cook in 1774. It was under joint French and British control from 1906 until 1980, when it achieved independence. It is now known officially as the Republic of Vanuatu - or République de Vanuatu in French.

The latest DNA research suggests that the first people to arrive to Vanuatu islands were of Lapita culture some 3,000 years ago. They expanded from Taiwan 5-6 millenniums ago. Vanuatu was considered a gateway to the remote Pacific islands.


Vanuatu Paradise - video by Alcina Charlie, Vanuatu's local artist and performer, features beautiful images from Vanuatu - from Second Lagoon (Port Vila), Champagne Beach (Santo island), Port Vila and Sulphur Bays, to Mele Cascades, Blue Hole (Santo) and Eton Beach


Vanuatu archipelago is located in South Pacific, which is part of larger region of Melanesia. Melanesia itself is a sub-region of Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

The name 'Melanesia' comes from Greek, meaning "black islands". According to Wikipedia, '[t]he term was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.'

Today this perhaps racial classification is known to be inaccurate, as Melanesians have great cultural, linguistic, and genetic diversity. Ni-Vanuatu people belong to Melanesians group, similar in appearance to Papuans. There are over 100 Ni-Vanuatu tribes, each with their own culture and language. Estimates of the number of local languages spoken in Vanuatu vary between 105 and 115.

Vanuatu is a member of Commonwealth (ex-British colonies) and also member of UN (The United Nations) since 1981.


Vanuatu is part of the Melanesian region, to which also belong Papua New Guinea,
Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Caledonia, with Coral Sea in its centre.

Vanuatu Population

Vanuatu is inhabited by Melanesian people, sometime referred to as Ni-Vanuatu. The term 'Ni-Vanuatu' denotes all people who are members of Melanesian ethnicity, originating in Vanuatu. The word 'Vanuatu' comes from local language and means 'our land forever'.

The overall population of Vanuatu is around 220,000, of which over 30,000 live in Port Vila, on Efate island. About 10,000 people live in Louganville, on Santo island.

Vanuatu's population is largely indigenous Melanesian - around 94%. The rest of population are European, Pacific Islanders and Asian. Europeans are generally Australian and New Zealand living expats, who have relocated to Vanuatu.

Although Vanuatu cultures have rich tradition and practice many customs (kastom), the predominant religion in Vanuatu is Christianity, which was brought over by the missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest Christian group are Presbiteryans, with Roman Catholics and Anglicans also well represented.

Vanuatu Language

The national language is Bislama, local pidgin. According to Wikipedia, pidgin is a simplified form of language that develops as means of communication between two or more groups of people who do not share a common language. Since Vanuatu has over 100 local languages, pidgin English, or Bislama is used widely throughout Vanuatu islands.

But despite Bislama being Vanuatu's national language, both English and French are official languages and widely spoken in Vanuatu. Bislama combines Melanesian grammar with mostly English vocabulary, spoken and written in a simplified, phonetic format. The first Bislama dictionary was published only recently, in 1995, while the second edition was published in 2004, according to Wikipedia.

Examples of Bislama phrases illustrate the simplified format of this language:

finis - finished
mas - must
nomo - no more
neva - never
ol - all, many of them
olgeta - alltogether, all of them
sapos - suppose, if


Vanuatu islands archipelago is divided into 6 administrative provinces, as seen on the above map. (Map credit: Wikimedia)

Vanuatu Provinces

Administratively Vanuatu is divided into 6 provinces since 1994. Those provinces are:


Shefa is the main province, where Efate island is located, with the capital of Port Vila. The largest island Santo is in Sanma province, while the third largest Malakula island is in Malampa province, as is Ambrym island. Pentecost and Maewo islands, known by Vanuatu custom of land dive, are located in Penama province.

Banks and Torres islands are in the most northern province of Torba, while the most southern province of Tafea covers the well known islands of Tanna and Erromango, as well as Aneityum. Read more about Vanuatu islands.

University of the South Pacific

Port Vila is also one of the University of the South Pacific centres, housing the Emalus Campus, the university's law school. The University of the South Pacific (USP) is the international centre for teaching and research on Pacific culture and environment. The university is owned by the governments of twelve Pacific Islands countries, including Vanuatu.

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