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Culture…

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a group of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia and west of Fiji.  Of these, there are thirteen major islands and nine active volcanoes.

British and French settled the islands in the 19th century, they agreed in 1906 to administer the islands jointly, called the British-French Condominium, which lasted until independence in 1980.

Vanuatu is recognized as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Besides the Ni-Vanuatu people there are small communities of French, British, Australian, New Zealand, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Pacific Island people.

With a population of approximately 221,000 (from the Vanuatu Statistics Bureau 2006), Vanuatu boasts 113 distinct languages and countless dialects making it one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth. This amazing diversity is a result of 3,000 years of sporadic immigration from many Pacific countries.

With no written language, story telling, songs and dances are of paramount importance.  Art, in its many forms, from body decorations and tattoos, to elaborate masks, hats and carvings are also a vital part of ritual celebrations and the social life villages. Similar to Australian Aboriginal stories of the dreamtime, and Maori legends of the past, Ni-Vanuatu culture is also abundant in mythic legends.  Natural formations, the presence and causes of volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters, are all imbibed with legends of significant cultural importance.

Staple foods are mostly root crops;  yam, taro and manioc.  Seasonal fruits like breadfruit are important mainstays. In most areas a portion of the jungle is simply cleared to plant crops. However in places where there is plenty of water, taro is grown in complex terraces hand built from earth and rocks.  Pigs are a mainstay of the economy not just as food but as a form of money and prestige.

Although Kava is not a food crop, it is a significant part of Vanuatu cultural society.  Kava is a derivative of the pepper tree family. Traditionally it is cut and chewed into a pulp, then spat into a bowl. The mushy pulp is squeezed and the liquid is drunk. On some islands, both men and women may drink kava as an evening soporific after a hard days work.

Since the arrival of Europeans, a lingua franca evolved.  Its name, Bislama, derived from the Bech-der-mer (sea cucumber) traders. Essentially a phonetic form of English, with much simplified grammar, if it is listened to closely and spoken slowly, it can be understood by most English speaking people.