The state of Vanuatu consists of 83 islands and is located west in the South Pacific. The bordering island states are Solomon Islands in the north, New Caledonia south, the Fiji Islands east, while Australia is the closest continent to the west. It is the home of bungee jumping in more than the literal way; the islands have experienced disasters and dreams interchangingly.
In many ways, Vanuatu can be considered a paradise. The islands are beautiful, they have both beaches and volcanoes, jungle and coral; and besides that they have comfortable tax laws for foreign investors. Tourism is big but not overwhelming. Agriculture is still a major industry, producing primarily copra, timber, beef, cocoa, and coffee.
The earliest known settlement of Vanuatu existed on Malo Island, where ancient pottery at least 4000 years old has been found. The people are thought to have come from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands by sea-going canoe. Tribes in the area fought fierce wars against each other, and yes, they seem to have sacrificed humans. They also held magnificent festivals for the gods, a practice which survives today with the Toka ritual dance at Tanna, and in the belief of many common people.
The first European to discover the islands was Pedro Fernandez de Quiros of Spain. In 1606 he spotted an island which he called La Australia del Espiritu Santo, nowadays shortened to Espiritu Santo. Anxious to found a New Jerusalem in the Pacific he tried to land, but was stopped by the natives. Another explorer who begat divine images when he came to the islands was Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who wrote that he had been 'transported to the garden of Eden'.
Captain James Cook showed more practical sense by chartering the islands, renaming them the New Hebrides, and claiming them for Great Britain. However, France too wanted dominion on the group, and after some negotiation, the two countries agreed in 1906 to make it a Condominium managed by both. This type of government was the only of its kind in the world.
The ni-Vanuatu can not have felt particularly lucky by this historical fact. Following new diseases and blackbirding (slavery in the Pacific), their population had dropped from an estimated 1,000,000 in 1800 to 45,000 in 1935. Their colonial masters did seldom cooperate well, and the Condomium was also known as the Pandemonium.
When islanders began to demand rights in the late 1960s, each of the occupying countries leaned on the other to support their inaction. An initial claim for rights to the 'dark bush', land still unsettled by Europeans, gradually grew to a political cry for independence. The Nagriamel movement, as it was called, gained thousands of followers, and finally appealed to the United Nations for help. In 1974 the Condomium was finally dragged into constitutional reform. With the end so near, the colonial government crumbled, while the islands experienced violence and looting. Complete independence, originally set for the mid-80s, was obtained in 1980.
The islands could not gain stability just by claiming it. In the 1990s there have been threats of a military coup, allegations of corruption, and frequent new elections. At about the same time, Vanuatu was also hit by an earthquake and following tidal wave, causing extensive damage.
Vanuatu is called one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. The majority of people are the indigenous Ni-Vanuatu, but there are also small communities of French, British, Australian, New Zealand, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Pacific Island peoples living there. At least 100 different languages are spoken in the islands, many of them indigenous, as the fractured terrain has kept the tribes separated. Their main language is Bislama, a creole.
The group forms a Y-shaped island chain. While some islands are uninhabited, the state has a total population of 189,000. The major islands, going southwards, are:
Torres islands, Banks islands (Motalava, Sola, Gaua), Espiritu Santo, Ambae, the Cyclades: Maewo, Pentecost, and Aoba, Malekula and Ambrym (home to some truly primitive/traditional tribes),
Epi, Efate (with capital Port Vila),
Erromango, Tanna, Aneityum
Like many other Pacific islanders, the Ni-Vanuatu has a long history of drinking kava, an intoxicating drink quite unlike any other. On Vanuatu it is known as kava kava, perhaps because of its potency compared to strains on other islands. Kava kava used to be the drink of priests and royals, and is still used to welcome honoured visitors. However, in modern times the use of the drug has become somewhat democratised, and now all layers of societies can drink it daily - but women are still banned from doing so in most places.
Right, I said something about bungee jumping? The land diving ritual takes place on Pentecost during April and May. With vines tied to their legs, men jump from towers constructed from bush materials. They are supposed to stop just short of the ground.
Yumi, Yumi, Yumi, Yumi i glat blong talem se,
Yumi, Yumi, Yumi i man blong Vanuatu!
(Vanuatu's national anthem, which is unfortunately no longer part of the database)