Â Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation, is celebrating its Independence Day today.
Full Name Republic of Vanuatu
Capital City Port Vila (on the island of Efate)
Area 860,000 sq km, 332,046 sq miles
Population 200,000 +
Time Zone GMT/UTC +11 ()
Languages Bislama (official), French (official), English (official)
Religion Christian (84%), animist (16%)
Currency Vatu (VT)
Electricity 230V 50HzHz
Electric Plug Details Three Pin (Flat)
Country Dialing Code +678
The Republic of Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago is located some 1,750 km east of Australia, 500 km north-east of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and south of the Solomon Islands. It was named New Hebrides during its colonial period.
Vanuatu is only 2.5 hours flying time North East of Brisbane and 3.5 hours from Sydney, Australia. It’s a little over 2 hours from Auckland, New Zealand.
There are regular flights from New Zealand, Honiara, Australia, Noumea and Fiji.
Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, the oldest archaeological evidence found dating to 2000 BC. In 1605, the Portuguese explorer Pedro FernÃ¡ndez de QuirÃ³s became the first European to reach the islands, believing it to be part of Terra Australis. Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage, and gave them the name New Hebrides.
In 1887, the islands began to be administered by a French-British naval commission. In 1906, the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium on the New Hebrides.
During World War II, the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases. In the 1960s, the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980. It joined the UN in 1981, and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.
The parliament of Vanuatu is unicameral, and has 52 members; these are elected every four years by popular vote. The leader of the main party in the parliament is usually elected Prime Minister, and heads the government. The head of state, the President, is chosen every five years by the parliament and the presidents of the six provincial governments.
Since 1994, Vanuatu has been divided into the six provinces of Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba. The main Islands within these provinces include:
Banks and Torres (Torba), Espiritu Santo (Sanma), Maewo and Pentecost (Penama), Malekula, Ambrym (Malampa), Epi, Efate (Shefa), Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum (Tafea)
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands, of which two â€” Matthew and Hunter â€” are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia. Of all the 83 islands, 14 have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometers, from largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo (3956 km), Malakula (2041 km), Ã‰fatÃ© (900 km), Erromango (888 km), Ambrym (678 km), Tanna (555 km), PentecÃ´te (491 km), Ã‰pi (445 km), Ambae or Aoba (402 km), Vanua Lava (334 km), Santa Maria (328 km), MaÃ©wo (304 km), Malo (180 km) and Anatom or Aneityum (159 km).
Most of the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, and have a tropical or sub-tropical climate. The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, which is situated on Efate, and Luganville, on Espiritu Santo. The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879 m (6158 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo. There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Yasur on the island of Tanna, one of the worldâ€™s most accesible volcanoes, as well as several underwater ones.
Vanuatu is recognized as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rain forests. Vanuatu is part of the Australasia ecozone, which also includes neighboring New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, as well as Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
The economy is based primarily on subsistence or small-scale agriculture, which provides a living for 65% of the population. Fishing, offshore financial services, and tourism (with about 60,000 visitors in 2005), are other mainstays of the economy. Mineral deposits are negligible; the country has no known petroleum deposits. A small light industry sector caters to the local market. Tax revenues come mainly from import duties and a 12.5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services.
Vanuatu had a population of 205,754 (July 2005 estimate from the CIA World Factbook). Most of the population is rural, though Port Vila and Luganville have populations in the tens of thousands. Most of the inhabitants of Vanuatu (98.5%) are native Melanesian, or Ni-Vanuatu, with the remainder made up of a mix of Europeans, Asians and other Pacific islanders. A few of the islands are Polynesian outliers. About 2,000 Ni-Vanuatu live and work on New Caledonia.
Land, from the perspective of native New Hebrideans, was not something that could be owned. And therefore it could not be sold. It is held in trust by families, from one generation to the next, as has been the tradition for many since before Christ was born. One might give away, or sell the use of land, but not the land itself.
Europeans, however, take an entirely different viewpoint. By the mid 1960′s European settlers claimed ownership of almost 30% of the county’s land mass. There are places around Santo where more land was claimed than existed – unless one measured a fair distance underwater.
Settlers had, for the most part, cleared land to grow coconuts – copra being the mainstay of the economy for some time. But as the price of copra fell, planters began to look at alternatives. With the idea of expanding into cattle production, planters began clearing jungle adjoining their properties. This led to immediate protests in Santo and Malekula from local villagers who objected strongly to yet more of their ‘custom’ land being pilfered.
The objections grew and natural resentment that started at the end of W.W II sparked the formation of political parties. One the one hand were French backed parties such as the supposedly custom-oriented Nagriamel movement. Led by the colourful, Charismatic Jimmy Stevens, it claimed to protect Melanesian’s claim to traditional lands. On the other hand, in 1971 when Stevens petitioned the U.N. for early Independence of the archipelago, the Anglican Minister Father Walter Lini formed the Anglophone backed Vanua’aku Party.
As the country became more politicised, the (minority) Anglicans joined the Vanua’aku Party, but the (majority) French fragmentised. Many mixed race and educated Melanesian Francophones considered themselves more French than Melanesian and were adamantly opposed to the British declared aim of early Independance. Some wanted the Condominium to remain, whilst others simply wanted the British out and France to annex the country entirely. This division amongst the Francophones and the added confusion of Jimmy Stevens push for Santo autonomy (with Malekula and Tanna making similar overtures) was the stage upon which the first general election was set.
After enough wrangling and accusations to fill several books, in November 1979, Father Walter Lini’s Vanua’aku Party emerged the clear winner. But being the winner did not mean everyone agreed. It should be remembered that the archipelago is made up of over 80 islands and over 113 languages.It is one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth. Trying to govern it had given the Condominium more grief than it could have imagined. With virtually no preparation for Independence under the British/French rule, Father Walter Lini was not going to have an easy time of it.
The French are notoriously possessive about their colonies, but despite their objections, Independence was set for mid 1980. However in May of that year, just a few weeks prior to the end of Condominium rule, an insurrection on Tanna split the island in two. One faction supported the new government while the other supported the French. In Santo, Jimmy Stevens seized the opportunity to blockade the airport, run the police from their small station and declare Santo independent of the about to be born country of Vanuatu, and raised the flag of the independent country of Venerama.
If pandemonium was thought to exist during the Condominium, then it reigned sovereign for the next few weeks. France would not agree to British troops intervening and French troops did nothing. Jimmy Steven’s men were armed with only bows and arrows yet they held the about to be born country to ransom. Father Walter Lini was given virtually no support from the exiting colonial powers, except verbal sympathy and assurances that all would be taken care of. With Independence Day fast approaching, Lini was clearly at a political impasse. Officially he could do nothing because Vanuatu was not yet his to govern. However, he asked the politically and racially nuetral Papua New Guinea troops to step into what the world farcically began to call, the Coconut War.
There are many in depth political treaties and historical documents written on the Coconut War. Although it was not an amusing situation for an ill prepared country struggling with the pangs of birth, the events surrounding this ‘War’ are perhaps best understood in the light of recent colonial history and Melanesian culture. A short, witty and very readable account, by Sydney journalist Richard Speers titled the “The Coconut War” is available through Penguin books or from most libraries.
It was a strange war, of words and diplomatic double talk, bows and arrows and Francophone shrugs. It ended suddenly when Steven’s son was shot and killed as hesat in the rear of a utility that ran through a PNG troop roadblock. Following Steven’s statement that he had meant no-one to be harmed, he surrendered and was arrested. Documents came to light that clearly indicated the French administration had played a double game. Whilst officially backing Lini as the duly elected representative of the people of Vanuatu, they had secretly supported the secessionist citizens and Jimmy Stevens.
On midnight June 1980, the French and British flags were lowered for the last time, amidst tears and brave salutes and the flag of the Republic of Vanuatu was raised in celebration at the birth of a new nation, finally freed of the colonial yoke. The vast majority of French nationals left Vanuatu, who were compensated by their lost lands by the French Government, and land ownership reverted entirely to indigenous ni-Vanuatu.
Today, land is leased long term (60 years or so) to expatriates wishing to develop it. Those plantation owners who stayed found that little had really changed, for they were given first option on tland they already occupied, at very resonable prices. A residential block lease in Port Vila, for example, costs about A$60.00 per year. The economic gap left by the Colonial governments and French settlers was soon filled by other nationalities and new economic aveneues such as tourism. And perhaps most importantly, at least for the people of Vanuatu, they are now able to take pride in traditional cultures that had long been downtrodden by Colonial authority.