Vanuatu, An Island That is Much More Than Just a Survivor Locale

Vanuatu, An Island That is Much More Than Just a Survivor Locale

Although most Americans have heard the name of Vanuatu only because it was a setting for the popular television show "Survivor" back in 2004, there is much more to the exotic island that just its sheer beauty. This chain of lush volcanic islands in Oceania has a rich and colorful history and so much more than just being a reality show location.
Vacayholics Staff
Last Updated: Dec 9, 2017
By Linda Orlando

Vanuatu is a "Y"-shaped chain of 83 islands in the southwest Pacific, that most Americans had never heard of until it became the locale for one of the most popular reality shows in the United States. The name Vanuatu means "Land Eternal," and the indigenous people of the islands are predominantly Melanesian. The Ni-Vanuatu, as the people are known, have populated these islands for centuries. A gentle, peaceful race of people, the Ni-Vanuatu have more than 115 distinctly different cultures and languages that are all still thriving. In fact, the Republic of Vanuatu is recognized globally as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with small communities of French, British, Australian, Vietnamese, Chinese, New Zealanders, and other Pacific islands living in harmony with the Ni-Vanuatu.. The islands are also diverse in topography, ranging from towering volcanic cones to islands covered in tropical rainforest, and others created from raised coral beds, with wide beaches and deep-water harbors. All are surrounded by the sea that is still clean and abundant with sea life. Some of the inhabited islands, such as Malekula and Ambrym, are populated by some of the last truly primitive people in places that are not easily accessible by the outside world. The people of Vanuatu enjoy life's simpler pleasures, with their main industry being agriculture such as cattle, cocoa, and coffee. The Ni-Vanuatu in remote areas still rely on traditional subsistence farming by clearing large patches of bush or jungle to grow their own food. Both the climate and arable soils contribute to an excellent setting for the development of land and livestock husbandry. Most of Vanuatu's islands are lightly populated lush preserves of forest, and some have active volcanoes.

Vanuatu is now one of the most attractive and competitive financial centers in the world for investors, but this status has only developed since the 1993 introduction of the International Companies Act. For centuries the islands enjoyed a quiet existence rooted deeply in a rich, unique history that was centuries in the making. According to history, the first settlers are believed to have arrived in Vanuatu about 3,500 years ago, traveling across the sea in canoes from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The first European to discover the islands thought he had discovered the great southern continent. Captain Pedro Ferdinand De Quiros, a Spanish explorer, first came ashore on one of the islands in 1605. He named the island "Tierra Australis del Espiritu Santo," and the island he landed on still bears the name Espiritu Santo. The next European to arrive in Vanuatu was the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who brought his ship ashore on the islands of Aoba, Pentecost, and Maewo. He named the islands the "Cyclades," after the Greek Islands of the same name, and gave his own name to the strait running between the islands. In 1774, Captain James Cook sailed through the chain from north to south, charting and naming many of the islands he passed along the way. Cook was the explorer who named the archipelago the New Hebrides, after the islands of Scotland. The chain of islands was known by this name until it claimed its independence in 1980.

After Cook's voyage identifying all the islands, other French explorers arrived, and by 1895 the islands were being settled by French and English subjects. In 1902, both France and England appointed Resident Commissioners to govern the chain, and in 1906, the two countries signed a historically unique agreement that in essence joined their various claims to the island nation. The country was thereafter called a Condominium. This perhaps was the only one of its kind in the world, which was governed by the joint management of both England and France. The population slowly grew as settlers and visitors expanded their activities into trading sandalwood and blackbirding, but through imported diseases brought to the country by missionaries and traders, the population dropped from almost a million in 1800 to only 45,000 in 1935. During World War II, the American Army was stationed in Espiritu Santo, where they erected many buildings, some still in use today, and several airfields. James A Michener, then a lieutenant in army, was stationed in Santo and was so captivated by the island and the cloud-shrouded volcanic island across the sea from it that it was here he wrote the legendary Pulitzer prize winning book, Tales of the South Pacific, the inspiration behind the musical 'South Pacific'.

The Condominium arrangement between Britain and France ceased in 1978, and elections were held the following year. The nation became independent on July 30, 1980, and Vanuatu joined the United Nations on September 15, 1981. Since that time, the country has slowly emerged as an international player in the financial and business world, with the steadily growing tourism industry forever ending its charm. But the sublime nature of the islands and the Ni-Vanuatu people is still evident in the outlying islands that are not as active as the main islands of Espiritu Santo, Malekula Pentecost & Ambrym combined, Efate and Tanna. On the more than 80 other islands remaining in the archipelago, no visitor accommodations or services have been established. Although visits to those islands are not forbidden, the residents there still live the traditional lifestyle that has existed for centuries, and they want to change only at their own pace.