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Vanuatu (vänˌwäto͞oˈ), officially Republic of Vanuatu, independent republic (2015 est. pop. 265,000), c.5,700 sq mi (14,760 sq km), South Pacific, E of Australia. Vanuatu is a 450-mi (724-km) chain of 80 islands, of which the most important are Espíritu Santo (the largest), Efate, Malakula, Malo, Pentecost, and Tanna. South of Vanuatu and east of New Caledonia are the uninhabited Matthew and Hunter islands, which are claimed by both. The capital, Port Vila, is on Efate. Vanuatu's islands are forested and mountainous, formed by volcanic eruptions (and still subject to them). The highest peak (c.6,195 ft/1,890 m) is on Espiritu Santo.

People, Economy, and Government

The inhabitants are mainly Melanesians, with some Polynesians. There are more than 100 indigenous languages, but a local pidgin called Bislama or Bichelama is widely spoken. Bislama, English, and French are the official languages. The majority of the population is Christian, primarily Protestant.

The chief industries are copra production, cattle raising, and fishing, but the majority of the population depends on subsistence agriculture. Manganese was mined in the 1960s and 70s. Additional revenues derive from a growing tourist industry and the development of Vila as an offshore financial center. Copra, beef, cocoa, and timber are the main exports; machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, and fuels are imported. Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Poland are the main trading partners.

Vanuatu is governed under the constitution of 1980. The president, who is head of state, is indirectly elected for a five-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by Parliament from among its members. Members of the 52-seat Parliament are popularly elected to serve four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces. Vanuatu is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.


Vanuatu has been inhabited since at least 1000 B.C.; remains of the Lapita culture from that time have been excavated. Legends dating to the 15th cent. describe a huge explosion in the South Pacific; in 1993 a scientist suggested that the Vanuatan islands of Tongoa and Epi (since separated by the island of Kuwae) were created in 1453 when a larger island was split in two by an enormous volcanic explosion. The archipelago was visited in 1606 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Queiros, and in 1774 Capt. James Cook made the first systematic exploration of the islands, which became known as the New Hebrides.

English missionaries began arriving in the early 19th cent. With them came the “sandalwooders,” who, once the local sources of sandalwood ran out, began kidnapping natives for the sugar and cotton plantations in Queensland, Australia. British attempts to halt the decimation of the native population met success in 1887, when the islands were placed under an Anglo-French naval commission. The commission was replaced by a condominium in 1906. During World War II the islands served as bases for Allied forces in the Pacific theater.

In 1980 the New Hebrides became independent as Vanuatu, and a secession movement on Espiritu Santo was put down with aid from Papua New Guinea and Britain. A coalition government led by Prime Minister Maxime Carlot took office in 1991. Jean-Marie Léyé was elected president in 1994. Carlot's government lost power after the 1995 general elections, but the new coalition foundered, and Corlot again was prime minister from April to September in 1996, when Serge Vohor took office. After new elections in 1998, Donald Kalpokas became prime minister, but a no-confidence motion in 1999, led to his resignation, and Barak Sopé succeeded him. Also in 1999, John Bernard Bani was elected president. Edward Natapei replaced Sopé as prime minister in 2001.

Alfred Maseng became the country's fifth president in Apr., 2004, but he was removed from office the following month. After parliamentary elections in July, Serge Vohor became prime minister for a second time, and in August, Kalkot Mataskelekele was elected president. Vohor's government fell in Dec., 2004, after government ministers resigned over actions he had taken without consulting with them; Ham Lini succeeded him.

Elections in 2008 brought a new governing coalition, with Natapei again as prime minister, into office. In 2009, Iolu Johnson Abil was elected president. Natapei was ousted in no-confidence vote in Dec., 2010, and Sato Kilman succeeded him. Kilman was ousted four months later and Vohor replaced him, but in May, 2011, the no-confidence vote was declared unconstitutional and Kilman restored to office. In June, Kilman's election also was voided. Natapei became prime minister pending a new vote, in which Kilman was reelected. Kilman remained prime minister after the 2012 elections but resigned prior to a no-confidence vote in Mar., 2013. Moana Carcasses Kalosil succeeded Kilman but was replaced in May, 2014, by Joe Natuman after a no-confidence vote; Natuman was replaced by Kilman in June, 2015, after a no-confidence vote. In Sept., 2014, Baldwin Lonsdale was elected to succeed Abil as president

A tropical cyclone devastated much of the nation in Mar., 2015. A government crisis was provoked in late 2015 after the parliament speaker, as acting president, pardoned himself, Deputy Prime Minister Carcasses, and a dozen other members of parliament; they had been convicted of bribery. Lonsdale revoked the pardons, which were also overturned by the supreme court. The president also dissolved parliament and called a snap election, following which Charlot Salwai became (Feb., 2016) prime minister. After President Lonsdale died in June, 2017, Obed Moses Tallis was elected (July) to succeed him. Eruptions of the volcano on the island of Ambae in 2017 and 2018 led to the evacuation of Ambae's population. In Apr., 2020, the country again experienced widespread devastation from a tropical cyclone. Bob Loughman was elected prime minister in Apr., 2020, following parliamentary elections.

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Official name: Republic of Vanuatu

Capital city: Port-Vila (on Efate)

Internet country code: .vu

Flag description: Two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a black isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) all separated by a black-edged yellow stripe in the shape of a horizontal Y (the two points of the Y face the hoist side and enclose the triangle); centered in the tri­angle is a boar’s tusk encircling two crossed namele leaves, all in yellow

Geographical description: Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Australia

Total area: 4,707 sq. mi. (12,190 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; moderated by southeast trade winds from May to October; moderate rainfall from November to April; may be affected by cyclones from December to April

Nationality: noun: Ni-Vanuatu(s); adjective: Ni-Vanuatu

Population: 211,971 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Ni-Vanuatu 94%, European 4%, other Pacif­ic Islanders, Asian 2%

Languages spoken: local languages (more than 100) 72.6%, pidgin (known as Bislama or Bichelama) 23.1%, English 1.9%, French 1.4%, other 0.3%, unspecified 0.7%

Religions: Presbyterian 31.4%, Anglican 13.4%, Roman Catholic 13.1%, Seventh-Day Adventist 10.8%, other Christian 13.8%, indigenous beliefs 5.6% (including Jon Frum cargo cult), other 9.6%, none 1%, unspecified 1.3%

Legal Holidays:

Assumption DayAug 15
Children's DayJul 24
Christmas DayDec 25
Constitution DayOct 5
Custom Chiefs DayMar 6
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Family DayDec 26
Fr. Walter Lini DayFeb 21
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Independence DayJul 30
Labour DayMay 1
New Year's DayJan 1
Unity DayNov 29
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic comprising a group of islands in the W Pacific, W of Fiji: a condominium under Anglo-French joint rule from 1906; attained partial autonomy in 1978 and full independence in 1980 as a member of the Commonwealth. Its economy is based chiefly on copra. Official languages: Bislama; French; English. Religion: Christian majority. Currency: vatu. Capital: Vila (on Efate). Pop.: 217 000 (2004 est.). Area: about 14 760 sq. km (5700 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Shane Deitz, the chief executive officer of Vanuatu Cricket, welcomed McKay's appointment and said: "Having Clint McKay join our team is a massive positive for us going into such an important tournament.
Despite this, telecoms services have progressed significantly in recent years with a liberalised market; the existence of two prominent mobile operators including Amalgamated Telecom Holdings (operating as TVL) and Digicel Vanuatu; the launch of LTE services and introduction of a rural satellite broadband service by Kacific.
But China hit back quickly Tuesday, with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman dismissing the report that it was seeking to put a base on Vanuatu as "fake news." Vanuatu's government also said that there had been no such proposal.
"I would hope the upsurge in the paranoia about China in Australia is not used to destroy or denigrate the good relationship Vanuatu has with Australia."
According to Willie Luen, Principal Trade Development Officer at Vanuatu's Department of Tourism, to be competitive, many of the traders began to rely on more cheaply priced imports, which then depressed Vanuatu's own production.
Vanuatu's Meteorology and Geohazards Department said in an alert that villagers within 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) of the volcano face the biggest risk from airborne rocks and volcanic gas.
"People on Ambae rely on a subsistence lifestyle and so the big fear is not just the issue of displacement but the condition of crops and vegetation that people will go home to," said Georgia Tacey, Vanuatu country director at CASave the Children Australia.
Jersey and Vanuatu will meet in the final of the ICC WCL Division 5 tomorrow after semi-final wins on another action-packed day of cricket in South Africa.
The 6.9-magnitude quake struck 50 miles north of the town of Port Olry and 253 miles north of Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, according to the US Geological Survey.
During the election held at Vanuatu's unicameral 52-seat parliament, Salwai, a veteran MP and head of the Reunification of Movements for Change party, became the only candidate for prime minister, garnering votes of 46 of the 52 MPs, with five void votes and one abstention.
M2 EQUITYBITES-January 29, 2016-Boeing, Air Lease celebrate Air Vanuatu Next-Generation 737 delivery