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Vanuatu


Geography & Topography

Capital: Port Vila

Population: 245,619

Area: 12,190 km2

Language: Bislama, English and French

Religion: Christianity

Currency: Vanuatu Vatu

Ethnic Groups: Melanesian (98%), European, Asian, Pacific Islanders (1.5%)

 

History

The history of the republic of Vanuatu is still relatively vague. However, it is believed that these volcanic islands were first discovered by people who spoke Austronesian languages over 4000 years ago. When Europeans were out to discover new territories, Portuguese explorer Fernando de Quieros working for the Spanish crown arrived on the island in 1606 and called it “the southern land of the holy spirit”, he thought he had discovered Australia.

Europeans did not return until 1768, and a few years later Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides.  After decades of settlement, lots of locals were sent to the surrounding islands in need of laborers which is believed to be the cause of the reduced population today.

The independence from the British – French Condominium did not happen until July 1980, date of the creation of the Republic of Vanuatu.

Performing Arts

 

Music

Traditional music knows great popularity in the rural areas of Vanuatu. It includes all kinds of styles that vary according to the region. The inhabitants mainly play on idiophones, which are a type of non-drum percussion instrument. Other instruments used include tam-tam drums, panpipes, rattles and slit gongs, a large and typical Vanuatu percussion instrument used to accompany various dances and sometimes rituals.

String band music is also very common on the islands; usually it consists in guitars and ukuleles.

 

 

 

The most recognizable instrument in traditional Vanuatu  music is:

 

 

Slit gong: A slit gong is a percussion instrument part of the

idiophone family. It is carved from a certain type

of wood or bamboo into a box with one or more

slits in the top.

 In Vanuatu, the slit gongs are cut out of a large log

which gives it the appearance of a totem pole.

 

 

Dance

Examples of traditional Vanuatu dances are:

Dances in Vanuatu are usually performed in order to celebrate key events such as births, deaths, initiation, marriage and harvests. These “kastom dances” are held in sacred areas called “nasara” and vary according to the region and tribe who each have their unique gestures and movements.

The great majority of these events are held secretly and are usually forbidden to foreigners and women. Different dances from north to south include the Sea snake dance, mask dances in the central Malekula Central region and  Rom dances in Ambrym . Every four to five years there is the Toka Festival in the southern region, which is also famous for the John Frum dances.

Sea snake dances: The sea snake dances are most commonly performed in the northern islands of Vanuatu especially in Mota Lava and Valua Lava. The dances seem to be a humorous rite celebrating both fertility and puberty where performers dress up and paint their bodies so as to look like the sea snakes swimming in the surrounding ocean waters.

 

Some interesting facts:  

  • Vanuatu is an archipelago, consisting in more than 80 islands in southern pacific ocean.
  • In Vanuatu, pigs, particularly those with big round tusks are considered as a symbol of wealth; a boars’ tusk is even represented on the Vanuatu flag.
  • The traditional drink in Vanuatu is called “Kava” a beverage consumed in local clubhouses called “Nakamals”.
  • Vanuatu is the most linguistically diverse country in the world: there are only 240.000 inhabitants and yet there are more than a 100 languages spoken meaning that there is one language for approximately every 2000 people.
  • Every year around April and May, the young men of the southern part of the Pentecost island perform the land diving ritual which consists in jumping of a 20 to 30 meter wooden tower with lianas tied around their ankles to ensure  a bountiful yam harvest. This activity is said to be the precursor of Bungee Jumping.

 

Vanuatu Community in Australia:

 

More information on the Malaysian community: