U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Vanuatu, June 1996
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Prepared and released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
Office of Pacific Island Affairs

June 1996
Official Name: Republic of Vanuatu



Area: Land--12,200 sq. km. (4,707 sq. mi.), includes more than 80 
islands. Comparative area-- about the size of Connecticut.
Cities: Capital--Port Vila (on the island of Efate), pop. 30,000 (1993). 
Other towns--Luganville (on the island of Espiritu Santo, also known 
as Santo).
Terrain: Mostly mountains of volcanic origin, narrow coastal plains.
Climate: Tropical.


Nationality: Noun and adjective: ni-Vanuatu.
Population (1995 est.): About 168,400.
Annual growth rate (1995 est.): 2.7%.
Ethnic groups: 94% ni-Vanuatu; 4% European; 2% other Pacific 
Islanders, Asian
Religion: Predominantly Christian.
Languages: Bislama (Pidgin), English, French, over 100 tribal 
Education: Years compulsory--6 primary; enrollment in primary is 
94% with rapid fall-off to less than 20% in secondary and upper 
secondary. Adult Literacy Rate (1991): 70%
Health: Infant mortality rate (1994)--69/1,000. Life expectancy (1994)-
-64 yrs.
Work force (66,290, 1989): Agriculture--75% 
Manufacturing--1.3%  Construction--2%  Trade, Restaurants, Hotels--
4.1%  Transport and Communication--1.6%  Financial Services--1%  
Community, Social and Personal Services--11.9%


Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: July 30, 1980.
Constitution: July 30,1980.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister. .(head 
of government). Legislative--unicameral (50-member parliament). 
Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 6 administrative districts.
Political parties: Vanua'aku Pati, Union of Moderate Parties, 
.Melanesian Progressive Party, National United Party, People's 
Democratic Party, Tan Union Party, Nagriamel Party, Friend 
Melanesian Party.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
National holiday: July 30
Flag: A yellow Y with a black border horizontally divides the flag into 
three parts. The open end is closest to the staff. Above this division is 
red, below is forest green. The triangle remaining is black with a 
yellow pig tusk curved around crossed palm fronds.


GDP (1993): $199 million.
Per capita income (1993): $1,243.
Real growth rate (1993): 3.8%.
Avg. inflation rate (1993): 5.4%.
Natural resources: Forests, agricultural land, marine resources.
Agriculture: Products--copra, cocoa, coffee, cattle, timber.
Industry: Types--copra production, beef processing, sawmilling,  
tourism, financial services.
Trade (1994): Exports--$20.7 million: copra 37%, beef and veal 19%, 
cocoa 9%, shells 4%, timber 13%, other 18%. Major markets--EEC 
33%, Japan 24%, Bangladesh 16%, Australia 8%, New Caledonia 6%, 
South Korea 3%. Imports--$85.1 million: machines and transport 
equipment 31%, food and animals 16%,
basic manufactures 20%, misc. manufactured goods 12%, mineral fuels 
7%, chemicals 7%, other 7%. Major suppliers--Australia 38%, New 
Zealand 13%, Japan 10%, France 7%, New Caledonia 6%,
Hong Kong 6%, Fiji 5%.
Official exchange rate (Sep. 1995): 115 vatu=US $1.
Economic aid received (1994): $ 12.9 million (bilateral $9.7 million, 
multilateral $3.2 million)

Membership in International Organizations

UN and its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank  
and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); South Pacific 
Commission; South Pacific Forum; Non-Aligned Movement; 
Commonwealth, Group of 77; Asian Development Bank (ADB).


Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago that comprises 80 islands. It is 
located 2,172 kilometers (1,303 mi.) northeast of Sydney and 5,750 
kilometers (3,450 mi.) southwest of Honolulu. Fiji lies to the east, New 
Caledonia to the south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest, all  
within the area of the South Pacific called Melanesia.

The two largest islands, Espiritu Santo (or Santo) and Malakula, 
account for nearly one-half of the total land area. They are volcanic, 
with sharp mountain peaks, plateaus, and lowlands. The last volcanic 
eruption was in 1945. The larger islands of the remaining half also are 
volcanic but are overlaid with limestone formations; the smaller ones 
are coral and limestone. Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimeters (94 
in.) per year but can be as high as 4,000 millimeters (160 in.) in the 
northern islands.


The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous Melanesian. About 
30,000 live in the capital, Port Vila. Another 9,600 live in Luganville 
(or Santo Town) on Espiritu Santo. The remainder live in rural areas. 
Approximately 2,000 ni-Vanuatu live and work in New Caledonia. 
Although local pidgin, called Bislama, is the national language, English 
and French also are official languages. Indigenous Melanesians speak 
105 local languages.

Christianity has had a profound influence on ni-Vanuatu society, and 
an estimated 87% of the population is affiliated with a Christian 
denomination. The majority is Protestant; the Anglican Church, the 
Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, and the Seventh-day 
Adventist Church all have numerous adherents.


The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports 
the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian 
languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Potsherds 
have been found dating back to 1300-1100 B.C.

The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was 
Espiritu Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandez 
De Quiros, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans 
did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville 
rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the 
New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.

In 1825, trader Peter Dillon's discovery of sandalwood on the island of 
Erromango began a rush that ended in 1830 after a clash between 
immigrant Polynesian workers and indigenous Melanesians. During the 
1860's, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa 
Islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labor 
trade called "blackbirding."  At the height of the labor trade, more than 
one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked 

It was at this time that missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant 
arrived on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to 
establish cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, 
they switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, 
coconuts. Initially, British subjects from Australia made up the 
majority, but the establishment of the Caledonian Company of the New 
Hebrides in 1882 soon tipped the balance in favor of French subjects. 
By the turn of the century, the French outnumbered the British two to 

The jumbling of French and British interests in the Islands brought 
petitions for one or another of the two powers to annex the territory. In 
1906, however, France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer 
the islands jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a 
unique form of government, with separate governmental systems that 
came together only in a joint court. Melanesians were barred from 
acquiring the citizenship of either power.

Challenges to this form of Government began in the early 1940s. The 
arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal 
demeanor and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of 
nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figure 
named John Frum was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a 
movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) 
promising Melanesian deliverance.

The first political party was established in the early 1970s and 
originally was called the New Hebrides National Party. One of the 
founders was Father Walter Lini, who later became Prime Minister. 
Renamed the Vanua'aku Pati in 1974, the party pushed for 
independence; in 1980, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.


The Constitution created a republican political system headed by a 
president who has ceremonial powers only. Elected by a two-thirds 
majority in an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament 
and the presidents of Regional Councils; the President serves a five-
year term. The President may be removed by the electoral college for 
gross misconduct or incapacity. The head of Government is the prime 
minister, who is elected by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of 
the Parliament. The Prime Minister in turn appoints the Council of 
Ministers, whose number may not exceed one-fourth of the number of 
parliamentary representatives. The Prime Minister and the Council of 
Ministers constitute the executive government.

Parliament is a 50-member unicameral house elected by all persons 
over 18 years old. Parliament normally sits for a four-year term unless 
dissolved by majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or a directive 
from the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The National 
Council of Chiefs, called the Malvatu Mauri and elected by district 
councils of chiefs, advises the government on all matters concerning 
ni-Vanuatu culture and language.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other 
judges. Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of 
Appeal. Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters. The legal 
system is based on British law. The constitution also provides for the 
establishment of village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal 
with questions of customary law.

Principal Government Officials

President--Jean Marie Leye Lenelcau Manatawai
Prime Minister--Maxime Carlot Korman
Deputy Prime Minister--Donal Kalpokas

Vanuatu does not have an embassy in Washington. Its Mission to
the United Nations is located at 866 U.N. Plaza, 4th Floor,
Room 41, First Avenue and 48th Street, New York, NY 10017. 
Vanuatu Maritime Services, which provides information on ship
registration in Vanuatu, is located at 120 Broadway, Suite
1743, New York, NY 10271.


Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic--
French and English--lines. Historically English-speaking politicians 
such as Walter Lini, Donald Kalpokas and other leaders of the 
Vanua'aku Pati favored early independence, whereas French-speaking 
political leaders favored continuing association with the colonial 
administrators, particularly France.

One the eve of independence in 1980, Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel, in 
alliance with private French interests, declared the island of Espiritu 
Santo independent of the new government. After negotiations failed, 
the U.K. and French colonial authorities dispatched a small joint 
military force which proved ineffective. Following independence, 
Vanuatu requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces, 
transported by Australian military aircraft, restored order on Santo. 
From then until late 1991, the Vanua'aku Pati (VP) and its 
predominantly English-speaking leadership controlled the Vanuatu 
Government, although an internal power struggle resulted in Donald 
Kalpokas taking over as Prime Minister from Walter Lini in 1991.

In December 1991, Maxime Carlot Korman, leader of the Francophone 
Union of Moderate Parties, was elected Vanuatu's first Francophone 
prime minister. He formed a coalition government with Walter Lini's 
breakaway VP faction, now named National United Party (NUP). 
Carlot Korman survived an opposition vote of no confidence in 
December 1993.

A major issue then, as now, is sustainable forestry. Carlot Korman 
suspended all licenses held by logging companies on the islands of 
Erromango and Santo. His government intended to renegotiate some 
licenses and cancel others as part of a strategy to limit the 
unsustainable logging of Vanuatu's forests. In 1993 and continuing into 
1994, Carlot Korman's government was hit by a strike of public-sector 
employees, later supported by the Teachers Union. Many strikers lost 
their jobs. Few qualified replacements were found. Parliament 
instituted a program of "decentralization" in 1994 to improve the 
delivery of services to remote areas. The program restructured the 
previous eleven administrative districts into six districts.

Following parliamentary elections on November 30, 1995, Carlot 
Korman was succeeded by Serge Vohor, a dissident UMP leader who 
formed a coalition with Lini's NUP. Vohor subsequently resigned and 
Carlot Korman won the prime ministership back in a February 1996 
parliamentary vote with the support of MP's from his faction of the 
UMP and the Anglophone Unity Front (UF). The UF is a coalition of 
the VP and several smaller Anglophone parties headed by Donald 
Kalpokas, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

Government control over most media and occasionally strong pressures 
on the one independent newspaper, together with discrimination and 
violence against women, remain the major human rights problems.


Vanuatu's economy is primarily agricultural; 80% of the population is 
engaged in agricultural activities that range from subsistence farming 
to smallholder farming of coconuts and other cash crops. Copra is by 
far the most important cash crop (making up over 35% of the country's 
exports), followed by timber, beef, and cocoa. In addition, the 
government has maintained Vanuatu's pre-independence status as a tax 
haven and international financial center. About 2,300 registered 
institutions offer a wide range of offshore banking, investment, legal, 
accounting, and insurance and trust-company services. Vanuatu has 
also opened an international shipping register in New York City.

Although the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 1% in 1987 
due to the effects of a cyclone, the economy grew about 5% a year in 
1989-91. A series of cyclones in early 1992 adversely affected export 
crops and tourism, and growth in 1992 was negligible. Another cyclone 
in early 1993 caused a further setback, but improved agriculture 
production later in the year, together with better export performance 
(primarily beef) and increased tourist arrivals, resulted in growth of 
almost 4% for the year. Copra, cocoa and beef account for over 60% of 
Vanuatu's total exports by value and agriculture accounts for 
approximately 20% of GDP. Manufacturing is Vanuatu's fastest-
growing sector, having more than doubled from 3% to 7.3% of GDP 
between 1983 and 1990. Tourism is the most important source of 
foreign exchange of Vanuatu and expanded to contribute 25% of GDP 
as recently as 1990. That contribution declined to 16-17% in 1992-93. 
Government consumption accounted for about 26% of GDP in 1990 
and forestry for 1%.

Vanuatu is a small country, with few commodities produced for export. 
The result is a chronic trade deficit. Seventy-five percent of its exports 
are agricultural. In 1994, imports exceeded exports by a ration of over 
4 to 1. In order of value, the leading exports in 1994 were copra, beef 
and veal, cocoa, timber and shells.

Vanuatu's largest export is copra, which had an export value of more 
than $7 million in 1994. Copra is a volatile commodity with widely 
fluctuating prices. Moreover, Vanuatu's copra is of poor quality. The 
government has attempted to diversify the economy. However, the 
value of exported copra continues to exceed the sum of the two next 
most important export commodities, beef and timber.

Vanuatu claims an exclusive economic zone of 680,000 square 
kilometers and possesses substantial marine resources. Currently only a 
limited number of ni-Vanuatu are involved in fishing, while foreign 
fleets exploit this potential.


Vanuatu is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. The government 
simultaneously established diplomatic relations with the United States 
and the former Soviet Union in July 1986.

Vanuatu maintains relations with more than 65 countries, including 
Russia, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and Vietnam. However, 
only Australia, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, the 
People's Republic of China, and the European Community maintain 
embassies, high commissions, or missions in Port Vila.

The government's main concern has been to bolster the economy. In 
keeping with its need for financial assistance, Vanuatu has joined the 
Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary 
Fund, and the Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique.

The government encourages private enterprise, foreign investment, and 
producer cooperatives. Like other developing countries, Vanuatu is 
particularly interested in enterprises that add value to local primary 
products and that provide employment. In less lucrative sectors, the 
government sets up its own production companies or enters joint 
ventures with foreign investors.

Since 1980, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand 
have provided the bulk of Vanuatu's development aid. A number of 
other countries, including Japan, Canada, Germany, and various 
multilateral organizations, such as the Economic and Social Council for 
Asia and the Pacific, the U.N. Development Program, the Asian 
Development Bank, the European Economic Community, and the 
Commonwealth Development Corporation also provide developmental 
aid. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United 
Kingdom, and Japan also send volunteers.

Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural ties to Australia, New 
Zealand, the United Kingdom, and France. Australia has provided the 
bulk of Vanuatu's military assistance, training its paramilitary Mobile 
Force and also providing patrol boats to patrol Vanuatu's waters.


The United States and Vanuatu established diplomatic relations in 

Between 1977 and 1987, Vanuatu received just under $3 million from 
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 
including projects focusing on assisting the transition to indigenous 
plantation management. In June 1994, the regional USAID office 
located in Suva, Fiji was closed due to U.S. government budgetary 
cutbacks. However, the United States remains a major financial 
contributor to international and regional organizations that assist 
Vanuatu, including the World Bank, UNICEF, WHO and the U.N. 
Fund for Population Activities.

In 1989, the United States concluded a Peace Corps agreement with 
Vanuatu. The Peace Corps has met with a warm welcome there and 
currently has about 20 volunteers in-country. Units of the United States 
Army first participated in training exercises with the Vanuatu Mobile 
Force in September 1994 on the island of Efate and the two nations 
now hold annual bilateral military exercises.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--currently vacant (resident in Port Moresby, Papua New 

The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea is P.O. 
Box 1492, Port Moresby (Tel: 675-321-1455; fax: 675-321-3423).


Customs: Passports are required, but visas are not required for stays up 
to 30 days. Inquire at the British Embassy or nearest consulate for 
special requirements.

Climate and clothing: Lightweight casual clothing is worn year round. 
Cyclone season is January through April.

Telecommunications: There are two AM radio stations and 3,000 
telephones. There is one satellite ground station--Pacific Ocean 
Intelsaat. Vanuatu is 11 hours ahead of Greenwich mean time (12  
during daylight savings time).

Transportation: Vanuatu has 1,027 kilometers (616 mi.) of highways 
and three minor ports (Port Vila, Luganville, Palikoulo). Visitors 
sailing to any of the islands must obtain permission in Port Vila. There 
are flights scheduled from New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, 
Solomon Islands and Singapore. Timetables change frequently; check 
with a travel agent for the most current flights.


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material 
published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse 
unofficial publications.

Beasant, John. The Santo Rebellion: An Imperial Reckoning. 
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.
Oceania, A Regional Study. Washington, D.C.: The American 
University, 1984. 2d ed.
Trumbull, Robert. Tin Roofs and Palm Trees. Canberra: Australian 
National University Press, 1977.
Worsley Peter. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of 'Cargo' Cults in 
Melanesia. 1968.


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