Culture and identity
The ni-Vanuatu, as the people are known, are predominantly Melanesian. Other groups include French, Chinese, Pacific Islanders and Vietnamese. The isolation of the islands and the mountainous terrain has led to the development of over 100 different indigenous languages and cultures. Bislama (Vanuatu pidgin) is the main language spoken across the various groups but English and French are also spoken.
There is a strong loyalty to kastom, which represents what ni-Vanuatu see as most valuable in society. Associated with birth, initiation, marriage and death is a regular cycle of celebrations and feasting. These events include hundreds of extended family members as relationships are traced back many generations.
Storytelling, songs and dances have long been important in Vanuatu because traditionally there was no written language. Art, in many forms, from body decorations and tattoos, to elaborate masks, hats and carvings, are also a vital part of ritual celebrations. Traditional musical instruments include pan pipes, conch shells and the tam-tam or slit-drum, an intricately carved log with a slice hollowed out from the centre in which the sound reverberates.
The World Heritage site Chief Roi Mata’s Domain recognises the important social reforms and methods of conflict resolution the chief made during his 17th century reign.
Government spending on health and health education has improved the use of mosquito nets to prevent malaria, and increased the rate of immunisation against disease. The infant mortality rate is 16 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is 72 years (men: 71 and women: 74). About 90% of the population has access to safe water and 57% has access to safe sanitation. Food shortages may occur after cyclones or other natural disasters. Imported processed foods are taking the place of traditional cuisine, causing health issues related to obesity and nutrient deficiencies for many townspeople.
Religion and beliefs
Traditional beliefs in spirits and demons are often held alongside Christian beliefs. Some places, names, knowledge, objects or practices may be considered taboo or sacred. Natural events are often considered the result of actions by individuals who may have offended certain spirits.
Food and shelter
The traditional diet consists of the root vegetables yams, manioc and taro. Taro, wild spinach and grated coconut are ground together to make the national dish, laplap. Pork, beef, fish, poultry, seafood or bush meat like flying fox may be added, and the mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and baked in an underground oven. Seasonal fruits such as breadfruit are also important and kava, made from the fermented root of a tuber plant, is the national drink. Increasing urbanisation is leading to changes in diet to include imported foods such as tinned fish and rice.
Villagers live in a variety of styles of traditional housing made from bamboo, grass and thatch, consisting of one or two rooms for sleeping. Cooking is done on outdoor fireplaces or in separate huts. Traditionally, men and initiated boys lived in nakamal, men’s house. Today families live together. Townspeople tend to live in western-style housing or informal self-built housing made of corrugated iron, wood, thatch, bamboo and plastic.