Vanuatu Flag

Vanuatu FAQs

If you have a question about Vanuatu which is not answered here, please mail me and I will try to answer it. It's most unlikely that I will post the answer here, however. The answers are now being posted at LiveJournal. Most of the questions and answers on this page and at LiveJournal started life as private email. That's why you might find repetition, deviation and hesitation in some of the answers.

I am after some info on the Land Dives in Vanuatu.

The naghol or the Pentecost Jump or the land-diving takes place in the south of the island of Pentecost in Vanuatu.
A tower made of local timbers lashed together by vines is made and the male divers will climb up to differing levels on the tower according to their age and status. Boys as young as (perhaps) 8 will jump from height of 3 to 5 metres but the diver who jumps from the top will be perhaps 15 or 20 metres high (all measurements approximate!)
The jumpers are protected from injury only by vines which are tied to their ankles and which will break their fall, some of the shock of which is also absorbed by the wood breaking from their diving platform as they dive.
The ritual is to commemorate the wife of Tamalie who jumped off a tower protected by vines in this way. Her vine ropes broke the fall; he followed but wasn't so lucky...
In real life, there has been only one fatality recorded: this was years ago when the divers presented a special show at the wrong time of the year as a show for the Queen. Some say it was because the gods were angry at the diving taking place at the wrong time, others that the vines extended by a different amount to usual because it was a different season so their centuries of expertise did not help them.
You cannot dive: only the men of South Pentecost are allowed, but you can visit, though it's not cheap: as well as the air or ship fare you will have to pay a custom fee to watch, with a higher fee if you take a camera and a mind-boggling fee for a video-camera.
Whether A J Hackett's bungee is based on naghol or not is a point about which there has been much debate.
We were privileged to visit the site in 1993, you can read a little of our trip here.
Stan Combs' site also contains information about the land diving, based on his wife's visit there.

Can I buy everything I need in Vanuatu?

In Vanuatu, almost everything you could want to buy is available, but at a price. This is only really true in and around Port Vila. However, there are shortages of things, even those you might consider essential, from time to time. In the outer islands, (which means everywhere except Efate and Santo town, Luganville) you will not find much but trade stores (generally Chinese owned) and co-operative stores (generally locally owned) which sell predominantly essential items such as rice, tinned fish, dried milk, kerosene and so forth.
One of the things you might consider purchasing on or before arrival in the outer islands is a bush-knife (machete) if you are going to be needing to clear any rough country. A bush knife is generally a tool, not a weapon.
In Vila, almost everything you can buy will be expensive because it is likely to be imported. Ignoring the economic pros and cons, the fact is that there is no income tax in Vanautu and almost all Government revenue comes from inport duties, which will be passed onto you in the retail price.
Clothing does not seem to be so widely available: you will not see too much for sale around Vanuatu except for light t-shirts (which you will find everywhere). Things such as toilet paper are fairly well available even at the trade stores, so far as I can tell, but the most striking lack I found was that there is not much underwear for sale, which you might consider while planning.

How is the weather in Vanuatu?

Vanuatu is extremely hot and humid, especially between about November and February, and you will want to take it very easy during this period, especially if this is when you are arriving in the country. The weather in Vanuatu is always hot and humid, but more so at these times. There is also a risk of tropical cyclones, of which you can expect about one each year.
Take all cyclone warnings seriously. Until you have lived through a cyclone, you will not understand what risks there are to ignoring such a warning. You can read the precautions to take in the local telephone book.

Is there a problem with malaria?

Yes. I think that malarial prophylaxis is one of the most controversial topics among the expatriate community. Some say that the anti-malarial treatment, carried on over a long period of time could be more harmful than the disease itself. On the other hand, malaria can be fatal, often quickly. In Vanuatu, even with hospitals in the country, you can never be guaranteed the same level of health service you would expect from any hospital in the rich world. If you are travelling, seek advice widely. Do not underestimate the risk of malaria. Do not say that you can avoid it by not going out from dusk to dawn. If you go down with a fever, assume that it IS malaria and treat it accordingly. If you return from Vanuatu (or any other malarial area) and suffer any fever, assume that is malaria too. Don't accept no for an answer from your home country medical practitioners - insist on a malaria test.
Consult qualified medical experts for more information on this subject. I am not qualified in any way at all so far as medicine is concerned.

What languages are spoken in Vanuatu?

The three main languages are English, French and Bislama. As well as these, over a hundred local languages are spoken in Vanuatu.
You MUST learn to speak Bislama (Vanuatu pidgin) as soon as you arrive. Bislama is a real language, with its own grammar and vocabulary and is not (as some may try to tell you) a crippled form of English, any more than English is a crippled form of Latin!

What is Vanuatu's political stance? What issues are important?

Vanuatu was one of the first to join the non-aligned movement, so that trade blocs are a significant issue there. However, Vanuatu has a very small economy and will generally trade with anybody. Vanuatu will always have a balance of trade deficit, hopefully balanced by invisibles such as tourism and overseas aid. Major donors include UK, EEC, Australia, New Zealand and US, the latter mostly in the form of Peace Corps volunteers.
If you were following the news in late 1996, you will know that the Vanuatu Mobile Force abducted the President and acting Prime Minister as part of their pursuit of a pay claim. As the Government backed down fairly quickly and met their demands, I leave it to you to deduce what signals this sends.
Vanuatu is in dispute with France over two tiny, uninhabited territories, namely Matthew and Hunter islands to the south of the archipelago. These are claimed both by Vanuatu and by New Caledonia (France). Why is anybody interested in these rocks? Fishing and fishing rights: they expand the EEZ of whoever has them. Vanuatu either fishes these areas or sells rights - mainly to Taiwan and Russia.
People talk about Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, but East Timor is not the live issue in Vanuatu. Irian Jaya (west New Guinea) is. It seems remarkable to me that Irian Jaya is so ignored by the world's media and pressure groups. Yet that seems to be the way it is. Look at the map of New Guinea. There is no justification for drawing a N/S line down the middle. New Guinea should be one, independent, Melanesian country. Whether Bouganville should be a part of such a country is another matter...
Vanuatu juggles well with China and Taiwan, accepting aid from both and having diplomatic relations with both. Nobody seems to care too much because Vanuatu is so small.
I quietly suspect that the Republic is deliberately trying to upset another Republic. Their application to join the United Nations was sponsored by Cuba. The same week that the USA broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, Vanuatu established diplomatic relations with them. What can you deduce from this?

What can I do in and around Port Vila?

How about the other islands?

The two islands you are most likely to visit are Espritu Santo and Tanna. Espiritu Santo is the place to go if you are a diver. One of the largest wrecks anywhere in the world accessible to the diver is the President Coolidge, which will keep a wreck diver busy for the rest of his (or her) life.
Tanna is the home of Yasur, the world's most accessible active volcano. A 4WD can take you to within five minutes of the summit. Tanna is also the island where you are most likely to be able to experience Vanuatu kastom at first hand. Kastom is the traditional way of life in the islands, carrying on much as it did before the appearance of the white man in the archipelago.
Accommodation is available in both places, but it is not cheap. You can expect to pay about US$ 70 for a single fare from Port Vila to either Tanna or Santo.

For further information, contact TOUR VANUATU or FRANK KING TOURS on arrival in Port Vila.

Do they play rugby in Vanuatu?

Rugby union is played extensively in Vanuatu (though perhaps not as much as Tonga, Samoa, Fiji ) There is a union around the islands.
I have more to say about rugby in Vanuatu. Please mail me if you require more information.

Do they play golf in Vanuatu?

Port Vila Golf Club just out of town near Mele has a very good, well maintained course.
There are other courses attached to Le Lagon Hotel/Resort, the hotel in Tassiriki which I believe is now called Le Meridien and Whitesands Country Club 20 mins out of town. If you are looking for an all-inclusive golf in paradise package, you might try contacting Bob Lord for more information.
If you go to Santo, the main island outside of the main one of Efate, they have a well-renowned course too.
(I don't play, but many of my friends from Port Vila do.)

What about living in Vanuatu?

(This was the response to somebody who mailed me and asked a few questions about the possibility of moving to Vanuatu. You get the asnwers without seeing what the original questions were...)
Safety: nowhere on the planet is totally safe. If you don't act stupidly, Vanuatu is as safe as anywhere. There is quite a lot of petty theft, but very little that endangers life. Your main risk would be malaria, not crime.
Accommodation: houses are available but not cheap. We lived in rented accommodation while there, for a decent sized Western-style property you would probably be looking at a rent around VUV 100,000 per month (that's just under USD 1000 ) but you could easily find something cheaper. There are real estate agents in Port Vila, some good, some bad. Ask me for details if you get serious.
Tax: Vanuatu is a 'tax haven' with no income tax and no taxation agreements with any country. What you earn, you keep (the Government makes its money from import duties, which are high on almost all imported goods, ie almost everything.) I don't know what the tax implications are for foreign citizens. Forget citizenship: it's on personal approval after 10 years residence. And you can't keep your original citizenship.
For up to date residence information, you'll need to ask somebody for details, ask me if you want to know who, but for a one-year renewable residence permit (if I remember right) you'd be looking at $30,000 deposited in the bank in Port Vila or a business investment. As visitors, I don't think you could lease property. You'd be restricted to 4 months stay in a year too.

Please tell me about some Vanuatu tradition.

These are slit drums, typically about the size of a man with heads carved onto them and with a slit at the bttom. They make a hollow sort of noise when you hit them. They are symbolic of many things and are still used in many ceremonies today. You can find a picture of one at Stan Combs' site. When the new chief of Ifira was installed on the island in 1992, the main tan-tam was used many times during the ceremony. With X to represent a large hit and x a small hit, the rhythm seemed to be
X (pause) X (pause) X (pause) xxxxxxxxxx (pause) X (pause) X (pause) X at key points in the ceremony.
Magic stones
The export of them is prohibited. Various magic stones have various powers, including success in love, the bringing of misfortune to your enemies and one intriguing one which "attracts money". Normally, when they are not being used, their power is restricted by them being wrapped up in a special covering, which is a thick mat of cobwebs.
Pig tusks
If a pig has its top teeth knocked out, the bottom ones will grow round into a curved tusk, such as is found on the nation's flag. These are highly prized as symbols of wealth, even today, because they show that the owner can afford them. As creatures they are useless, but they must be fed by hand because without matching teeth they cannot eat by themselves. They are frequently tied up so that they don't break the valuable tusks. A double circle tusk is even more valuable, and a triple tusk will have a high price attached just for looking at it. For a single tusk of almost a circular shape, you'd be looking at paying around 20,000 vatu = US $ 200 if you wanted to buy one in Port Vila.
Pork is only eaten, generally, at festival times; gifts of pigs and mats are very much prized by Melanesians, which leads onto...
Mats, woven from pandanus leaves are a part of everyday life in Vanuatu, being used to sit on and sleep on. They are also very special gifts. I was privileged to receive one as a leaving present from my work colleagues (the only waetman I know ever to have been presented with one as a leaving present) and was also given one by my old housegirl when we returned there for a week in 1996.
The problems of bringing a pandanus mat decorated with feathers into New Zealand is another story.
For the benefit of anybody reading this, I wish to state quite clearly that the appropriate New Zealand authorities were properly informed. I take seriously the agricultural risk and that is why I took the right steps. The treatment of the mat undoubtedly cost me more than the mat was actually worth...except that there are some things that don't have a price. We now rejoin the Vanuatu FAQs...
An intoxicating beverage made from the root of the pepper plant (piper methysticum). There are many different kava plants, with many different medicinal and intoxicating products, still being investigated by scientists in the West. Kava is not alcoholic at all and tastes like muddy ditchwater. You can probably find out more about kava by searching the usual places on the WWW. Kava is almost always present at any sort of ceremony: opening of a building, a parliament, a meeting of friends, a wedding, a party, an anniversary, ...

Buying land and citizenship?

Sorry, buying land is not possible at all. For a start you need to be a citizen. Even then, you can only buy urban land, the rest of the country belongs to the custom (traditional) owners, a policy enshrined in the Constitution in 1980.
Dual citizenship: impossible. Vanuatu does not recognise dual citizenship, so if you take Vanuatu citizenship (10 years residence and other criteria including formal Governmentt approval) you LOSE any other citizenship. Residence: I was there as a result of an aid contract for the British ODA, working as a programmer/analyst in the Finance Department. You can apply for residence fairly easily, the simplest way seems to be to buy a business there or invest a sum in the bank there. If I remember, VUV 2,000,000 which is about US$ 20,000 will get you residence renewable annually. Or is it 3 million vatu or $30,000. I can't remember...

Are passports stamped in Vanuatu or does it offer confidentiality, with all the offshore banking business

When you arrive, your passport is stamped with a vistor (or resident) stamp, dated. When you leave, your passport is stamped with a dated "seen on departure". Your arrival and departure cards are cross-checked by the Immigration Department. So far as I know, no exceptions are made for arrivals by air or private yacht. However, tourists arriving on cruise ships such as P & O's Fairstar may, sometimes, not have their passports stamped. This is probably not a cost-effective way of anonymous entry/exit, but it generally works, I understand. There are various stories about people wanted by the Australian Police getting on a ship in Sydney, jumping ship in Vanuatu, buying an air ticket to Fiji, and then disappearing. However, for details about stories like this, a good source would be here or here, neither of which say anything about Vanuatu!

Please answer everything I want to know about Vanuatu...

Vanuatu is a country of over 80 islands nearly two thousand miles north of New Zealand. Independent since 1980, Vanuatu has a population of around 200,000, of whom about 10% live in the capital, Port Vila.
Tourism, copra (coconuts) and cattle are the main industries. About 30,000 people are said to be in the cash economy. The remainder are subsistence farmers. By western standards, the people are seen as very poor: indeed the United Nations classifies Vanuatu as a "least developed country" though malnutrition is very rare in the outer islands because Vanuatu is so fertile.
The heritage of Vanuatu is unusual: until independence on July 30, 1980, the New Hebrides was a condominium under joint British and French rule. This was not always harmonious, and stories of the two nations in dispute abound. I will try to get hold of the most famous picture of condominium dispute, which depicts a British policeman and a French policeman. One is pointing in one direction, the other is pointing the other way.

We are thinking about some form of celebration of Vanuatu Independence Day on July 30th this year in major city near your home. Any suggestions?

Don't have an answer to this one yet. How about you? I'm thinking I might put something together in New Zealand for 30th July, 2000, celebrating 20 years of independence. Let me know if you have any thoughts on this. (Of course, the ideal would be to be in Port Vila!)

This page was last updated (slightly) on 18th August 2002. I have stuff to add to it but I don't seem to have much time to work on the site any longer...! However, now that I can answer questions more easily and post answers at LiveJournal, you are more likely to get a quick answer.

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