Vanuatu stands out as a holiday destination because it's more than just a beach getaway - it's a place to absorb ancient culture and customs that aren't found anywhere else on the planet.
Understanding more about the people and culture of Vanuatu will enrich your holiday and further ignite a passion for this country. Leave the familiar behind and venture into this country of mystery, magic and ancient tradition.
Although Vanuatu is close to Australia, it's worlds apart in terms of culture. Some 3,000 years of migration have led to the development of a culture with endless diversity. To give you an idea of just how culturally dense the island nation is, there are at least 113 distinct languages and countless dialects, despite having a population of just 260,000.
Visitors can enjoy many aspects of ni-Vanuatu culture. Similar to Australian Aboriginal narrative customs, the culture embraces myths and legends. Storytelling, songs and dances are important forms of communications and from these traditional tales you can hear stories of Vanuatu's history and landscape emerge.
Art is also a fundamental part of social life and ritual celebrations, with ni-Vanuatu expressing their culture in body decorations and tattoos, elaborate masks, hats and carvings. It is often possible to purchase such hand-crafted artefacts from village artisans and take them home with you as unique souvenirs.
What you need to know
- Christianity is the predominant religion in Vanuatu and as a result, many shops and markets are closed on Sundays. You can rest assured that resorts and their facilities operate as normal.
- Because of strong religious beliefs, it is considered disrespectful to wear revealing clothing like shorts or swimming costumes when you visit smaller villages. If you wish to explore village life, wear long pants and cover your chest and shoulders to show respect.
- If you are out hiking or exploring and want to leave the road, make sure you ask for permission first. Most land is owned by islanders, and sensitive ownership regulations mean you should ask before venturing away from public paths.
People have been in Vanuatu for thousands of years, with archaeological evidence of settlements going all the way back to 2000 B.C. Most of the people in Vanuatu are of Melanesian descent, with some Pacific Islanders, Asians and Europeans in the mix.
Around three quarters of the population still live traditionally, in small villages that are typically home to about 50 people. In rural areas, villages are clan-based and led by a chief.
Locals are famously welcoming in Vanuatu, but it's important to respect local customs. What you wear, how you behave and where you go are important to ni-Vanuatu people and can influence how they receive you. While some customs may seem unusual to outsiders, they all have great significance to the locals.
What you need to know
- English is an official language of Vanuatu, along with French and Bislama, so visitors don't usually have any problems communicating.
- You don't have to worry about gratuities in Vanuatu - there is no tipping or bargaining in the country, as this goes against local custom. If you do feel particularly grateful toward someone, such as a tour guide, you can give them a small gift.
- Raising your voice or making direct eye contact with locals can be interpreted as intimidation. Take your cues from locals and try to be friendly and smiling at all times. Displaying anger or complaining can be considered impolite.
Cultural traditions are known as kastom (or custom) in Vanuatu. Villages in Vanuatu are still kastom-oriented, with locals upholding traditional ceremonies that have been a part of village life for centuries.
Many customs revolve around ritual events. This means life is never boring in Vanuatu - there is always one event or another just around the corner. Ni-Vanuatu celebrate every step in life, from birth to circumcision and marriage. Social life in villages revolves around these events, and with large extended families there is always someone or something to celebrate. If you have the opportunity, you should try to attend a cultural festival in Vanuatu.
What you need to know
- If a place is tabu, it is sacred, holy or forbidden. You should treat anything known as tabu with deep respect.
- Kava is traditionally a man's drink - outside of Port Vila, you should be careful to ask if it's okay for you to sample it, otherwise you could risk offending local women.
- Avoid picking fruit you see along roads, as it usually belongs to someone.
Keep an open mind and a smile on your dial and ni-Vanuatu will be happy to give you an exclusive glimpse into their way of life. For more advice on what to expect from the culture of Vanuatu, get in touch with our team!