Vanuatu's culture has been influenced by 3,000 years of immigration, with people from Pacific countries mingling with missionaries and other people from the Asian and European continents. The result is a diverse society with traditions ranging from devout Christianity, to a fervent belief in spirits, magic and tabu (something that is sacred or holy).
No-one wants to be that ignorant tourist who stumbles from one cultural faux pas to the next. Before you jet off on your island holiday, make sure you get your head around some of Vanuatu's traditions and customs. A little cultural awareness in Vanuatu can go a long way toward helping you connect with locals and avoid awkward situations.
Here are a few of the things you need to know about local culture in Vanuatu.
Do dress conservatively
A large part of your time in Vanuatu may be spent lounging by the pool or sunbathing on the beach. However, you should make sure your skimpy beachwear is restricted to these occasions. Ni-Vanuatu people dress modestly, so excessively revealing clothing could be seen as disrespectful.
Women should wear knee-length skirts or dresses when walking about town and men should wear shirts.
Do ask before trying kava
Kava plays a significant role in Vanuatu's traditions and drinking it is a popular pastime throughout Vanuatu's islands.
There are plenty of kava bars throughout the country, locally known as nakamals. In some places, both men and women enjoy kava, but in others the drink is reserved for men only. On Tanna, for example, sipping kava is a men-only ritual and women don't even pass by the nakamals while men are imbibing.
You can certainly enjoy a taste of kava during your trip - just make sure you are doing so in a way that is respectful to the local culture of Vanuatu. It's rude to walk through a nakamal and they can be quite difficult to spot in rural villages where they're outdoors and there's no lighting. Check with locals to find out if nearby nakamals are female-friendly.
Do smile and be friendly at all times
You'll notice that ni-Vanuatu are incredibly friendly and welcoming at all times. This is because they are generally kind people, but also because showing anger is considered impolite. Locals might think you are being deliberately intimidating if you raise your voice or make direct eye contact, so try to stay calm and friendly even when you run into problems.
Don't haggle prices or leave tips
Tipping and bargaining prices goes against local tradition and could be met with awkwardness. You can express your gratitude through smiles, thank yous and occasionally a small gift if appropriate.
As for haggling, the prices you come across in the market are set - however, they do increase when cruise ships roll into town, so to get better deals, go shopping on less crowded days.
Don't walk onto private property without asking permission
As traditional ways of life are highly valued in remote and rural areas, you should take extra care to avoid offending anyone.
When passing through villages, resist the temptation to stray off the road to explore - there are strict land ownership regulations in place, and these can be a sensitive issue. Most of the land you see, including walking trails through the bush, is owned by islanders and their families. You should request permission before following these tracks, and be careful not to pick any fruit you see as it probably belongs to someone.
Don't go overboard with displays of physical affection in public
As part of the conservative nature of Vanuatu culture, people are reserved about displaying physical affection in public. Touching between sexes isn't common, even between married couples. To be respectful, it's best to contain your romantic or amorous urges for your resort and save yourself from the risk of shocking the locals.
This doesn't mean ni-Vanuatu aren't tactile though; on the contrary, personal space isn't a big deal for most locals. For women, don't be surprised if a local woman puts her hand on your arm, or for men don't be worried if a man throws an arm around your shoulders while speaking.
The main thing you should remember to do is to book your vacation through Hoot Holidays. We will make sure you have everything you need for your trip, including all the essential cultural knowledge!
- Posted in Vanuatu