History & Language of Vanuatu

 © John Nicholls - Traditional Dress, MalekulaHistory
It is thought the first people to reach Vanuatu were the Lapita from Papua New Guinea, who arrived about 2000 BC. The first European explorers arrived in May 1606 as part of a Spanish expedition headed by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros. British explorer James Cook, who drew the region’s first charts, arrived in the islands on 16 July 1774, christening them the New Hebrides. In 1848, Rev John Geddie established a Presbyterian mission on Aneityum.

The people were decimated by European diseases, leading to a huge population decline. Although protestant missionaries put a stop to traditional practices such as cannibalism and initially, kava drinking, today’s traditional cultural life (kastom) remains strong, particularly in the outer islands. By 1844, the country’s first trading post was established on Aneityum and in 1906, the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides was created, giving France and Britain dual administrative powers.

© John Nicholls - Shipwreck, Espiritu SantoUS forces arrived in Vanuatu in 1942 to counter Japan’s rapid advance through the Pacific. Bases were built at Havannah Harbour and Port Vila on Efate, and on Espiritu Santo. Some 500,000 troops were stationed at Espiritu Santo over the course of the war, making it the largest US base in the Pacific outside of Hawaii. Vanuatu achieved independence under its present name in July 1980, and has a democratic government.

Vanuatu’s official languages are Bislama, English and French. There are 115 ‘mother tongues’ in common use – the world’s highest concentration of different languages per head of population.  English is widely spoken, and most people speak some Bislama. Business communication is conducted in English, French or Bislama.

Hello = Halo = Bonjour
Goodbye = Alè Tata = Au revoir
Good morning = Gudmoning = Bonjour
Good night = Gudnaet = Bonsoir/bonne nuit
Please = Plis = S’il vous plait
Thank you = Tankyu tumas = Merci (beaucoup)
You’re welcome = I oraet nomo = De rien /avec plaisir
Yes = Yes = Oui
Vanuatu Visitor GuideVanuatu Visitor MapMaybe = Ating/maet/mebi = Peut-être
Excuse me = Skiusmi = Excusez-moi/Pardon
I’m sorry = Mi sori tumas = Pardon/Je suis désole/ée.
How are you? = Olsem wanem?/Yu oraet? = Comment ça va?
I am fine, thanks = I orate, tankyu/I gud nomo = Ça va bien merci

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