The History of Vanuatu

Vanuatu has a colourful history rich in cultural diversity . Voted the happiest country in the world. Known history spans over 3,200 years with evidence of the Lapita people arriving from East Asia and leaving behind evidence of pottery on Aore, dated to around 1300 BC.

The Lapita People

The Lapita appear to have been skilled sailors and navigators who subsisted largely, but not entirely, by fishing along the coasts of the islands on which they lived. They may also have practiced domestic agriculture and animal husbandry to a limited extent, although the evidence for this remains fragmentary.

The Spanish, English and French

The Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandes de Queries, exploring the pacific are discovered Australia del Espiritu Santo, naming it believing he had discovered the shores of Australia. Europe did not return for another 60 years.

 In 1774 Captain James Cook renamed the islands The New Hebrides. In 1825 the trader Peter Dylon discovered sandalwood on Erramango Island after exhausting all the sandalwood trees from Bua Bay in Fiji. This resulted in many classes between the traders and the indigenous Nivanuatu. With worker shortages in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and Samoa, many worker moved to Australia as they still do today. 

Most  returned to Vanuatu to be reunited with their families and realising the island way of life is what people from the western world only dream of. With the returning islanders,  missionaries came to spread the word of God. Many of these missionaries, unfortunately lost their lives through cannibalism, before the word of God was spread. Cannibalism was very common practice in these times, in many countries throughout the South Pacific.

World War Two

With the fall of France to Germany in World War 2, the French side of the condominium technically became at war with the other half – Britain.

However in 1940, the French population of the New Hebrides immediately declared their support for General De Gaul’s Free French Forces – the first of France’s Pacific colonies to do so. This would be on of the only times of the Condominium that the French and British were not at odds with each other.

With France under German rule, the French Ambassador was placed in a difficult position as there was no support structure of a functioning French government. However, these concerns were overshadowed by the fast approaching Japanese forces.

In early 1942, the Japanese reached the nearby Solomon Islands and the New Hebridean’s lived in fear that they would be next. The Americans, however, arrived first, totally unannounced, in May 1942 filling Mele Bay with warships.

Independence Gained in  1980

Due to this unannounced arrival, a large number of the Vila population fled into the hills believing the Japanese had arrived. It took time to convince them otherwise, but the stealthy nature of the American arrival was key in its defensive strategy against the seemingly unbeatable Japanese.

Being at war, the Americans simply took over and built an entire infrastructure to support their introduced military population and the necessary equipment to wage a counter offensive. They brought in tens of thousands of tons of machinery, built barracks and hospitals, a road around the entire island, airstrips and wharves in a desperate attempt to push back the Japanese, leaving France and Britain in shame for all they had not done for the islands.

In Espiritu Santo, 100,000 troops arrived in short order, doubling the population of the country almost overnight.

Throughout the islands, an interesting social phenomena took place. New Hebrideans were astounded at the equality with which black and white military personnel were treated, so when they went to work for the Americans, they received respect and wages far in excess to anything they had ever experienced before. The typically generous Americans would also look at New Hebridean living conditions and provided clothes and beds, ice boxes and furniture where needed.

The early 1940’s were calm years for the native New Hebrideans. Vanuatu was attacked only once by a Japanese plane (that was shot down), resulting in one casualty on Santo – Besse the cow.

Thus they never experienced the horrors of Japanese occupied New Guinea or Solomon Islands. Instead, they saw fair treatment, better living conditions, modern medical aid, economic growth and a vast expansion of facilities, many of which are still in use years later.

As the country became more politicised, the (minority) Anglicans joined the Vanua’aku Party, but the (majority) French fragmentised. Many mixed race and educated Melanesian considered themselves more French than Melanesian and were adamantly opposed to the British declared aim of early Independence.

Some wanted the Condominium to remain, whilst others wanted the British out and France to annex the country entirely. This division, and the added confusion the push for Santo autonomy, set the stage upon which the first general election was held.

Today We Have the Island Paradise That Is Vanuatu

 If you are dreaming of walking barefoot along white sandy beaches lined with big shady trees and coconut palms with clear blue waters, cooling your toes, think of our beautiful tropical Aore Island. This paradise is just one of the 82 islands that make up Vanuatu. Come and explore our beautiful island with us.

Head to Northern Vanuatu Real Estate and buy your piece of paradise today or take advantage of one of our day tours..

Things to Do in Vanuatu

Amazing Vanuatu holiday tours, activities and accomodation choices