European Settlement, Independence, Religion, Cannibalism

The first missionaries arrived on Erromango Island, an island abundant in Sandalwood trees, in 1839 and despite an unfriendly welcome the church persisted slowly for the next 10 years introducing their religious and cultural beliefs. Presbyterianism became the major Christian denomination in Vanuatu and its representatives took an uncompromising stand against many of the Melanesian customs such as cannibalism, grade taking, ancestor worship and polygamy and some barred their converts from smoking, drinking kava and dancing.

The Anglican missionaries arrived in the 1860’s and the Catholics followed much later in the late 1880’s. Today, in Vanuatu you will find every religious denomination possible (even a few that have escaped the western world) and the local Ni Vanuatu are loyal to their church beliefs and practices. Every church service will be packed to the rafters and you will hear the laughter and singing that the Ni Vanuatu is famous for. What of their traditional beliefs? The Ni Vanuatu have managed to blend their traditional beliefs and Christianity in a way that is perfect for them and are loyal to all their personal beliefs.

European settlement occurred in Vanuatu around the mid 1800’s with numbers slowly growing until in 1906 the Anglo – French Condominium of The New Hebrides was created. At the time the population was about 2000 French, 1000 British and 65000 Ni Vanuatu. Thus Vanuatu became a country governed by two countries, French and British each with its’ own set of government and laws. Two police services, two health services, two education systems, two currencies, two passports and two jails.

It is said the British law was stricter but its jails were more humane and the French jails were uncomfortable yet had better food. To date there is still the two jails operating yet plans are well underway for a new improved jail with upgraded facilities and consistent training of officers.

Driving in Vanuatu is on the right side of the road and in the early days of motoring, when Vanuatu was governed by both the French and the British, the French drove on the right side of the road and the British on the left. Legend has it that the problem was settled by agreeing that the next person to drive off the boat would determine the side of the road all in Vanuatu would travel on. Yes, the person off the boat was a French man, and now all in Vanuatu drive on the right side of the road.


In the 1960s, the Ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980. It joined the UN in 1981 and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.

The politics of Vanuatu take place within the framework of a constitutional democracy. The constitution provides for a representative parliamentary system. The head of the Republic is an elected President, but the Prime Minister of Vanuatu is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Vanuatu has a multi – party system of government. Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic – French and English – lines. Forming coalition governments, however, has proved problematic at times, owing to differences between English and French speakers.



When the first Europeans arrived on the shores of Vanuatu in 1606, the islands were inhabited by tribes that commonly practiced cannibalism.

In 1839 the first two British missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived in Erromango Island and were promptly killed and eaten.

Most anthropologists agree that Vanuatu’s last Kakae Man (or victim of cannibalism) went into the big Nambas ground oven on Malaleuka Island in 1969, however there are also unconfirmed reports of cannibalism in Efate as late as 1987.

Most cannibalism was a result of tribal warfare, though missionaries also made it to the table. Some tribes believed consuming human flesh would give them magical powers, others just enjoyed the taste. White folk, apparently, weren’t considered a delicacy, as they tasted too salty.

In present time, throughout Vanuatu, cannibalism is long gone and the locals are anything but hostile. Indeed, Vanuatu with all its colourful history, legends and customs, offers much more than just a tropical island getaway.