Vanuatu (vän´wätōō´), formerly New Hebrides (hĕb´rĬdēz), officially Republic of Vanuatu, independent republic (2009 pop. 243,304), c.5,700 sq mi (14,760 sq km), South Pacific, E of Australia. Vanuatu is a 450-mi (724-km) chain of 80 islands, of which the most important are Espíritu Santo (the largest), Efate, Malakula, Malo, Pentecost, and Tanna. South of Vanuatu and east of New Caledonia are the uninhabited Matthew and Hunter islands, which are claimed by both. The capital, Port Vila, is on Efate. Vanuatu's islands are forested and mountainous, formed by volcanic eruptions (and still subject to them). The highest peak (c.6,195 ft/1,890 m) is on Espiritu Santo.
People, Economy, and Government
The inhabitants are mainly Melanesians, with some Polynesians. There are more than 100 indigenous languages, but a local pidgin called Bislama or Bichelama is widely spoken. Bislama, English, and French are the official languages. The majority of the population is Christian, primarily Protestant.
The chief industries are copra production, cattle raising, and fishing, but the majority of the population depends on subsistence agriculture. Manganese mining halted in 1978, but in 2006 an agreement was signed to export manganese already mined but not yet exported. Additional revenues derive from a growing tourist industry and the development of Vila as an offshore financial center. Copra, beef, cocoa, and timber are the main exports; machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, and fuels are imported. Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Poland are the main trading partners.
Vanuatu is governed under the constitution of 1980. The president, who is head of state, is indirectly elected for a five-year term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by Parliament from among its members. Members of the 52-seat Parliament are popularly elected to serve four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces. Vanuatu is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Vanuatu has been inhabited since at least 1000 BC; remains of the Lapita culture from that time have been excavated. Legends dating to the 15th cent. describe a huge explosion in the South Pacific; in 1993 a scientist suggested that the Vanuatan islands of Tongoa and Epi (since separated by the island of Kuwae) were created in 1453 when a larger island was split in two by an enormous volcanic explosion. The archipelago was visited in 1606 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Queiros, and in 1774 Capt. James Cook made the first systematic exploration of the islands, which became known as the New Hebrides.
English missionaries began arriving in the early 19th cent. With them came the "sandalwooders," who, once the local sources of sandalwood ran out, began kidnapping natives for the sugar and cotton plantations in Queensland, Australia. British attempts to halt the decimation of the native population met success in 1887, when the islands were placed under an Anglo-French naval commission. The commission was replaced by a condominium in 1906. During World War II the islands served as bases for Allied forces in the Pacific theater.
In 1980 the New Hebrides became independent as Vanuatu, and a secession movement on Espiritu Santo was put down with aid from Papua New Guinea and Britain. A coalition government led by Prime Minister Maxime Carlot took office in 1991. Jean-Marie Léyé was elected president in 1994. Carlot's government lost power after the 1995 general elections, but the new coalition foundered, and Corlot again was prime minister from April to September in 1996, when Serge Vohor took office. After new elections in 1998, Donald Kalpokas became prime minister, but a no-confidence motion in 1999, led to his resignation, and Barak Sopé succeeded him. Also in 1999, John Bernard Bani was elected president. Edward Natapei replaced Sopé as prime minister in 2001.
Alfred Maseng became the country's fifth president in Apr., 2004, but he was removed from office the following month. After parliamentary elections in July, Serge Vohor became prime minister for a second time, and in August, Kalkot Mataskelekele was elected president. Vohor's government fell in Dec., 2004, after government ministers resigned over actions he had taken without consulting with them; Ham Lini succeeded him.
Elections in 2008 brought a new governing coalition, with Natapei again as prime minister, into office. In 2009, Iolu Johnson Abil was elected president. Natapei was ousted in no-confidence vote in Dec., 2010, and Sato Kilman succeeded him. Kilman was ousted four months later and Vohor replaced him, but in May, 2011, the no-confidence vote was declared unconstitutional and Kilman restored to office. In June, Kilman's election also was voided. Natapei became prime minister pending a new vote, in which Kilman was reelected. Kilman remained prime minister after the 2012 elections but resigned prior to a no-confidence vote in Mar., 2013. Moana Carcasses Kalosil succeeded Kilman but was replaced in May, 2014, by Joe Natuman after a no-confidence vote; Natuman was replaced by Kilman in June, 2015, after a no-confidence vote. In Sept., 2014, Baldwin Lonsdale was elected to succeed Abil as president. A tropical cyclone devastated much of the nation in Mar., 2015.