Formerly called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain
of 322 tropical islands of volcanic origin situated in Melanesia
to the east of Australia. Before becoming a republic in 1980,
Vanuatu was a condominium under British and French rule and
these historic ties are particularly evident in the capital
Port Vila. The population of 200,000 is one of the most culturally
diverse in the world today, with over one hundred distinct languages.
The majority of people live in remote rural areas following
a mainly subsistent lifestyle by clearing small gardens in the
rainforest. Their very limited income is usually derived from
copra, cattle, fishing, logging or tourism and used to pay for
things like school fees, rice, sugar and church contributions.
Vanuatu is officially a Christian nation, but there are very
strong links to past traditions and beliefs throughout the island
group. The rural population is one of the fastest growing in
the world and pressures for development are strong in many areas.
As a result, environmental and cultural degradation pose a serious
challenge to many communities.