Religious Beliefs In Vanuatu

A church and a cross on Vanuatu. Editorial credit: lkonya /
A church and a cross on Vanuatu. Editorial credit: lkonya /

The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is a volcanic archipelago that is located in the South Pacific Ocean. The country hosts a population of about 270,402 people. It has an area of 12,189 square km. The Melanesians were the first human inhabitants of the nation. The first Europeans arrived on the island in 1606. The archipelago soon came under the rule of the Spanish Empire and became a part of the Spanish East Indies colony. France and England also claimed parts of the archipelago in the 1880’s. Following an independence movement, Vanuatu became an independent country in 1980. The history of the country also influenced the religious composition of the people of Vanuatu.

Christianity is the largest religion in Vanuatu. Protestant Christians account for about 70% of the population of the country. 12.4% of the population practice Roman Catholicism. A small percentage (3.7%) of the country’s population adhere to customary beliefs. Followers of other religions account for 12.6% of the population while only 1.1% do not adhere to any religion and 0.2% of the population do not mention anything regarding their religious beliefs.

The Largest Religion In Vanuatu

Like most other European colonies, Christianity was introduced in Vanuatu by Westerners. Missionaries from several different churches worked in the region to convert the locals to the religion. The spread of Christianity in the country was fastest during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although a few foreign missionaries still operate missions in Vanuatu today, most of the clergy in the country comprises of indigenous Christians. Presently, a group in the country is actively translating the Bible into the many indigenous languages spoken in Vanuatu.

One-third of the population of the country adhere to the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. Other popular Christian denominations include Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. Several other Christian denominations like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of Christ, and others also operate in Vanuatu but have a significantly low number of followers.

The Developments Of Cargo Cults In Vanuatu

During the World War II, the modernities introduced in Vanuatu by the military involved in the war led to the birth of a number of cargo cults. Many of these cults were short-lived. However, some live on and have a significant following in the country. The John Frum cult and the Prince Philip Movement are examples of cults that are highly popular in Tanna. The adherents of this cult admire Prince Philip of the UK. A very interesting folk legend influenced the Prince Philip Movement in the country. According to the ancient tale, a pale-skinned man ventured into the sea looking forward to marrying a powerful woman. The arrival of Prince Philip and his wife Queen Elizabeth on the island fitted the characters of the story and led to the worship of the prince as God on the island.

Religious Freedom In Vanuatu

The Constitution of the country grants the citizens the freedom of religion. The government generally respects this right and discrimination on religious grounds is not practiced here. However, there have been sporadic protests in the country against the missionary activities of some nontraditional religious groups.


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