Vanuatu has a rich and thriving cultural scene influenced by local regional variations and foreign cultures.
7. Social Beliefs And Customs
A graded society exists in many of the indigenous communities of Vanuatu. Typically, older men serve as the most influential members of their clans or villages. In villages, there is less economic stratification as most of the rural population depend on subsistence agriculture. The society of Vanuatu has a relatively small middle-class elite section. The influence of inequality and sexism in societal roles are clearly visible in most areas. Women usually have less control and say in various aspects of life like the division of property or marriage. Women participate with men in farming and fishing activities. Although a large section of women are employed in the education sector, the participation of women in economic and political sectors is low.
Vanuatu has a very high rate of marriage and a low divorce rate. Arranged marriages are most common. Goods are often exchanged during marriages and in some areas, the practice of sister exchange is followed where the married man offers a woman from his family for marriage with a man in his wife’s family. In some areas, where customs allow, men may marry more than once. After marriage, a woman usually moves to the home of her husband who generally lives with his parents. In the rural areas, local customs influence inheritance patterns while in urban areas, European models of inheritance prevail.
The people of Vanuatu often shake hands during initial encounters. Exchange of goods helps establish relationships. Visitors are usually treated with gifts and foods. It is common for people passing on streets to greet each other.
6. Religion, Festivals, And Holidays
Christianity is the religion of the majority in Vanuatu with one-third of the population being adherents of the Presbyterian Church. Other Christian denominations like the Anglican and Roman Catholic are also popular each with about 15% of adherents. The cargo cult is quite popular in Vanuatu. Most of these cults developed following the World War II but only a few like the John Frum cult survives today with a large number of followers in the Tanna island. The Prince Philip Movement that reveres Prince Philip of the United Kingdom is also popular on the Tanna Island. The movement is based on an indigenous belief of the Yaohnanen tribe. The spirit worship of Natmasses in the form of stones is also prevalent on the Aneityum island. Islam is a fast growing religion in the country.
Christmas and the New Year season known as Bonane is celebrated in Vanuatu. People from the cities visit their traditional homes and neighboring hamlets are visited by chorus groups to perform religious songs. Harvest celebrations, male initiation ceremonies, exchange of kava and pigs followed by days of dancing during the Toka Festival, are some of the unique celebrations in the island of Vanuatu. Secular holidays of Vanuatu include the Independence Day celebrations on July 30, Unity Day on November 29, Family Day on December 26, Constitution Day on October 5, and the Custom Chiefs Day on March 5.
5. Music And Dance
Traditional music still thrives in Vanuatu’s countryside. The traditional music actually incorporates a variety of musical genres. The music is performed using instruments like slit gongs, rattles, and idiophones which are differently sized drums. Other musical instruments like whistles, conch shells, and bamboo flutes are also played in some areas. String band music, another popular genre of music of Vanuatu, involves popular songs accompanied with ukulele and guitar. The urban music scene in Vanuatu is quite different and heavily influenced by global music. Reggaeton and zouk are popular in the nightclubs of cities where tourists and Westerners are the most common crowds.
Dancing is an important part of Vanuatu’s culture. Dancing grounds known as nasara are present in many villages of the country. Traditional dances in Vanuatu are energetic and frenetic and usually accompanied by rich percussion and chantings. Drums, rattles, and slit gongs are used to play spirited music during such dance performances. Dances are often used as a medium to tell traditional stories.
4. Literature And Arts
Written literature developed in Vanuatu only in the late 20th century. Prior to that, oral literature was prevalent in the country and existed in the form of myths, folk tales, sung poetry, and legends. The literature was transmitted through the generations via word of mouth. During the colonial period, writing and literacy were introduced in Vanuatu by the Christian missionaries. During this time, a number of formal schools were established in the country. One of the most notable literary figures of Vanuatu is Grace Molisa, a feminist poet whose poems on life in the post-colonial patriarchal society of Vanuatu are internationally renowned. She has written poems in both Bislama and English. The community theater group of Wan Smolbag is famous for plays written and performed by the group on a wide variety of social and educational subjects like domestic violence, AIDS prevention, etc.
Sand drawing is a UNESCO-recognized art form of Vanuatu. Aloi Pilioko is one of the most famous contemporary artists of the country who is known for colorful reliefs painted by him on important buildings in Port Vila like the Port Vila post office.
Vanuatu’s cuisine incorporates root vegetables like yams and taro, fish and other seafood, tropical nuts, sugarcane, green vegetables, plantains, coconuts, etc., as the core ingredients. Fruits like mangoes, pineapples, and papayas are also readily available. Most people living on the island have gardens where they grow their own food. Food is usually cooked by boiling or steaming the ingredients and fried foods are occasionally consumed. Cream and coconut milk are common ingredients used in flavoring food. The most popular non-alcoholic traditional drink of Vanuatu is kava. The drink is prepared from Piper methysticum and is said to have mild narcotic and relaxing effects. It is a popular evening or post-dinner drink in Vanuatu. Baked pudding called lap lap is regarded as the national dish of Vanuatu. Banana, yam, coconut milk, taro or manioc, and salt are the primary ingredients of the pudding which is prepared by baking under hot stones. The simboro is made of cabbage leaf enclosed and coconut milk covered steamed roll of grated banana, yam, or taro. The cuisine of the island also featured coconut crab dishes in the past. However, the threat to the species has led to the crabs being protected against consumption by humans.
In the cities and towns of Vanuatu, modern, Western-style clothing is mainly worn by the Ni-Vanuatu. In the rural areas, clothing is usually a blend of Western-style and local forms. Men often adorn the traditional loincloth or a pair of shorts as lower garments and couple it with a T-shirt. Women often wear fiber skirts without an upper garment or a dress made of leaves.
The people of Vanuatu love playing a wide variety of sports. Association football is the country’s most favorite sport. The country is a member of both the OFC and FIFA. Vanuatu is one the Melanesian countries from where FIFA selects young sportspersons exhibiting exceptional talent to train and stay at the national academy. Basketball is also one of the favorite sports played in Vanuatu.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
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