Vanuatu consists of about 80 islands in the south Pacific Ocean, about three-fourths of the way from Hawaii to Australia, which cover an area of 11,800 square kilometers. There are about 12 large islands; the rest are very small. The people of Vanuatu, called Ni-Vanuatu, are dark-skinned Melanesians with short, curly hair. They migrated by canoe from islands to the north and west and were settled on the islands by 2000 B.C. They separated into many different cultures, each of them enemies of all the others and practiced continual warfare and cannibalism. The population now is over 200,000.
Vanuatu became an independent nation in 1980. The country had been under the colonial rule by the United Kingdom and France for 74 years. The history of Vanuatu dates back to 1300 B.C.
The first contact with the Western world came in 1606, when a Spanish explorer visited the islands. Captain James Cook came in 1774 and named the islands the New Hebrides. He was followed by other traders and explorers. The first missionaries, who were Presbyterian, arrived in 1839 and were killed and eaten. Others followed, and the Presbyterian Church became the largest Christian church, followed by the Catholics and the Anglicans. Presbyterian missionaries took an uncompromising stance against many time-honored Melanesian customs such as cannibalism, ancestor worship and polygamy. A visible Scottish Presbyterian tradition can be felt in the life of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu even today.
The Presbyterian Church of the New Hebrides was established as an independent church in 1948. When Vanuatu became free from British and French colonialism in 1980, most of the new government officials were Presbyterians, because the Presbyterian Church was the only denomination that had established a seminary and concentrated on educating the Ni-Vanuatu. Many Presbyterians have served the nation as members of Parliament, government ministers and even as prime minister. The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu continues to be a powerful force in the modern society, working tirelessly in evangelism, development and social justice issues.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) works in Vanuatu through mission personnel and in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. It works closely with Onesua Presbyterian College, which was founded in 1954 by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.
Education in Vanuatu is difficult because of the lack of resources, including teachers, teaching materials and schools. Most children attend elementary school but then take an exam at the end of grade 6. Only about 30 percent of the students can be accepted into schools like Onesua. At the end of grade 10 there is another exam, and fewer than one-half of the students can find places in years 11, 12 and 13. Overall fewer than 10 percent of young people complete high school.
PC(USA) mission priorities are leadership development and faculty development and strengthening the library and computer facilities at Onesu.
Vanuatu Partner Church
Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu
Learn more about Vanuatu
Visit the BBC country profile.
Paddling around the world
Vanuatu Presbyterian elected to WCRC post