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Vanuatu, The People of Vanuatu

The population of Vanuatu was estimated at 196,178 in 2002, yielding a population density of 16 persons per sq km (42 per sq mi). Ethnic Melanesians known as ni-Vanuatu are 94 percent of the people; the remainder are of French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Polynesian, or Micronesian descent. Rural areas are almost entirely ni-Vanuatu and contain 80 percent of Vanuatuís people. About 70 percent of the republicís population live on the islands of Anatom, Efate, Espiritu Santo, Futana, Malakula, and Tanna. Besides the capital of Port-Vila, the only other urban area in Vanuatu is Luganville on Espiritu Santo.

English, French, and Bislama, a form of pidgin English, are Vanuatuís official languages. Government documents are sometimes published in all three. There are also more than 100 Melanesian languages spoken in the republic. Given this linguistic variety, Bislama tends to serve as the nationís lingua franca, or common language of communication. Literacy rates in Vanuatu rank among the lowest of Pacific nations. Although nearly all of Vanuatuís children attend primary schools, only about one in five students continues beyond the primary level. The joint British and French colonial administration established a dual education system in Vanuatu, whereby some primary schools teach in English and others teach in French; this system continues today. A teacher training college and an extension of the University of the South Pacific (founded in 1989) are located in Port-Vila.

A majority of the people of Vanuatu practice Christianity. About 35 percent of the population are Presbyterians, while Anglicans (members of the Church of England) and Roman Catholics each comprise about 15 percent. Much of the rural population, regardless of church membership, continues to adhere to traditional animist rituals and beliefs (Animism).

The way of life in Port-Vila reflects its French and English colonial heritage. With fine restaurants, shops, and hotels, it is a cosmopolitan city that caters to Western tourists. Vanuatuís other urban area, Luganville, is a simpler community with far fewer Western characteristics. In rural areas, the traditional lifestyle centered around subsistence agriculture remains largely intact. Houses made from local wood and palm leaves predominate, and much of the clothing is of traditional design. Both urban and rural residents consume kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from a plant in the pepper family, in ceremonial and recreational settings. Organized sports such as soccer and cricket are popular in Vanuatuís urban areas.

 
 

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