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Voted ‘the happiest place in the world’

Vanuatu (Land Eternal) is made up of roughly 82 islands (65 of them inhabited) that stretch some 1,300 kilometresThere are 9 active volcanoes including several underwater on the Y-shape chain of Islands, as well as thermal springs and fumaroles

The ni Vanuatu (of Vanuatu) are an ancient and diverse culture, the oldest archaeological evidence found dates to 2000 BC and there are 113 distinct languages. Although most settlers arrived from Melanesia, the larger built, lighter skinned Polynesians also settled in the islands

Some 80% of people live in rural areas, mostly in small clan-based tribes of less than 50 people and headed by a chief

With no written language, storytelling, songs and dances are of great importance and rituals and traditional ceremonies are an integral part of life

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One of the most exciting ceremonies is the Naghol, also known as land diving. Each year around the time of yam harvest (April/May), tall wooden towers (up to 70 feet) are constructed with wood & vines on Pentecost Island. Young men dressed in traditional mats wrapped around their bodies jump from a platform on the tower, secured by vines tied around their ankles. Legend has it that the first jumper was a woman who was trying to escape from her abusive husband; she climbed a tree and jumped. He followed her, leapt and died, unaware that his wife had secured liana vines to her ankles. For some time, only women participated in the dive until the male elders decided that they should dive to redress their shame and prove their courageThe first European discovery was by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in 1606

Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands and gave them the name New Hebrides

In 1887, the islands began to be administered by both France and Britain

Vanuatu gained independence on July 30, 1980. The official languages are Bislama, English & French and there are 113 ‘mother tongues’ in common use

The famous author, James A Michener, was stationed in Vanuatu during World War II, and its beauty inspired him to write his classic novel, Tales of the South Pacific