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  • Mauatua Fa’ara-Reynold

Pacific Nations and Languages 

Mauatua Fa’ara-Reynolds (she/they)

Welcome back to Salient’s Pacific language learning! This week we’re looking at Vanuatu, which is not currently included in Aotearoa’s official Pacific Language Weeks. This column was created with the help of the Melanesian Students’ Association, and their president Abigail Kalontano. 



It’s believed that Vanuatu was first inhabited by the Lapita people around 3000 years ago, making it one of the first islands to be settled in the Pacific. In 1606, Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós came across the archipelago and mistakenly identified it as the ‘Great Southern Continent’ (e.g. Australia). Following this, various Europeans passed Vanuatu, naming and renaming the islands. But it was Cook who extensively explored it, giving it the name ‘New Hebrides’. Then, in the 1860s, Australia, Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia established a long-term indentured labour trade, which saw the kidnapping and displacement of over half the male population of Vanuatu (as well as the Solomon Islands and across Papua). This became known as ‘Blackbirding’. From 1906 to 1980, the New Hebrides was under joint British and French administration, but in 1980, they became the independent nation of Vanuatu.

Vanuatu consists of 83 islands (65 of which are uninhabited) and is divided into 6 provinces: Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea, and Torba. 113 indigenous languages are spoken across the region; however, the official languages are Bislama, English, and French. Although the official languages of Vanuatu are Bislama, English, and French, there are 113 indigenous languages spoken across the region, making it the nation with the highest density of languages per capita in the world.

Email greetings and sign offs

Halo = Hello

Tankiu tumas = Thank you very much

General phrases

Plis = ​​​​​​Please

Tankiu (tumas)​​​​​ = Thank you (very much)

Sori (tumas)​​​​ = (Very) sorry

Lukim yu = See you later

Mi no save = I don’t know


 Rispek emi honarabol = Respect is honourable  (Late Father Walter H Lini, Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister)

Na mer’peleana rag’ kiki = Accidents can happen very quickly  (Nakanamaga dialect from Central Vanuatu)


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