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Due to a long history of inter-island and inter village trading, many ni-Vanutau speak numerous languages. However, over 113 distinct languages and many more dialects are found throughout the group.

When Europeans arrived, a lingua franca evolved. Its name, Bislama, derived from the Beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) traders who developed a form of Pidgin English throughout the Pacific. It began as a simplified form of phonetic English, with Spanish and French colloquialisms added for good measure.

As with all languages, it soon took on a life of its own; borrowing and incorporating new words and evolving of time. Today, although similar to Solomon and New Guinea pidgin, it is nevertheless distinctive.

Bislama, though phonetically English with a broad accent, is grammatically simpler. Everything, including women, is spoken of in the masculine. Being a simpler language means that complex ideas or new concepts must be described functionally. The results are descriptions and stories that can be a great deal longer rather if told in English.

Spoken Bislama is relatively easy to understand if the speaker is slow and enunciates the phrases. Written Bislama is also relatively easy to comprehend.

However, in the same way that a Welsh barman may have no trouble in understanding spoken English, an Australian or American may have great difficulty understanding the barman due to a strong accent.

There are some key words that are used in most sentences:

Blong: Belong

It is used in reference to any noun which has a possessive relationship with any other noun.

  • Pikikini blong mi: This child belongs to me
  • Pikinini blong kanu: That outrigger belongs to the canoe
  • Laet blong trak: The light on the truck
  • Finga blong tri: The branches of a tree
  • Bras blong tut: Toothbrush

Long: From, to, in, on

It is used in association with something, but not in possessive sense.

  • Pikinini i go long skul: The child goes to school
  • truk i kam long hotel: The vehicle came from a/the hotel
  • tri i foldaon long trak: A tree fell down on a/the vehicle

In vocabulary, most object groupings are simplified. Thus, all motorised vehicles are ‘truks’, all birds are ‘pidjins’ and all creatures in the sea are ‘fis’.

To distinguish the differences in these groupings, their relationship to size or the environment is used, or a description is given, rather than a distinctive name:

  • Bigfala trak: Large truck or car
  • Smol trak: Small car
  • Pidgin blong solwota: Bird from the sea (seagull)
  • Pidjin blong bus: Bird from the bush
  • Kaofis: Cow fish (dugong)
  • Fis i gat naef long tel blong hem: The fish that has a knife on his tail (surgeon fish)

Personal pronouns are simplified: I, me, myself, becomes simply mi:

  • Mi kam long Vanuatu: I have come to Vanuatu
  • Trak blong mi: This is my truck/car
  • Mi wan nomo mi go long holidei: I'm going by myself on holiday
  • Mi kam long holidei wetem famili blong mi: I'm coming on holiday with my family

For everyday use, you will come across the following words or phrases:

Wan/Tu/Tri One/Two/Three
Mi/Yu Me/You
Hem/Hemia Him/Her/It/This Here
Mifala/Mifala Evriwan Us/We/All Of Us
Olgeta They/Them
Yu/Yufala You/You guys
Dei/Sava/Naet Day/Evening/Night
Wanem/Wanem Ia? What/What Is That?
Frowanem? Why/Why Did You?
Wota/Freswoto/Kolwota/Solwota Water/Drinking Water/Cold Water/Ocean
Plis Please
Tankiu Tumas Thank You Very Much
Sori/Sori Tumas Sorry/Very Sorry
Hamas (Long Hem)? How Much (Is That)?
Yu Save? Do You Know?
Mi No Save I Do Not Know/Understand
Yu Save Tekem Mi Go Long Vila? Can You Take Me To Vila?
Mi Glad Tumas I Am Very Happy
Lukim Yu See You Later
Ale Mi Go I Am Going Now

Books and dictionaries on Bislama can be found in many gift shops and bookstores around Vila.

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Highlights

Eksperiensem Vanuatu

Explore Our Unique Islands

Air Vanuatu can fly you to all our beautiful islands, so get ready to be fascinated as you explore by hovering your mouse over an island to begin.

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Efate & Port Vila

The capital, Port Vila, located 10 minutes from one of Vanuatu's two international airports, is set around a magnificent natural harbour offering stunning views of Iririki and Ifira islands, and a look out all the way to Malapoa Point.

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Torres

The islands of Torres are Vanuatu's far northern islands lying west to neighboring Solomon Islands. The islands are lightly populated with an abundance of natural resources, white sand beaches, surf, and some of the most friendly locals you will ever meet.

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Banks Islands

The Banks islands is an adventure of its own offering visitors eco adventures from hard treks, to fishing trips and snorkeling, and ]visiting cultural villages. You can also join in with the water music ladies and play music on the water. There's much to see and do in the Banks islands.

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Espiritu Santo

Welcome to Espiritu Santo. With its amazing blue holes, caves, world renowned diving at the SS Coolidge, and powdery white sandy beaches, it's a little known paradise waiting to be discovered.

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Maewo

The rugged, long, narrow island of waterfalls flows with creeks and rivers - perfect for soft adventure seekers. Asanvari Bay is most idyllic, popular with yachts May to October. You will love the waterfalls, snorkeling, diving, and picturesque views of Pentecost, Ambrym, Paama, Malekula and Malo on a clear day.

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Ambae

Trekkers will love Lake Manaro which is one of 3 volcanic crater lakes in different shades of blue. Manaro in particular is the largest lake, turquoise-blue in colour, and acidic. Hikers trek through dense forest for 2 days to get to the lake and return.

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Pentecost

You can't miss the Pentecost land diving which happens from April to June, every year. Pentecost also offers a variety of excursions to visitors seeking cultural experiences including custom village tours, as well as soft adventures such as hikes, snorkeling, outrigger canoe paddling, visiting historical sites and land marks.

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Ambrym

Tourists are attracted by Ambrym's unique features: the two twin active volcanoes, Marum and Benbow, the tropical vegetation, and the customs of the local villagers. Accommodations are melanesian traditional bungalows, with very basic amenities, and welcoming hosts ready to make you feel at home.

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Malekula

Malekula is the second largest island and the most diverse, culturally and linguistically, with over thirty distinct languages spoken. Some of the best custom dances come from the island. The names given to the primary cultural groups are Small Nambas and Big Nambas.

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Epi

Epi is a peaceful island with beautiful white sandy coves, many white and some black sand beaches, and inshore reefs. The interior is the rugged terrain of recent volcanic activity covered with lush rainforest. There are several small lakes where you can fish and swim and may get a chance to see wild birds, wild pigs and cows.

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Erromango

The island is part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion, within the East Melanesian Islands biogeographic region. Dense evergreen forest covers nearly three-quarters of the island on the windward (eastern) side, while a combination of grassland and woodland occupies the north-west. Cloud forests exist at higher elevations. Much of the vegetation on the island is secondary growth.

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Tanna

There is a lot to see and do in Tanna. The drawcard of it all is Mount Yasur volcano, the world’s largest and most accessible active volcano and if you want to swim in underwater caves, snorkel on some of the best coral in the South Pacific, visit untouched waterfalls, see the islands wild horses and experience an ancient culture that remains largely unchanged to this day, allow time to explore Tanna.

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Aneityum

If planning a private and quiet retreat to Mystery Island then check the cruise ship itineraries with the Vanuatu Tourism Office in Port Vila before setting out.

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  • Torres
  • Banks Islands
  • Espiritu Santo
  • Maewo
  • Ambae
  • Pentecost
  • Ambrym
  • Malekula
  • Epi
  • Efate & Port Vila
  • Erromango
  • Tanna
  • Aneityum

Explore the Region

Events

Vanuatu DJ Festival

November 25
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Events

Traditional Leaf Fishing & St Andrews Day Festival

November 28 - November 30
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