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Here are a few kastom protocol or rules to be aware of and consider when you are visiting and staying in rural communities and remote villages.


A simple handshake, together with a smile and a few words, is appropriate for an initial greeting or farewell. When meeting villagers it is polite to remove your sunglasses as the eyes should be seen.

Out and about

Once a village community has accepted your presence, you are free to wander around. It is recommended, however, that you are accompanied by a guide or local person for the first few days and when you are visiting other villages. Some of the beaches will have entry fees which you will need to pay the owner.


Sticks set in the ground and bearing the leaves of the namele plant (a cycad, which is a symbol of peace, and is depicted on Vanuatu’s flag) indicate a tabu. If you encounter this sign, always ask about the tabu, which is a local method used to preserve or restrict access to fruit trees or bush localities, or marine areas in some places.

In the home

Visitors are generally welcome in the home unless particular ceremonies or practices are taking place. Sometimes these invitations may be informal and issued on the spur of the moment. If this is the case, follow the advice of your guide.

The custom of removing your shoes when entering a home is almost universal.

Removing hats or caps is also a sign of respect in certain cultural spaces or homes. When entering, men may choose to sit on a chair or stool or any object that takes the form of a seat.

Women usually sit on the floor, but this varies depending on the village. Your host will normally guide you on where to sit. When sitting on the ground or floor, you may sit in the position that is most natural and comfortable for you.

Gift giving is not expected but is appreciated in any form. If food is offered, try to eat what you are given; it is appreciated.

Seating may be on chairs or mats. Your host may need to unroll a mat, so follow their cue as to when and where to sit.

When seated, your legs should generally not be stretched out. It is polite for men to sit cross-legged and for women to sit with their legs tucked beneath them or to one side.

Women should also take care not to expose their thighs when seated (a lavalava is useful for this). In many countries, it is considered rude to stand above people who may be seated or to walk over them.

It is common for drinks and often food to be offered to visitors even if the visit is brief or casual.


In Vanuatu, prayers are always said before meals, so it is best to wait for the host before beginning a meal. Generosity in providing food is considered a great virtue and it is important for your hosts to feel that their hospitality is highly appreciated.

Utensils and plates are always provided; however, it is polite to eat with your hands when food is served on leaves.


Nearly all large villages have their own church. In some areas, an entire village belongs to one particular denomination. If a village follows two or more faiths or religions (e.g. two Christian denominations, or a Christian religion and a traditional religion), it is usual for the village to be physically divided, usually spatially, so that the different groups worship in separate areas.

Most denominations worship on Sunday, although Seventh-day Adventists worship on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

You should respect the restrictions on work or recreation on the day relevant to the community you are visiting.

There is no obligation to attend church services, but as a visitor you are welcome to participate. Prayers may be said before or after a ceremony or village activity, so you should follow the lead of the host. This practice varies – in villages where traditional religion is followed, there is less emphasis on prayer.


In tourist areas, swimwear can generally be worn such as in resorts and hotels in the urban outskirts. Away from tourist areas, women in most countries swim in shorts and t-shirts, and men in longer swim trunks. 


Swimwear should never be worn into villages unless a lava-lava or covering goes around or over the swim suit and fastened along the wait. Men can swim without shirts but should otherwise wear a shirt.


In villages, men may remove their shirts when working or when it is hot. Wearing of shorts by women in villages was formerly prohibited but is now more common; it is still frowned on by some elders, however. Female visitors are advised to wear dresses and skirts. Bathing suits, shorts and skimpy clothes should be restricted to designated tourist areas. Shorts and t-shirts or halter tops are appropriate swimwear in rural areas.


Kava ceremonies (as opposed to casual gatherings where kava is served) are customary in some countries and have their own special protocols and rituals. Seek guidance from your local guide if you are invited to a kava ceremony as the protocol can be complex.


Otherwise, social consumption of kava is acceptable in Vanuatu. The nakamal is a place in which kava is consumed in an atmosphere of quietness or silence.