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Respect Kastom

Traditional customs are at the heart of Ni-Vanuatu way of life. Please be aware of this when hiking in Vanuatu and respect our “Kastom”.

We recommend that you always go with a local guide, or two, to help you respect local etiquette and get the most out of your hiking experience. In many cases, you cannot go to areas independently and must go with guides.

When staying in a village, it is customary to ask permission from the Chief of the community and introduce yourself. You should expect to make a small payment to your village hosts for accommodation and meals.

Some of them may ask you for land entry fees to enter their land or to go to their natural attractions. They will also let you know if any place is “tabu” and forbidden to access. Your guides can assist you with these conversations and transactions.

cultural etiquette 2

Personal Safety

Vanuatu is a very safe place to hike and explore but we always recommend you hike with a guide.
Women are advised to not hike alone and to exercise caution at night.

It is recommended to not bring valuables on your hiking trip, not show off/be discreet with your valuables and keep mobile phones and other electronic equipment safely stored.

When staying in a village, out of respect for customary laws please report any problems to your guide who will be your interpreter and intermediary with the Chief of the community.
No need to worry if a local is waving at you, machete in hand. It is just a tool and not a weapon! Generally, Ni-Vanuatu will never go in the bush without their “bush knife” and from the age of three, children learn how to use them.

Dress appropriately

When hiking in Vanuatu, especially in outer islands, wearing revealing shorts or swimming costumes can be seen as disrespectful, and can even be interpreted as flirtatious. Women are recommended to swim in t-shirts or sarongs, and to wear long skirts or to tie a sarong on top of your shorts and cover your chest and shoulders when visiting villages. For the same reasons, avoid public displays of affection between couples, or nudity.

In God we stand

The Christian religion is predominant in Vanuatu, and in many cases stands along customary law and practices. There are many churches and different denominations, including Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian Church of the Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventist and so on.
If you hike into a village on a Saturday or a Sunday, please be respectful and do not disturb church services and celebrations. You are very welcome to attend church services and this can be a great way to meet the locals and show respect.

You can also expect shops and small businesses to be closed on Sundays.

Adopt the right attitude

If you ever need to ask for directions when hiking in Vanuatu, always ask open questions such as “what is the road to…?”. Ni-Vanuatu people won’t want to contradict you if you ask close-ended questions such as “Is that the direction to …?”.

Adopt the right tone and attitude when speaking with locals. Please do not blaspheme or swear, and do not confront Ni-Vanuatu people. Be patient and polite.

It is advisable to check travelling schedules and ask questions about travel arrangements, however be aware that in many cases arrangements will be made according to “island time” and it’s best to “go with the flow”. Stores can open or close before the time indicated, your plane can take off in advance, or hours or even days late.

Do not distribute gifts without asking your guide first. They will provide advice on what is appropriate to bring and who to give it to.

Ask permission

Be aware that Ni-Vanuatu people have their gardens away from their village in the bush and fruits you see along the trail may belong to someone. Ask permission from your guide first before picking any.

When visiting a village, ask permission before taking pictures of the village and its inhabitants, and especially of children. When you take photos, please do so in a sensitive way and don’t intrude on people. People love to see their images and these personal connections are often the highlight of your journey.

Drinking Kava

In the afternoon, you might be asked by locals to share a “shell’ of kava, Vanuatu’s traditional drink. Made from ground, dried Kava tuber, be aware that this drink has relaxing and anxiolytic effects but that it should be consumed with moderation if you are not used to it. Traditionally, only men are allowed to sit in the Nakamal and drink Kava.

Your guide will help you with Kava etiquette. We recommend you do not bring or drink alcohol when staying in local villages.