Vanuatu is a series of 83 remote volcanic islands in the South Pacific. But until recently, the country’s history has been as tumultuous as its islands are beautiful. Tribal groups had inhabited the islands for thousands of years when Captain Cook encountered the archipelago in 1774 and named it the New Hebrides. After the Europeans discovered the region’s natural resources, they took control of the islands and imposed a system of indentured servitude on the local population.
By the early 20th century, the French and British had joint control over the islands, with the native population holding little power. But the 1970s saw the rise of an independence movement. In the middle of the ensuing strife, Unity Day was established to remind the country’s diverse population of its shared struggles and interests. The holiday's festivities typically include picnics, parades, concerts, sporting events and performances by native dancers in traditional dress.
The independent Republic of Vanuatu was officially created in 1980. Over the past 15 years or so, tourism has emerged as a major economic force. Diving enthusiasts are drawn to the nearby coral reefs, while others explore the volcanic landscape and warm-water beaches. In 2004, many Americans became familiar with the tropical islands when they watched “Survivor: Vanuatu” on TV.