Many of the islands of Vanuatu have been inhabited for thousands of years, the oldest archaeological evidence found dating to 2000 BC. In 1605, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernández de Quirós became the first European to reach the islands, believing it to be part of Terra Australis. Europeans began settling the islands in the late 18th century, after British explorer James Cook visited the islands on his second voyage, and gave them the name New Hebrides.
In 1887, the islands began to be administered by a French-British naval commission. In 1906, the French and British agreed to an Anglo-French Condominium on the New Hebrides.
During World War II, the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo were used as allied military bases. In the 1960s, the ni-Vanuatu people started to press for self-governance and later independence; full sovereignty was finally granted by both European nations on July 30, 1980. It joined the UN in 1981, and the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.
The parliament of Vanuatu is unicameral, and has 52 members; these are elected every four years by popular vote. The leader of the main party in the parliament is usually elected Prime Minister, and heads the government. The head of state, the President, is chosen every five years by the parliament and the presidents of the six provincial governments.
Since 1994, Vanuatu has been divided into the six provinces of Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba. The main Islands within these provinces include:
Banks and Torres (Torba), Espiritu Santo (Sanma), Maewo and Pentecost (Penama), Malekula, Ambrym (Malampa), Epi, Efate (Shefa), Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum (Tafea)
Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands, of which two — Matthew and Hunter — are also claimed by the French overseas department of New Caledonia. Of all the 83 islands, 14 have surface areas of more than 100 square kilometers, from largest to smallest: Espiritu Santo (3956 km), Malakula (2041 km), Éfaté (900 km), Erromango (888 km), Ambrym (678 km), Tanna (555 km), Pentecôte (491 km), Épi (445 km), Ambae or Aoba (402 km), Vanua Lava (334 km), Santa Maria (328 km), Maéwo (304 km), Malo (180 km) and Anatom or Aneityum (159 km).
Most of the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, and have a tropical or sub-tropical climate. The nation’s largest towns are the capital Port Vila, which is situated on Efate, and Luganville, on Espiritu Santo. The highest point in Vanuatu is Mount Tabwemasana, at 1879 m (6158 ft), on the island of Espiritu Santo. There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Yasur on the island of Tanna, one of the world’s most accesible volcanoes, as well as several underwater ones.
Vanuatu is recognized as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, known as the Vanuatu rain forests. Vanuatu is part of the Australasia ecozone, which also includes neighboring New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, as well as Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
The economy is based primarily on subsistence or small-scale agriculture, which provides a living for 65% of the population. Fishing, offshore financial services, and tourism (with about 60,000 visitors in 2005), are other mainstays of the economy. Mineral deposits are negligible; the country has no known petroleum deposits. A small light industry sector caters to the local market. Tax revenues come mainly from import duties and a 12.5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services.
Vanuatu had a population of 205,754 (July 2005 estimate from the CIA World Factbook). Most of the population is rural, though Port Vila and Luganville have populations in the tens of thousands. Most of the inhabitants of Vanuatu (98.5%) are native Melanesian, or Ni-Vanuatu, with the remainder made up of a mix of Europeans, Asians and other Pacific islanders. A few of the islands are Polynesian outliers. About 2,000 Ni-Vanuatu live and work on New Caledonia.
Information sourced from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanuatu (with editing by the VTO), Vanuatu Tourism Office and Government of Vanuatu.