Throughout Vanuatu, and particularly in the communities outside of Port Vila, life is heavily affected by “kastom” – a collection of ancient traditions and taboos that apply to a wide range of issues. Be mindful of this and heed residents’ demands for “kastom.”
When visiting villages, ladies should dress modestly, covering their shoulders and knees.
The Christian faith is extremely powerful. On a Sunday, it seems to be customary to invite and welcome guests to local church services.
Wearing revealing and seductive clothes (particularly in the capital) is not recommended, since over 100 years of missionary activity has influenced the idea of what is considered acceptable dress in the islands. Regardless, it is considered insulting to the local people and may be regarded as an offer to sex by certain indigenous residents.
Because Vanuatu is not a “fashion aware” country, no one will notice or care if you are wearing the newest from “the Paris Collection.” Bring a practical tropical wardrobe with you, such as light cotton summer clothing that can be hand washed, a’sloppy joe’ pullover, and a lightweight waterproof wind jacket. Bring a strong flashlight (with extra batteries, you’ll need them! ), lightweight walking shoes, sandals or excellent thongs (flip flops/croks) for rainy weather, and old clothing if you’re going to the outlying islands.
Tip: When visiting the outlying islands, bring all the old clothing you can carry, wear them, and then give them away to the locals when you’re done. In other ways, you and your children will be appropriately rewarded. Rather of throwing your used clothing in a charity collecting bin at your local shopping center and never knowing who really gets them (if they ever do…), your children will engage with the individuals who will receive those items (most NiVanuatu people buy these second hand clothes from shops in Port Vila).
Sharing and giving are normal parts of everyday life in Vanuatu. The T-shirt you gift to one individual will also be worn by all of his buddies. Their winter attire will consist of three T-shirts layered on top of one other…. You will give them with items that are difficult for them to acquire, saving them the cost of purchasing clothing (basic salaries in Vanuatu are very cheap), and you will leave with precious memories, as well as extra space in your baggage for bought local arts and crafts.
Communicating with the people of NiVanuatu:
- In Vanuatu, expressing anger, dissatisfaction, or irritation against a person or circumstance can result in a stony silence and a lack of cooperation or understanding for your point of view. Please be patient since complaining is a waste of time. It will make no difference to the result. If you are verbally abusive, you will elicit one of three reactions: a smile, suppressed laughter, or a fist in your face.
- Don’t pose a question that already has an answer. Locals will always agree to avoid contradicting you. “Is this the path to X?” will get a Yes. If you ask, “Where is the route to X…?” you may receive a different response.
- Be warned that direct eye contact or increased voice level communication may be perceived as intimidation on the islands. A local’s voice tone and body language may be diametrically opposed to that of a European. He or she may nod in agreement with everything you say to avoid offending you, yet he or she may not have heard a word you said!
- If you’re on a bus and people on the sidewalk turn their backs on you, don’t be offended: they’re just letting the driver know that they don’t need him to stop. Vanuatu has few bus stops, and those that do exist are seldom used.
- It’s not what you think when you see guys or women holding hands. There is no sexual connotation to men holding hands with other men or women holding hands with other women. A guy holding a woman’s hand in public, on the other hand, is very uncommon since it is considered a public display of sexual relations.
Vanuatu’s people are a joy to shoot; they are polite, cooperative, and photogenic, particularly the youngsters, who are just stunning. Yes, they like being shot, but please do not offer to pay to shoot locals; this will rapidly discourage spontaneity and promote commercialization. Always seek permission before photographing locals.
Some individuals may be hesitant to be photographed for reasons you may never know. It is advisable to inquire about the price for shooting cultural events, since they may be very expensive. The rationale behind this is that they put on the event, people snap pictures, and they earn money selling these images of their show – therefore they want to be compensated appropriately (makes sense). Shooting an erupting volcano at night requires a minimum ISO of 800 and the use of a tripod.