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Vanuatu Islands (officially Republic of Vanuatu) is an island nation located in the South Pacific. The islands cover a total area of approx 12,190 km2 (4,706 mi2) and have population around 290,000.
The archipelago is of volcanic origin and is situated some 1750 km (1090 mi) east of northern Australia, east of New Guinea, 540 km (340 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji and southeast of Solomon Islands.
Vanuatu Islands were first inhabited by Melanesians. The first Europeans who visited the islands were a Spanish expedition that was led by Fernandes de Queiros, Portuguese navigator who arrived on the biggest island in 1606. As the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies had been unified in 1580 under the king of Spain (following the vacancy of Portuguese throne, which lasted for 60 years, until 1640, when Portuguese monarchy was restored), Queiros claimed Vanuatu archipelago for Spain, as part of colonial Spanish East Indies. He named it "La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo".
During the 1880s, the United Kingdom and France claimed parts of the archipelago. In 1906 they agreed on jointly managing it as New Hebrides via British–French Condominium. After the independence movement in the 1970s, the Republic of Vanuatu was established in 1980.
Tourism industry in Vanuatu is a major revenue source as the archipelago is widely recognised as a premier vacation travel destination - especially for coral reef scuba diving. Further attraction to scuba divers is the wreck of the US luxury cruise ship President Coolidge (converted troop carrier) on Espiritu Santo Island. Sunk during WW2 (1939-1945), the vessel is among the world's largest shipwrecks accessible for recreational diving.
The culture of Vanuatu retains strong diversity via local regional variations and foreign influence. The islands may be divided into 3 major cultural regions. In the northern one, wealth is established via grade-taking system, by how much a person can give away. Pigs, especially those with rounded tusks, are a symbol of wealth throughout the archipelago. In the centre, traditional Melanesian cultural systems prevail. In the south, a system which involves grants of title with the associated privileges has been formed.
Young men undergo a variety coming-of-age rituals to initiate into manhood, whhich usually include circumcision. Most villages feature a village clubhouse (nakamal) which serves as a men's meeting point and place to drink kava. All villages have male and female sections, situated all over the settlements. The traditional Vanuatu music is still thriving in the rural regions. Musical instruments consist mainly of idiophones: drums of different shape and size, stamping tubes, slit gongs, and rattles, among others. A musical genre that has become popular during the 20th century is known as string band music and combines songs, guitars and ukulele.