Vanuatu's governmental system was inherited from it's British and French colonial overlords, but with some local twists overlaying those.


The part that is hardest for newcomers to understand is the "Chief" system.


Each island (or sometimes part of an island) has it's own chief. There is a "Council of Chiefs" and they are a force to be reckoned with. Although the Westminster-style government, with parties, ministers, parliament, speaker etc., can make laws, if the Council of Chiefs are against it, the government of the day will have a hard time getting the new law passed. This is something many a Prime Minister has had to deal with to his frustration.


When someone breaks a law, the police can be called in, but also or even instead, the Chief system can deal with it. If they should get involved in some wrongdoing, most NiVans are more concerned about the Chiefs than the police. The police and court systems can certainly have them brought to justice and jailed. But it's the Chiefs who control how they are seen in the community.


Then there's the President. His position is for life. He is kind of like a Governor-General but without having to answer to the Queen of England. His role is to keep the government honest, and considered to be a stabilising "father figure" for the nation.


Mostly the President will be an intensely religious man. For example consider this quotation from the speech made by the current President in his first address as the new Head of State:


"We have only one religion in Vanuatu and that is Christianity. We have declared this nation in Yahweh's (Jehovah's) name and no other God... So now I would like to call on all Vanuatu to be serious in living in God maintaining togetherness and unity. It is my prayer that God will continue to reveal himself clearly to all who in Vanuatu so that they could see and live and move and exist in God alone."


Whew! On the day, this was the lead article on the front page of the biggest daily newspaper in Vanuatu.


He was not strictly accurate - all the major religions are represented in Vanuatu - and all are accepted in the community. There are traditional beliefs in black magic and so forth that are practiced, especially in the outer islands. Nevertheless in a general sense he was reflecting the ideas of most people.


Yes, people here go to church. Not everybody, but the vast majority. On both Saturday and Sunday you see them streaming along the roads, walking along in their best garb, usually clutching a Bible.


It's something you need to be aware of when you want to become a citizen or live here under a resident visa. Many more people take their worship a lot more seriously than you find in the west. Many have read the Bible many times and are quite familiar with it. I believe it contributes to the comparative lowness of the crime rate.


As a Bible teacher myself, I love it, because almost everyone I speak to has an interest in spiritual things.


When you are here maybe you will find this interest in God a refreshing change, maybe you will find it an oddity.


But there it is.


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Lance in (reverential) Vanuatu