The individual villageâs of Vanuatu have their own economies which are affected by common economic factors but also by the complex rituals of the local people. For example, on some islands, the mother of a male child will purchase her sonâs passage into manhood by giving gifts of pigs, mats, dances or food (which she has accumulated from her own labors) to the uncles of the boy who is to be circumcised and initiated. The men then take the boys into the bush for weeks or months, teaching them and introducing them to the ways of manhood, including the removal of their foreskins. Upon the childâs return, they are considered to be men who no longer run naked but, instead, wear a customary penis sheath.
Due to the fact that these initiation rites must be purchased by the mother, natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions or cyclones, can create times when young men nearly reach an adult age without being circumcised. When this happens, the tribe continues to treat the young man as baby or small child until the mother is able to accumulate sufficient wealth to pay the circumcision price.
Kava, while not a food crop, is an important component of the Vanuatu culture. Kava comes from the pepper tree family and is traditionally cut and chewed or ground into a mushy pulp. The liquid extracted from this pulp is used as a drink. On some Vanuatu islands, the Kava liquid is enjoyed by both men and women to relax at the end of the day. On other islands, such as Tanna, Kava use has become a âmen onlyâ ritual. On these islands, women may be punished with severe beatings for merely passing by the nakamalâs (tribal name for âmenâs housesâ) and witnessing the Kava being used.
Many Ni-Vanuatu people speak several languages as a result of interactions with traders from other islands and regions. After the first European traders arrived in Vanuatu, a phonetic form of English called Bislama appeared as well. This quasi-lanuage derives its name, Bislama, from the term Bech-der-mer (sea cucumber) traders and, with the simplified grammar, can be understood by most English speaking people if it is spoken slowly.