The mostly volcanic archipelago extends 560 miles (900 kilometers) from north to south and has an area of 5,700 square miles (14,760 square kilometers). Port Vila, the capital, which was also the colonial headquarters, is on the south-central island of Efate. The 1997 population of 185,000 is 94 percent Melanesian, 4 percent European (mostly French), and 4 percent other (Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Pacific Islander). Bislama, the nation's pidgin English which emerged in the nineteenth century, is essential for public discourse.
Many aspects of the national culture are phrased in Bislama, which has become an important marker of national identity.
The name "Vanuatu" is an important aspect of national identity.
Leaders of the Vanua'aku Party, which led the first independent government, invented the term in 1980 to replace the colonial name New Hebrides.
The Solomon Islands lie to the north, New Caledonia to the south, Fiji to the east, and the Coral Sea and Australia to the west.Vanua means "land" in many of Vanuatu's one hundred five languages, and translations of the new name include "Our Land" and "Abiding Land." Culturally, Vanuatu is complex.