Espiritu Santo

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Espiritu Santo (from the Spanish espíritu santo, "Holy Ghost", sometimes called just Santo, coordinates 15°23′S 166°51′E / 15.39°S 166.85°E / -15.39; 166.85) is the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, with a surface area of 3955.5 km². It belongs to the archipelago of the New Hebrides in the Pacific region of Melanesia. It is in the Sanma Province of Vanuatu.

The town of Luganville, on Espiritu Santo's southeast coast, is Vanuatu's second-largest settlement and the provincial capital. Roads run north and west from Luganville but most of the island is far from the limited road network.

Vanuatu's highest peak is the 1879 metre (6160 foot) Mount Tabwemasana in west-central Espiritu Santo.


The Portuguese explorer, working for Spain, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós established a settlement in 1606 at Big Bay on the north side of the island. Espiritu Santo takes its name from Queirós, who named the entire island group Austrialia del Espíritu Santo.

During the latter stages of World War II the island was the site of a large United States and allied forces military supply, airfield and support bases. The US presence is marked by the renowned diving spot 'Million Dollar Point', where the US military dumped all its equipment before leaving the island, resulting in an underwater display of tractors, aeroplanes and millions of 7-Up and Coca-Cola bottles lined up on the seabed. [1]

Between May and August 1980 the island was the site of a rebellion during the transfer of power over the colonial New Hebrides from the BritishFrench Condominium to independent Vanuatu. Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. British Royal Marines and a unit of the French Garde Mobile were deployed to the nation's capital island but did not invade Espiritu Santo as the soon-to-be government had hoped. The troops were recalled shortly before independence. Following independence Vanuatu, now governed by Father Walter Lini, requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces invaded and restored order on Espiritu Santo.


Currently Santo, with many wrecks and reefs to be explored, is a very popular tourist destination for divers. It also boasts Champagne Beach, a very popular spot where the pink sand and clear waters are a favourite among tourists. The Western Side of the Island contains many caves which may be explored and Cruise ships often stop in at Luganville.

The local people survive by supporting the tourist trade, by cash-crop farming (peanuts) or by subsistence farming and fishing.

Most Santo people are Christians. The largest church groups on the island are the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the Roman Catholic Churches and the Church of Melanesia (Anglican). Quite active are the Apostolic Church, the Church of Christ and Seventh Day Adventists, as well as others.

However there are many village peoples, particularly in Big Bay and South Santo, that still practice heathen that, in Vanuatu, has no pejorative connotation, it simply means someone who has not embraced the Christian faith. Customary beliefs of a more modern sort are found among followers of the Nagriamel movement based in Fanafo.

For almost all Santo people custom plays a big part in their lives, regardless of their religion.

The chiefly system continues strongly in most areas.

Major health problems are being faced by the people of Santo, especially malaria, tuberculosis and the rising number of cases of HIV. While there is a hospital, most locals either consult their own witch doctor or the medical clinics set up by some of the western missionaries. Kava is the popular drug of the island, although alcohol is becoming more and more prevalent. With the rising number of adults using alcohol there is a rising crime rate, especially violence towards women, and tribal warfare.


Besides beef and rice, bought in town, Santo has many wonderful foods that the locals take for granted and that the tourists enjoy as delicacies. Among these are the sweet pineapples, mangos, island cabbage and coconut crab. There is a 24-hour market in Luganville for groceries and many roadside stores.