Vanuatu, a world without books

Literacy, as least as developed countries conceive of it, isn’t everything, writer JB Whitmore discovers in Vanuatu.

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Waiting in the tiny Longana airport on the island of Ambae, I look up and find a boy staring. Not just at me, but at all four of us white people reading, each with a different delivery device: Kindle, book, magazine, smart phone.

Everyone around us is talking, laughing, playing with kids.


It was one of the most iconic, don’t-fit-in moments of our visit.

I spend a lot of time reading and writing. Here we were in a place where people hardly read at all.

Vanuatu is the most linguistically diverse country in the world—over 100 languages, spread over the 80+ islands—thanks to 3,000 years as a trading center. Many people speak three or more languages: Bislama, the pidgin everyone speaks; a local language; and English and/or French.

Access to books in any of those languages is rare.

IMG_3310.jpg The National Public Library is in Port Vila, on Etafe, and has…

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