Vanuatu’s national language, Bislama, is derived from Beche-de-Mer or sea cucumber, the trade of which commodity in the late 1800s signaled the start of trade relations between Vanuatu and China, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Trade Joe Natuman told a recent Seminar on Cooperation and Exchange between China (Guangdong) and Vanuatu.

He was speaking at the seminar hosted by the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou two days after the DPM and his delegation of 13 MPs attended the opening of the Guangdong 21st Century Marine Silk Road International Expo in Dongguan, Guangdong Province’s second largest city.

“Vanuatu and China have had a long fruitful relation dating back a number of years”, he said adding: “It is important that we are holding this forum at the time when you are holding the International Expo on the Maritime Silk Road initiative that will aim to increase trade relations between our two countries.”

“The Chinese people and the people of Vanuatu have had a long relationship with each other,” Natuman added saying: “At the time when the Europeans were coming to the Pacific to trade in the late 1800s, the Chinese were also involved in the trade in the Pacific.”

“In fact when the British imported Chinese tea, the Chinese would not accept the British Pound or British money. So, the British had to look for something to trade with for the tea, and they looked for sandalwood and Vanuatu had lots of sandalwood.

“In fact one of our Members of Parliament in this delegation (UMP MP Tomker Netvunei) comes from Erromango and his island has lots of sandalwood. The British got the sandalwood from Vanuatu, came to China, exchanged the sandalwood and took the tea to England. That was our first trade contact,” the Deputy Prime Minister, a history/politics graduate told the seminar.

“Later on we had lots of Chinese investors and traders in the marine sector. They came to trade in beche-de-mer or sea cucumber. In Vanuatu we don’t eat sea cucumber but in China I believe you like sea cucumber and the Chinese came to our islands because we have lots of sea cucumber.

“That’s how we started trading. And in fact our national language, the lingua franca of Vanuatu, which in Papua New Guinea is called Tok Pisin – a broken English, in the Solomon Islands is called Pidgin English, and in Vanuatu the name was changed. It’s called Bishlamer or Bislama,” Natuman continued.

“The language is derived from beche-de-mer trading. The local people could not speak Chinese, they could not speak English and they could not speak the many ni-Vanuatu languages, so they came up with this language to communicate, they call Bishlamer or Bislama. Today it is our national language.” READ MORE