By Janet Klug
If you have ever watched travelogues on television, perhaps you have seen fearless Melanesian men of the South Pacific dive from creaky, handmade wooden towers.
They hurl head first to the ground, with nothing more than vines attached to the towers and tied around their ankles to stop their heads a mere couple of inches away from crashing into the earth.
In the early days of TV travelogues, the island group upon which this so-called “land diving” took place was known as the New Hebrides Condominium.
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This volcanic archipelago in the South Pacific is more than 1,000 miles from Australia; its closest neighbor is New Caledonia, some 340 miles to the southwest.
France and Great Britain colonized New Hebrides in the late 18th century. In 1906, both nations formed an agreement that they would jointly govern the region in an administrative arrangement called the New Hebrides Condominium.
Those early days of the condominium government required postage stamps that used both English and French languages. Look for these issues in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue under “New Hebrides, British” and “New Hebrides, French.”
From 1908-11, British New Hebrides stamps were King Edward VII keytype stamps. Keytype stamps have a basic design used for two or more postal entities, usually differing in country name and denomination inscription.
The keytype stamps for British New Hebrides originally were issued for Fiji and then overprinted “NEW HEBRIDES/CONDOMINIUM.”
French New Hebrides postage stamps originally were made for use in French New Caledonia, with “NOUVELLES/HEBRIDES” overprinted in 1908, and “CONDOMINIUM” added to the earlier overprint in 1910.
In 1911, New Hebrides postage stamps began to reflect the joint British and French rule, with denominations in both French centimes and francs, and British pence.
The stamps have a symbol of Great Britain on one side of the design with the initials “GR” (“G” for “Georgius,” representing George V; “R” for “Rex,” meaning king) and the word “postage.” On the other side of the design is a symbol for France with the initials “RF” (Republique Francaise) and “postes.”
The dual-language condominium stamps continued right up to the time of New Hebrides independence in 1980, when the newly independent nation was named Vanuatu.
Stamps were issued July 30, 1980, with the new name.
Why definitive stamps of Fiji from 1938-55 are so interesting: The stamps' images convey the beauty and lifestyle of this South Pacific island country, and several of the denominations are complex.
Vanuatu Scott 280-292 are printed in English, with the word “postage” above the denominations, which are in the New Hebrides franc. Scott 280a-292a, with the same designs as the other 13 stamps, use the French “postes.”
The Hebrides vatu replaced the franc as the denomination on stamps soon after.
Vanuatu’s official languages are Bislama, French, and English, with the latter two being the principal languages used in education. These first stamps from 1980 are the only bilinguals issued by Vanuatu.
As years passed, Vanuatu’s stamps became great at expressing the nation’s history, beauty, flora and fauna, and people.
A miniature sheet (Scott 868) issued in 2005 and pictured nearby, depicts the prehistoric Lapita people of Vanuatu in their daily lives, using tools and fishing and tending to their domestic duties.
In 1996, a set of four stamps (Scott 689-692) portrayed some of the lush hibiscus flowers of Vanuatu.
Banded iguanas appear on a set of four 2007 stamps (933-936) plus a die-cut sheet (936a), and coconut crabs were pictured the following year (942-943).
Tourism is an important part of Vanuatu’s economy, and the diving opportunities there are among the best in the South Pacific.
Marine life, corals, and reef shells are depicted on Vanuatu stamps issued in 2004 (Scott 862, a sheet of 12), 2005 (874, sheet of 12), and 2006 (879, sheet of 12), respectively.
A gorgeous, visitor-attracting sunset is presented on a 60-vatu stamp from 2005 (Scott 864), the first of a set of four stamps with beach sunset images.
Seven stamps with tourist locales (including their website addresses) were issued in 2008 (Scott 949-955).
Vanuatu Post often issues die-cut stamps and souvenir sheets to attract new collectors with knock-your-socks-off images.
Give Vanuatu collecting a try, but be aware that these stamps can be addictive! Despite that potential “problem,” you won’t go broke, given the issues’ modest costs.
And, looking over these beautiful stamps on a cold winter night is great therapy, because you can imagine yourself being a land diver! Or, maybe not …