A Spanish expedition established a settlement here in 1606. The leader was actually Portuguese, named Pedro Fernandes de Queirós. He called the island Espiritu Santo in honour of the very religious Spanish. At the time, he believed that he had reached “Terra Australis”. Later, both French and British colonialists agreed to share the island. The British set up their administration in Hog Harbour on the northeast coast, while Segond (near Luganville) became the centre of the French district.
During World War II, Santo became a military, naval and air force base for the Allied forces – particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbour. After the war, the Allies dumped most of their equipment into the ocean. The site became known as “Million Dollar Point”. The island’s many reefs and wrecks including the SS President Coolidge attract keen divers to this location.
In 1980, the island became independent. A new government began its rule of the Republic of Vemerana. Firstly, the tribal chiefs of Santo named the French Ambassador Philippe Allonneau as their King. Following independence, forces from Papa New Guinea invaded and conquered the island.
Modern Espiritu Santo
For the local people, ancient customs and traditions still play a large part in their lives. Some of the islanders call themselves “Heathens” simply meaning that they have not become Christian. They live side by side with other tribes who converted when missionaries visited the island during the 19th-century. Each tribe has a chief. The chieftain system and the use of “medicine men” are still very much embraced by the local population.
Visitors flock to Santo to visit Champagne Beach, the surrounding caves and the smaller, hidden beaches. Diving and snorkelling are favourite sports for tourists.
Additionally, countless species of birds inhabit the island including an exclusive species, the Santo Mountain Starling. The Loru Conservation Area is on the east coast. The Vatthe Conservation area is near to Big Bay in the north. There is a tremendous government effort to preserve the island’s biodiversity, a spectacular reef and marine life.
Santo hosted the Melanesia Cup in 1998, which is the primary football tournament for the area of Oceania (part of the South Pacific) and all of its islands.