Baháʼís of Vanuatu
The Bahá’í Community in Vanuatu has been contributing to its social and cultural life for close to 7 decades. A unique part of the Bahá’í Faith is its love of unity in diversity and its respect of local kastom (Kastom is a pidgin word (Bislama/English) used to refer to traditional culture, including religion, economics, art and magic in Melanesia.) and tradition. Using these teachings, it has found and continues to find new ways of both preserving and merging Vanuatu traditions with the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith for this age.
Mrs. Bertha Dobbins and students of Nur School, May 1962.
Mrs. Bertha Dobbins, 1971
Mr. Peter Kaltoli and his family, 1957
Over the past years, the Vanuatu community has grown rapidly and the Vanuatu Bahá’ís are building up local communities that promote unity, equality of all people, the spiritual education of children, the resolution of differences through consultation, and the oneness of religious beliefs. Bahá’í Writings have been translated into Bislama and several kastom languages.
The Baháʼí Faith first reached Vanuatu in 17 October 1953 through an Australian lady called Bertha Dobbins, a 58-year-old teacher from Adelaide. She was inspired to make this journey because she wanted to share her love of humanity expressed in the message of Bahá’u’lláh.
Once settled in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, she set up a small elementary school in her tiny cottage at Nambatu area, reflecting the Baháʼí Faith’s emphasis on the importance of education for all.
On August 9th 1954, ‘Nur School’ - School of Light - was opened with just 4 pupils. Over time, the school quickly expanded and was moved to a new location, which today houses the Port Vila Baháʼí Centre. Mrs. Dobbins taught at the school from 1954 until 1971, and remained in Vanuatu until 1977.
First National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of New Hebrides, April 1977
Port-Vila Local Spiritual Assembly, 1961
Mrs. Bertha was open to sharing the message of Bahá’u’lláh to everyone she met and this soon paved a road for many Ni-Vanuatu to join the Faith. Mr. Peter Kaltoli was the first Ni-Vanuatu to officially declare his faith for Bahá’u’lláh on March 24, 1955, soon followed by David Lonis of Erakor, William Titongoaroto of Tongoa and Alice Wombu of Erromango. From South Efate, the Bahá’í Faith expanded to other islands, finding more believers and growing its community.
The Bahá’í Faith does not have clergy. It is governed by elected bodies, called Spiritual Assemblies, that operate at the local, national and international level.
The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Vanuatu was elected in Port Vila in 1960, followed by those in Ifira (1967), Erakor (1969) and Tanna (1970). In 2021, there are 37 Local Spiritual Assemblies, and over 200 Bahá’í communities in the country.
Up until 1977, the Bahá’í Community of Vanuatu was part of the National Spiritual Assembly of the South West Pacific.
In 1977, the Vanuatu Bahá’í Community became independent by electing its first-ever National Spiritual Assembly, a few years before Vanuatu’s national independence.
During the 1990s, the Bahá’í Faith reached nearly all the islands of Vanuatu, with people joining the Bahá’í community building work on Mota Lava, North Pentecost, West Ambae, South-East Malakula, West Ambrym, Paama, Epi, Emae and Erromango, and worked on socio-economic development projects in the field of primary school education, moral education, adult literacy, water supply, health care and environmental conservation.
Today, Bahá’ís in Vanuatu are building communities that work to grow unity and learn together. Bahá’ís promote the equality of men and women, high moral values, the spiritual education of children, the resolution of differences through consultation, and the oneness of religious belief.
"The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."