Espiritu Santo (from the Spanish espíritu santo, "Holy Spirit", sometimes called just Santo) is the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, with a surface area of 3955.5 km². It belongs to the archipelago of the New Hebrides in the Pacific region of Melanesia. It is in the Sanma Province of Vanuatu.
The town of Luganville, on Espiritu Santo's southeast coast, is Vanuatu's second-largest settlement and the provincial capital. Roads run north and west from Luganville but most of the island is far from the limited road network.
Vanuatu's highest peak is the 1879 metre (6165 foot) Mount Tabwemasana in west-central Espiritu Santo.
During World War II, particularly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the island was used by Allied forces as a military supply and support base, naval harbor, and airfield. The presence of the Allies later contributed to the island's diving tourism, as the United States dumped most of their equipment and refuse at what is now known as 'Million Dollar Point'.
Between May and August 1980 the island was the site of a rebellion during the transfer of power over the colonial New Hebrides from the condominium to independent Vanuatu. Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests and backed by the Phoenix Foundation and American libertarians hoping to establish a tax-free haven, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. A Republic of Vemerana was proclaimed. British Royal Marines and a unit of the French Garde Mobile were deployed to the Vanuatu's capital island but did not invade Espiritu Santo as the soon-to-be government had hoped. The troops were recalled shortly before independence. Following independence Vanuatu, now governed by Father Walter Lini, requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces invaded and restored order on Espiritu Santo.
James Michener was stationed here during World War II and it is the real life setting of Tales of the South Pacific.
Santo, with many wrecks and reefs to be explored, is a very popular tourist destination for divers. Champagne Beach draws tourists with its pink sand and clear waters. The "Western Side" of the island contains many caves which may be explored, and cruise ships often stop in at Luganville.
The local people survive by supporting the tourist trade, by cash-crop farming (peanuts) or by subsistence farming and fishing.
Most Santo people are Christians. The largest church groups on the island are the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Melanesia (Anglican). Also active are the Apostolic Church, the Church of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and others. However, in many villages, particularly in Big Bay and South Santo, the people are "heathen", a term that in Vanuatu has no pejorative connotation — it simply denotes someone who has not embraced Christianity. Customary beliefs of a more modern sort are found among followers of the Nagriamel movement based in Fanafo.
For almost all Santo people custom plays a large part in their lives, regardless of their religion. The chief system continues strongly in most areas.
The people of Santo face some health problems, especially malaria, tuberculosis and a rising number of HIV cases. Although there is a hospital, most locals consult either their own witch doctor or medical clinics set up by western missionaries. Kava is the popular drug of the island, although alcohol is becoming more prevalent. With the rising number of adults using alcohol, there is a rising crime rate, especially involving violence toward women, and tribal warfare.
Santo is home to a number of cattle farms (including the famous Belmol Cattle Project, originally established by French settlers) and exports much of its beef to Japan, Australia and other Pacific Island countries.
Besides beef, tin fish and rice, bought in town, Santo has many foods that locals take for granted and that tourists enjoy as delicacies. Among these are sweet pineapples, mangos, island cabbage, flying fox and coconut crab, as well as local nuts such as natapoa and the sweet fleshy-fruit nouse. There is a market in Luganville for groceries and many roadside stores, often run by Chinese.
Many local people still rely on subsistence farming for their food. Most villages have a garden that is tended by men and women alike. Taro and yam are commonly grown in these gardens, and are mainstays of the local diet.