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The commonly held theory of Vanuatu's prehistory from archaeological evidence supports that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 3,300 years ago.

It was at this time that missionaries, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, arrived on the islands.

Although the district's population at the time consisted of about 500 natives and fewer than 50 whites, only the latter were permitted to hold office. The condominium's authority was extended in the Anglo-French Protocol of 1914, although this was not formally ratified until 1922.

Melanesians were barred from acquiring the citizenship of either power and were officially stateless; to travel abroad they needed an identity document signed by both the British and French resident commissioners.

At the height of the blackbirding, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the islands worked abroad.

Fragmentary evidence indicates that the current population of Vanuatu is greatly reduced compared to pre-contact times.

What little is known of the pre-European contact history of Vanuatu has been gleaned from oral histories and legends.

One important early king was Roy Mata, who united several tribes, and was buried in a large mound with several retainers.

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John Gibson Paton was a Scottish missionary who devoted his life to the region.

Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish cotton plantations.

When international cotton prices collapsed, they switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, coconuts.