Over time it is thought that the Lapita either mixed with, or acted as pioneers for, migrants coming from the Bismarks and elsewhere in Melanesia, ultimately producing the darker-skinned physiognomy that is typical of modern ni-Vanuatu. Linguistically, however, the Lapita peoples’ Austronesian languages were maintained, with all of the numerous 100+ autochthonous languages of Vanuatu being classified as belonging to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family.
This linguistic hyper-diversity resulted from a number of factors: continuing waves of migration, the existence of numerous decentralized and generally self-sufficient communities, hostilities between people groups, with none able to dominate any of the others, and the difficult geography of Vanuatu that impeded inter- and intra-island travel and communication. The geological record also shows that a huge volcanic eruption occurred on Ambrym in circa 200 AD and on Kuwae in c. 1452–53 AD, which would have devastated local populations and likely resulted in further population movements.
Arrival of Europeans (1606–1906):
Relations with the Ni-Vanuatu were initially friendly, though due to poor treatment of the local people by the Spanish, the situation soon soured and turned violent. Much of the crew, including Queirós, were also suffering from ill health, with Queirós’s mental state also deteriorating. The settlement was abandoned after a month, with Queirós continuing his search for the southern continent.
Europeans did not return until 1768, when the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed by the islands on 22 May, naming them the Great Cyclades. Of the various French toponyms Bougainville devised, only Pentecost Island has stuck.
The French landed on Ambae, trading with the native people in a peaceful manner, though Bougainville stated that they were later attacked, necessitating him to fire warning shots with his muskets, before his crew left and continued their voyage. In July–September 1774 the islands were explored extensively by British explorer Captain James Cook, who named them the New Hebrides, after the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, a name that lasted until independence in 1980. Cook managed to maintain generally cordial relations with the Ni-Vanuatu by giving them presents and refraining from violence.
In 1789 William Bligh and the remainder of his crew sailed through the Banks Islands on their return voyage to Timor following the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘; Bligh later returned to the islands, naming them after his benefactor Joseph Banks.
During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoan islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labour trade called “blackbirding“. At the height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the islands worked abroad. Because of this, and the poor conditions and abuse often faced by workers, as well the introduction of common diseases to which native Ni-Vanuatu had no immunity, the population of Vanuatu declined severely, with the current population being greatly reduced compared to pre-contact times. Greater oversight of the trade saw it gradually wind down, with Australia barring any further ‘blackbird’ laborers in 1906, followed by Fiji and Samoa in 1910 and 1913 respectively.