Tanna is the most populated island in TAFEA
Province, almost entirely Melanesian. Most of its 20000 inhabitants still
closely follow the lifestyle of their ancestors and their custom.
The major attraction of Tanna is Mt. Yasur, known
as the world's most accessible active volcano.
Visitors will learn also about a fascinating cargo
cult, known as the Jon Frum Movement.
Today Tanna is one of the Islands where culture
and custom are still very strong. Many villages have turned their backs on
the modern ways and preferred their traditional way of life. The Tanna
people recognize the importance of their 'kastom' and require all visitors
to travel with local guides.
Captain James Cook was the first European to come to
Tanna in August 1774, after seeing the glowing light of the volcano in the
sky. The HMS Resolution landed in a
small bay, which he named Port Resolution, the next day. Captain Cook
requested permission to climb the volcano, but was refused by the chiefs
as it was considered tabu (sacred). The trading era of the 19th century
was marked by extensive killing and fighting. Missionaries met with
particular difficulties and were often killed.
The Jon Frum Movement emerged during WWII. While
accounts of their formation vary, the Movement can be partly explained by
the presence and apparent generosity of the American soldiers. With their
abundance of radios, Jeeps and Coca-Cola, the Americans would certainly
seem mysterious to the islanders. The Red Cross, a symbol for medical aid,
remains an emblem for the Jon Frum cult even today.
Strict adherents follow a traditional lifestyle,
wearing only grass skirt or nambas and not participating in any government
services (such as public school).
Tanna's land is one of the most productive in
Vanuatu and produces Kava, coffee, coconut, and many other fruits and
Dances and custom ceremonies are held throughout
the year. The Nekowiar or Toka ceremony is the most impressive. The
festival lasts three days and the village hosting the ceremony tries to
btter the previous one in the quantity of food and gifts (pigs, mats, etc...)
offered to the guest villages. A beauty contest takes place where women
and men elaborately paint their faces. More than 1000 chiefs lead Tanna's
people. The chiefs form "custom councils" which create and
uphold the village laws. (Pigs and kava are offered in compensation for
dsisputes brought to the custom councils). Many people in Tanna rely
solely on traditional plant medicine to treat their illnesses. The local
doctors, or kleva, are healers with special abilities to cast spells on
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