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Vanuatu

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Tanna

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 vegetables.

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 enemies.

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