A taste of Tanna

A taste of Tanna
By admin


It’s about 7.30 in the morning when we board our tiny plane to Tanna, one of the outer, more rustic islands of Vanuatu. We rattle through the sky and half an hour later, we land at the smallest airport I’ve seen to date.

As guests to the annual Tok Tok tourism and trade show, we get a special welcome on arrival.

Traditional Ni-Vanuatu men dressed in grass skirts and black face paint rush down to greet us, or scare us as it were.

The ‘welcome’ is reflective of the kind of reception missionaries received when they discovered these Pacific islands, and is both frightening and fascinating.

We breeze through customs (a single room, where the luggage carousel is a table), and jump into our respective pick-up trucks to start our adventure.

The bumpy, unpaved roads means travelling is no easy feat, and we jostle and bump into each other as we fly down the main road, which feels like the only road on the island.

‘Culture’ is the theme of the day, as we gear up to visit a number of traditional villages where we might catch a glimpse into the age-old customs of the local people.

We visit the newly established Tafatuna Cultural Experience first, a recreated village based on the Fatuna people and their way of life. As a rather new addition to the village experiences in Tanna, it feels even more authentic, as we enter the unrehearsed world of Fatuna life.

Charlie, the owner, welcomes us to his creation, which he says provides jobs for local Ni-Vanuatu in the nearby villages, in particular the actual village it is based on, which is a mere 10 minutes away.

We are guided by members of the village through the history of the tribe, including where they sleep, what they eat, and the way they utilise the resources around them to make baskets and weave skirts.

We taste their customary dishes of taro and kumala and coconut, all cooked in a bed of hot rocks, wrapped in giant banana leaves, a dish they call lap lap.

Later that day, we visit the Black Magic Village, where we are greeted by a similar welcome to the airport, but about one hundred times scarier.

About 20 kids and young adults run at us, screaming and brandishing large spears, before taking us on a tour of their traditions, which occurs around the perimeter of the giant banyan trees, whose roots reach and overlap like tentacles, firmly clinging to the soft earth.

But the highlight of the cultural village tours is the Lekalangia Louinio cultural village, which bears no signs of any external influences or lifestyles.

Annie and her daughter take us through the village, where the children and adults wear nothing but a grass skirt and bare feet, and the children are eternally fascinated with our jewellery and clothing.

The women show us the scars etched into their skin to mark the arrival of their first period, and the men show us how to make fire.

The people cling to their traditions, and continue to teach their unique celebrations to each new generation, because, as the chief tells me, “we don’t want to lose it.”

The cultural villages of Tanna showcased some inspiring and enthralling ways of life that felt so far removed from my own, and I can’t help but hope that, despite the influences of tourism and education, their culture continues to lives a little longer. 

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