Getting festive in Vanuatu's outer islands

Getting festive in Vanuatu's outer islands
By admin

Pentecost: Naghol Land Diving Festival – Every Saturday between April and June

Everybody has heard of bungy jumping, but have you heard of naghol? This tradition of land diving, practiced on the island of Pentecost for 15 centuries, is widely considered the forebear of modern day bungy jumping. Local land divers tie vines to their ankles before leaping from a 20 to 30 metre purpose-built wooden tower with the aim of grazing their shoulders gently on the ground.

Only locals are allowed to jump, but visitors are free to enjoy the spectacle and join in the music and dancing that form a vital part of the festival.

Missed the festival? Head into the island’s pristine rainforests to swim in the clear blue pools of Waterfall Falls, or visit its beaches to snorkel and perhaps even score a chance encounter with a dolphin or dugong.

Stay: Nak Bungalows in south Pentecost is a safe bet. You can call to make a booking or contact the Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO).


*Image credit to David Kirkland*

Malekula: Port Sandwich Festival – August

An authentic pig exchange ceremony is a ritual traditionally performed at all important occasions and visitors can witness it first hand at Lamap, a small town in south Malekula, during its annual festival. Although only launched in 2010, the history and the culture that it celebrates go back much further than that.

Dance groups and local string bands provide the entertainment while the Women’s Club demonstrates how to cook and eat in the traditional way. Liberal helpings of fresh kava and cold Tusker beer keep the party going into the night.

Missed the festival? Known as the island of custom, visitors can have a cultural experience here year round. The primary groups, the Small Nambas and the Big Nambas – named after the men’s woven penis sheathes – both have their own practices and ceremonies which they enjoy sharing.

Stay: Visit for a range of accommodation options.


Epi: National Sand Drawing Festival – June

Sand drawings, or sandroings, are symmetrical, geometric patterns created in the sand using just one finger. Although intricate, they are more than just decorative, holding a wealth of information about history, traditions and important skills such as farming.

This annual festival, attended by hundreds of locals from across the islands, is an effort to help preserve the customs.

Traditional dances, games, magic shows, storytelling and weaving demonstrations also form part of the festival.

Missed the festival? Epi’s Lamen Bay is known for its population of friendly dugongs. Bondas, in particular, is particularly well loved by tourists who can take a swim with him in the waters off the 1.5km black and white sand beach.

Stay: Try the Aussie-run Epi Island Guesthouse. Visit


Ambrym: Yam & Magic Festival – July

A festival dedicated to a root vegetable may seem an odd concept, but once you learn that the yam is sacred to the Melanesian people and that Ambrym means “here are yams”, it suddenly gets interesting. Even more interestingly, Ambrym is also known as an island of magic, with those that practice sorcery afforded the utmost respect.

During the annual festival, people share yam-related tales and ritual magic is practised. Then there’s Ambrym’s famous Rom dance, which is traditionally followed by a pig-killing ceremony.

Missed the festival? Although lesser known than Tanna’s Mount Yasur, twin volcanoes Mount Benbow and Mount Marum offer an equally spectacular show. Visitors require a guide and permission from the custom chief.

Stay: Visit for a range of accommodation options.


Banks & Torres: Lakona Bay Festival – August

Water music, which originates on the northerly island of Gaua, is traditionally only played by its women. Dressed in costumes of flowers and leaves, the women wade into waist-deep water, arrange themselves in a crescent formation, and then begin to beat the water. The result is a rhythmic blend of flesh and waves – totally unique.

Missed the festival? The island is a bushwalkers dream, with a volcano, Mount Garet, and the impressive 120 metre Siri Waterfall tucked deep in its interior.

Stay: Try Wongras Bungalows. Call to make a booking or contact the VTO.


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