Tanna , Vanuatu Islands. Part Two - The Island

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sun 3 Aug 2008 14:57

Tanna IS the quintessential tropical island. It is jungle, with loads of tiny villages. The buildings are constructed from bamboo poles, banana tree leaf panels and the roofs made from rush matting. 99% of the buildings have no electricity, running water or toilets. Apparently, the French version of the Survivors TV program was filmed here.


  This was a VERY up market local house Most are a quarter this size.



Some people live in tree houses, usually built into and on to Banyan Trees. Sometimes these would be up to 20 metres above ground level.



The only employment on the island is either with the local government agencies, health care (mostly foreigners) or tourism. So the vast majority of these people grow their own food and raise pigs.



To get cash to buy education for their children, or clothes or for transportation, they sell the produce they grow on the road side or in local markets. This one was under the largest Banyan tree I have ever seen.




The produce on sale in this market was all grown locally. Monkey Nuts, Yams, Pampelmousse (at £0.15 each unlike the £3.00 in Papeete), Bak Choy, Sugar Cane, Coco Nuts, Bread Fruit, Mangos, Lettuce,  and several root vegetables I did not recognise.  You could even buy bundles of fire wood. Not for heating,  but for your cooking fire. There were Pigs every where.  WE actually saw one of these poor creatures with all its trotters tied together, laying on the ground in direct sunlight, awaiting his fate. Not a nice scene by our standards, but it is the way of things in this country.


  The women were colourfully clad, in patterns wraps.



These are proud, but friendly people, who all looked clean and healthily and with a ready smile. They made no attempt to “sell” their produce. If you wanted something, you had to find the stall holder (for the posh ones, otherwise the stall was a Banana leaf on the ground). You then had to agree a price and then buy the goods. No plastic bags here to pollute the countryside, so you had to hand carry away your bounty. Or they would weave an instant basket for you made of …yes you’ve guessed it…banana leaf!


The other fun thing was that the locals were as fascinated by us as we were of them! So much “looking” and chattering went on as we wondered around.


Ethically, the people are Melanesian, but as already mentioned, there are very many tribes in Vanuatu, with 24 local languages in Tanna alone.  They tend to be very dark skinned and some have a distinctly Aboriginal look about them.  It is thought that they migrated here from Papua New Guinea, north west of here, some 3000 years ago.


The market pictured above was by far the biggest we saw. There were just loads of these road side “stop and buy”  places. As we slowed down to look, the women would shrink back a bit and the children would run out and wave…or make other less welcoming gestures! Interestingly, the only men we tended to see were old.  Or at the road side , cutting back the vegetation with Panga’s.


We were told that each of the Islands has its own tribes, local customs and culture. So much to see and sooooo little time………..


It was a thoroughly interesting day in Tanna. Made rather special by the pilot of the Unity Airlines Islander Aircraft.  Franz was a 65 year old Austrian. Professionally he was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. He and his wife packed up their lives when they were 45. To sail the dream. They got as far as Vanuatu, 16 years ago and fell in love with the place. They still live on their Jongert steel yacht, moored in Port Vila. Since they arrived he has qualified as a commercial pilot, a helicopter pilot and has helped both Australian and New Zealand TV companies make in depth documentaries about tribal customs and the way of life in Vanuatu. This is because he has spent quite a lot of time studying the way of life here and has become a recognised expert on the subject.  A truly fascinating and highly intelligent guy, who went out of his way to help us understand and appreciate Vanuatu.


Then it was back to Port Vila, on Efate and the Island tour……………..