Malekula is Vanuatu's second-largest island, and it is an exceptional adventure destination shining like a rare gem in the vastity of the Pacific Ocean. With 30 different languages but only around 25,000 inhabitants, its history and culture are connected with the untouched jungle characterising its landscape.
Two indigenous communities are keeping traditions alive on the island regardless of the raising interest that travellers showed to their singular customs.
If you are packing for your next trip to Malekula, here you can find some curiosities on the Big and Small Nambas that could help you understand better the particularities of their traditions and connect with these two incredible cultures on the next level.
Gastronomy is one of their best talents:
Tribal women cooking Laplap
Vanuatu national dish is Laplap, grated breadfruit, bananas, taro, yam roots paste. Then, once added some coconut cream, everything is gets wrapped in banana leaves, or into bamboo tubes, which are then cooked over a fire. It is common to add some meat to the dish.
In the past, the Nambas were also known to practice cannibalism, which is today abolished! This would happen after a war between villages to demonstrate one village's power over the other. Today, it is possible to visit some sites in the jungle where these prisoners would have been kept and killed during these wars.
Regular battles but same background:
Tribal Chief in Malekula Island
Edna Paolo / Vanuatu
The Big Nambas living on the Northern territories of the island and the Small Nambas living on the Southern's have been rivals for centuries and wars were frequent. The thickness of the island's jungle didn't facilitate dialogue and connection among villages, raising tensions between communities. Even if they share some cultural traits, the main difference is the sheath made of banana leaves men wear over their penis. Big Nambas wear a bigger one and Small Nambas a smaller.
Today, most of the arguments between villages are handled through the villages' elders and often concern infidelity or land ownership disputes.
Dances, celebrations and vibrant life in the villages:
Tribal dance in Malekula Island
Celebrations are numerous, and they often are an excellent occasion to reunite with the community. Usually performed in traditional costumes, the men wear leaves skirts, and palm nuts rattles attached to their ankles, which help to build the rhythm and to involve the audience with charming beats. An occasion to dace that should not be missed!
Tourism as a useful tool to preserve culture:
Villages chiefs see tourism as an opportunity to keep their culture alive and engage with the newer generations. They are determined to pass on their knowledge to children ensuring the future of their legacy. You will notice how charming they are with visitors, as they are known for their courtesy.
Untouched jungle and breathtaking fauna:
Jungle with hut in Vanuatu
The island of Malekula has incredibly resisted to any attempt to destroy its wildlife and jungle to build a big city and hotels to welcome travellers. Its wilderness is well known to be breathtaking, and its bush host one of the richest biodiversities in the world. This is not only an opportunity to see some exceptional animals but also to experience life without what we are now, unfortunately, all used to, concrete and buildings all around. So get your shoes ready (and insect repellant as well), to fully immerse yourself in nature.
Check out more about the Big & Small Nambas in our tibes section!
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Cover photo / Tribal dance in Malekula Island / iStock.com/PietroPazzi