The Nambas (Big & Small)
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The Nambas (Big & Small)

Island hunters

Island hunters

Wash up on the picture-perfect shores of the island nation of Vanuatu, home to a number of indigenous people known collectively as Ni-Vanuatu.

Malekula island hosts some of the most remote bush tribes in the world: the «Big Namba» tribe (who mainly live in the North of the island) and «Smol (small) Namba» tribe (who mainly live in the central part of the South of the island) according to the size of the namba they wear. The namba is a traditional penis sheath made out of banana or pandanus leaves.


  • Region is Australia

  • Climate here is Tropical



These are some of the most remote and uninfluenced bush tribes in the world. They mostly sustain themselves through agriculture and hunting, including a traditional and remarkable method of hunting fish.


Ni-Vanuatu call Malekula Island home where their lands are protected by law. This is a large, mountainous paradise with fertile volcanic soil. Traditional houses, arranged in villages, look idyllic upon the island with their woven bamboo walls.


Social Structure

Chiefs and nasara, the sacred ground, demand the greatest of respect and authority among the Ni-Vanuatu. Gender roles vary. In some areas, men are in charge. In others, women have power.


The majority of Ni-Vanuatu are Christian but some still practice traditional religions.


These incredible people host rich and diverse traditions from clothing, such as their penis sheaths called nambas, to the drums they beat or the shells they blow to call workers back from the fields. The island has a visible history of cannibalism but it is no longer practised.

Both Big and Smol Nambas believe in the value of the pig. This is a belief shared in most of the Vanuatu island (a pig’s tusk is even on the national flag). The worth of the village, or of the person marrying, or of the new chief’s standing in the tribe, was measured in the number of pigs that they could source for the celebration.


More than 100 local Melanesian languages and dialects are spoken here. But the country has three national languages; Bislama, English and French.


Supported by tourism, an active craft industry has developed. Woven baskets, colored mats, bark skirts, miniature slit gongs and other sculptures, shell jewelry, bamboo flutes and bagpipes.

Most famous art works are the rhamberamb, or life-sized funerary statues of the dead, which
are prized by museum collectors.

Palm-type leaves (from the coconut or pandanus plants) are chiefly used in a tight-weave for mats
and house decorations

Namba makes simple, compact, but intricate children’s toys; rattles, pinwheels, fun bracelets etc
out of the leaves.


Nalawan Festival a ‘not to be missed’ colorful event at Firebeach and Lawa to commemorate the act of
worship to the god of the ancestors, before the first harvest of the crops.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Most of the Ni-Vanuatu no longer wear the Nambas, but they do work on keeping the traditions alive.

As evidence of the history of Malekula's cannibalism, there are many ancient cannibal sites still hidden in the bush.

Photo credit: Port Olry, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Photo credit: Boy in Port Villa, Vanuatu.

Other photos credit: Edna Paolo / Vanuatu