Photo of the Week: The Children of Yakel Village, Tanna, Vanuatu

  • John Nicholls (Photo and Text)
  • 7 August 2011


Living what some outsiders would consider a feral existence is normal to the children of Yakel, a Kastom village on the island of Tanna in the Vanuatu archipelago.

The settlement is referred to locally as a Nambas village – the Nambas being the sole item of apparel worn by men, hiding their private parts. This means that the village rejects everything introduced by the Western world. The children shown in the picture below will never go to school. Their clothing, food and entertainment will be provided solely by the forest in which they live.

Photo of the Week (08 August 2011) - The Children of Yakel Village, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Visiting Yakel, or other Kastom villages in Vanuatu, is partaking in a voyage where time is of no consequence, where birthdays do not exist as there is no way of remembering this or any other event marked on a calendar – even if the residents had any inclination to record anything. One male from the village will be chosen to receive sufficient education in either English or French to act as an interpreter and guide to the outside world. Many of the Yakel villagers do not even speak Bislama, the creole language used throughout the archipelago.

The  Yakel tribe performs dances for visitors and sells handmade carvings to raise cash for basic tools such as machetes, axes, pots, pans and medical equipment, and to maintain the one old truck that services the tribe, a group consisting of around 700 people.

There’s an old story that in the past a chief was asked by his community “What do you do with all the money we collect?” The chief happily displayed his pride and joy – a mattress made of weaved Pandanus leaves and stuffed with currency notes from all over the world. He had not known what to do with all the strange-looking ‘White-Man leaves’. Rightly, he believed this was better than sleeping on the ground at his advanced age. Nowadays, the money is kept in a bank.

There are many other villages in Vanuatu where one experiences a spontaneous friendliness, dancing and indigenous art, and many of these can be visited as part of an organised tour. There are also many accommodation options that allow visitors to experience several different perspectives of life on Tanna.

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John Nicholls

John Nicholls heard of whl.travel in 2004 and instantly knew that it was not only a perfect complement to his operation as a promoter of his beloved Vanuatu, but it reflected his ideological 'eco' approach to tourism. After launching and operating two iconic resorts in Vanuatu, John and his wife Silvana set up the only last-minute online booking service in Vanuatu and now operate the most comprehensive online booking service for the destination: www.vanuatu-hotels.vu.
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children, ecotours, indigenous culture, islands, language, local knowledge, Melanesia, Oceania, personal experience, photo of the week, poverty, Vanuatu, whl.travel,

7 Responses to “Photo of the Week: The Children of Yakel Village, Tanna, Vanuatu”

  1. John says:

    Hi Lesley,
    > Thank you for your kind words.
    > I have other areas that may be of help, all you do is Google: “john nicholls Vanuatu” or you can go direct to some links below:
    > https://www.facebook.com/Vanuatu.holiday.travel
    > TRIPADVISOR (my Avatar is “vanuatulocal”):
    > http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowForum-g317047-i12180-Tanna_Island.html
    > PICASA:
    > General Image Library of Vanuatu
    > https://plus.google.com/photos/101668878503167184262/albums?banner=pwa&gpsrc=pwrd1#photos/101668878503167184262/albums
    > Have fun!
    > 🙂
    > John

  2. Lesley MacDonald says:

    Hi John,

    Lovely to read your post and I will be looking at more of your posts on Vanuatu. I have just come home from a 7 day holiday staying on Iririki Island and looking around Port Vila with my family. I found the people to be an amazingly beautiful people. The only time I heard a raised voice in anger was from a tourist who did not understand their way of life and bought his issues on to them. Very sad.

    On some site it talked of the increase of crime and voilence particularly in Port Vila be we found just the opposite and always felt safe and everyone very helpful. After our first day there we all decided we need to go back and look further at the other islands. After our 7th day and day of departure we were very sad to leave and still hold on to the need to go back to such an amazing place.

    It is an great feeling to have a need to go back and know more of a different culture and people.


  3. For those interested in Vanuatu, I am posting more on: https://www.facebook.com/vanuatu.travel.holidays?sk=app_2373072738#!/vanuatu.travel.holidays

    If you like it, then happy when you “Like” it…:-)


  4. Hey there I’ve been following your blog since last six months and I must say it was truly very interesting reading and very informative too. So thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. John says:

    Hi Gregory,

    You don’t state which village you went to? There are over 150 on Tanna, some Kastom, others (most) that are not.
    I have been going to Yakel (the one in the article) since 2001 and can vouch for their aunthenticity.
    Here are more images of their community: https://picasaweb.google.com/101668878503167184262/YakelCustomVillageTannaIslandVanuatu2002#

    As I mentioned in the article, one person is provided a basic information for “Tok Tok to white fellas”, in this village it is Tom (in the bottom picture with the broad smile…teeth stained from macerating Kava). He is also in image 86 with his baby son.

    You will find Yakel village community starting on image Photo 98 onwards in: https://picasaweb.google.com/101668878503167184262/NekowarTokaCelebrationsTannaIsland2002#

    If you need further details, be happy to help.


  6. gregory says:

    I went to Vanuatu, including Tanna, and went in the villages to see the lifestyle.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me more like a show for tourists rather than a true discovery of their culture.

    I did that through one of the few hotels of the island.

    It woud be good to know how this could be improved, because it is indeed a very interesting culture.

    But it was amazing swimming with some of Tanna kids on the coast, or just give them pencils and see all this excitement in their eyes.

  7. its amazing how people still live like this in certain parts of the world

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