IN JANUARY 2012, THIS IMAGE WAS SELECTED AS A JUDGES’ FAVOURITE IN THE TRAVEL WORD’S PHOTO OF THE YEAR 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.
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.