Ground Breaking Event; Photographing Kastom Dancing in Vanuatu

In the South Pacific radio is still used as one of the main means of communicating with the local population. There is often death announcements, notices about power and water interruptions, flight information and, of course, weather bulletins. Local businesses use radio to advertise specials and promote services and if there is a local paper it usually provides the news that is read almost hourly. Although there is information that tourist might find useful, the audience for radio in the South Pacific is definitely the locals.

That’s why I make a point to listen in.

Last week I heard about the new cargo dock that is being constructed in Port Vila. It is a multimillion dollar project that is going to take almost two years to complete and will result in one of the most sophisticated, full computerized docks in the Southern Hemisphere. It took six years of negotiations between the Vanuatu government, Japanese and Australian investors and the Chief whose people own the land, amongst others, to reach an agreement. In celebration of the start of construction of the this much needed facility a ground breaking ceremony was planned and the local radio was covering the event.

The ground breaking was delayed by a week to pay respect to the sudden death of a very influential and much loved politician, Edward Natapei. I was looking forward to trying to catch this event and kept an ear out for the new date.

There was reports that there would be a traditional Kastom dance done to bless the project. I had caught a glimpse of some of the dancers in town at another event the week before but missed their performance.

Then last week, while listening the morning show on the radio, I heard that the ceremony was already underway! Kate is moored very close to the cargo dock so I popped out and had a look; there were tents and a large crowd had already gathered. I thought I missed the show but decided to grab a camera and row ashore, figuring that even the lingering crowd would be an interesting spectacle and I might get a couple nice photos for my efforts.

As luck would have it I arrived just as the procession began.

The dancers were from Tanna, an island further south, and were 500 strong. The Daily Post, the Vanuatu daily newspaper, reported that this was only “the second time for the chiefs of Tanna to allow their sacred Toka Dance to be performed on Efate after it was first performed on Independence Day on July 30 of 1980.” I filled the memory card on my camera long before the dance was over and kicked myself that I hadn’t bought along my 35mm and a couple rolls of film. I dug out the phone, determined not to miss a moment. (Click on images to enlarge)

I also somehow ended up with a front row seat at the ceremonial exchange of gifts between Prime Minister Sato Kilman and Chief Mantoi Kalsakau III. A live pig, root crops, kava plants and woven mats (the pillars of life in Vanuatu) were presented. Each man circled his pile of gifts, bending to touch each item in acceptance. The PM wore a flower wreath and the Chief wore a pig tusk around his neck.

It was a pretty amazing morning, one you probably won’t hear about on travel websites or sailing forums. But, they are still talking about it on local radio.


H… &S


3 thoughts on “Ground Breaking Event; Photographing Kastom Dancing in Vanuatu

    • Tanna allows visitors, in fact there is an active volcano there that you can climb, and I am very much looking forward to seeing it. They also have sustainable coffee plantations and produce very tasty beans. I am not sure what the tie in was between Tanna and the wharf project, the land belongs to the islanders close by on Ifira so I understand.


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