Tanna Island is an island near the southernmost string of islands making up the Melanesian country of the Republic of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides, administered jointly by Britain and France until its independence in 1980). Captain James Cook was lured ashore on Tanna Island in August 1774 by the same eerie glow that is still visible peering into the crater of volcanic Mount Yasur. Cook named the island Tanna, misunderstanding the natives whom he had asked for the name of the island (they replied in their dialect, tana, the Kwamera language word for “earth”). Nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Pacific”, Mount Yasur has erupted numerous times and is currently going through a period of high activity.
The island did not play a major role in World War II (many battles were fought to the north, principally in the Solomon Islands). “Tanna is populated almost entirely by Melanesians and they follow a more traditional lifestyle than many other islands. Some of the higher altitude villages are known as kastom villages, where modern inventions are restricted, the inhabitants wear penis sheaths [Bislama — a Creole language that is today one of the principal languages of Vanuatu, along with French and English: nambas] and grass skirts, and the children do not go to public schools. According to anthropologist Joël Bonnemaison, author of The Tree and the Canoe: history and ethnography of Tanna, their resistance to change is due to their traditional worldview and how they ‘perceive, internalise, and account for the dual concepts of space and time.’” – Wikipedi
We anchored off shore and used Zodiacs (6 meter/20 foot inflatable boats) to come ashore in a “wet” landing (jumping out, into the surf and walking on to the beach). We were met by many locals from the nearby village who were extremely friendly; many spoke good English and were happy to meet us and talk with us about life on Tanna. We were treated to a welcome dance by separate groups of women and men before we boarded four-wheel-drive trucks owned and driven by the locals for the 45 minute drive to the crater rim of Mount Yasur, timed so we would arrive at dusk in order to see the mountain and then watch the volcanic eruptions from the rim as it got dark – a spectacular “fireworks” show put on by Mother Nature. We can now understand why Mt. Yasur is considered one of the world’s most accessible volcanoes.
Tanna, a 2015 film depicting the true story of a couple who decided to marry for love, rather than obey their parents’ wishes, is set on the island, and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards