AMBRYM  ISLAND, Vanuatu      

Ambrym has twin volcanoes but we did not visit them. We spent time with the villagers here, where there is a source of many beautiful wood carvings.

Sept 30, 2005
Left Sandwich Bay and had a great sail with Endless and Freefall to Ambrym Island. We anchored at Ranon in front of an active little village. Since we were the only ones not to have caught fish, we hosted the fish dinner on Ascension with a combination of Mahi Mahi from Endless and Wahoo from Freefall. Before the day was out, we were visited by several dugouts, including Geoffrey who had his kids with him.

Oct 1, 2005
Visit to Village


Ranon sees quite a few yachties each year and they offer their hospitality and friendly smiles everywhere we went. Each village speaks a different language so, although the island is small, it is not very unified between 'tribes'.

We tried to arrange a ROM dance but couldn't agree on a price, so Geoffrey (definitely the local business entrepreneur) said he would try to set something up for Monday. Instead, we visited Ranon Village. Geoffrey showed us around and took us to many local carvers and we met lots of villagers, stopping for the usual handshake and introduction. In the village of 200 people, all were related. We met Geoffrey's uncle, brother, father, brother-in-law, cousins, etc, most of which were craftsmen in the village. Geoffrey also had a collection of items for sale and we traded some food items for flutes made from carved bamboo.

The kids show Donna how to play the flute.

Local Craftsmen
Geoffrey's house with some of the carvings he had for sale

A local carver shows us his tamtams (drums) and demonstrates how they are used to communicate

While we were visiting on Endless, we were approached by a Chief from a neighboring village who had a beautiful, very large carving he was trying to sell. We agreed to come to his house the following day to see what else he had. Unfortunately, the following day he was in the hospital after a family dispute with his wife. Apparently, it was a common occurrence with this couple (and spousal abuse is a HUGE problem throughout the South Pacific), but this time his wife seemed to have won the round.

We bought a little carving made from volcanic ash.
After a discussion about Vanuatan Magic, Gord goofs around showing them a finger 'magic' trick.

It seemed that almost 
everyone brought out some carvings they had made.

Another Village unaffected by Time

Along with Freefall & Endless, we walked to the neighboring village of Vania, backpacks laden with trading items. It was a long walk through the bush but along the way we were met by a group of locals who offered us coconut milk to drink. Finally we came upon a village where everyone was gathered on the grass for their 7th day Adventist Services. We felt like we were really intruding, but they all welcomed us and got up to shake hands. The children in the village immediately swarmed around us but I didn't have enough lollies for everyone.

We felt like the Pied Piper with the children following us everywhere

Two Headed TamTam

One of the men, George, took us to his house to show us a carving he had done and it impressed us enough that we ended up taking it home with us. 

Originally He was asking 5000 Vatu ($50) which was actually not unreasonable as the carving was a traditional Vanuatu Tam Tam carved from a large piece of hardwood called Namavue. It stood about 3 feet high and weighed around 25 pounds. 


After extensive negotiations, with a lot of sign language, we settled on a trade for some bowls, clothing, a knife, cups and a set of carving tools plus $1000 Vatu. We were both delighted with our deal. The children (right) were very interested in the proceedings.

Children of the Village

The villagers were delightful and so friendly. They are so different in appearance from the Fijians, with finer features and heads of tight curls, many with auburn hair.


This woman is holding a club for Pig beating and formally, used for battles with other tribes.

A woman in the village just had to give us something before we left so she ran out with a huge pawpaw.

Once back at the dinghies, Gord and Marv burned our garbage on the beach while Donna and I went back to some of the places that had carvings that intrigued us. We traded for a few items but it took forever to get through the village because the friendly people insist that they introduce themselves and talk, then many of them gave us produce. By the time we left it was dark, and I had plantains, sweet potato, papaya and capsicums to go with Freefall's fish for supper.

Ramletvan Village

Oct 2, 2005

We walked to another neighboring village of Ramletvan. The route took us on a well used path past an outcropping of bures on the outskirts of Ranon. It then meandered through the banyan trees, eventually following the beach for some distance.  We stumbled upon some tamtams in the process of being carved, covered up as it is tabu to see them before the ceremonies.

We passed large fern carvings  propped up in the black sand.

A sign tacked to a tree warned that the killing of turtles, dolphins, dugong, shrimp and snails was tabu. It was good to see that the people of Vanuatu recognized that they are living in a depleting and vulnerable environment.

Further along, a sign marked the valuable Namarue Tree that ROM carvings are made from, a warning that to cut that tree was tabu.

7th Day Adventists

When we arrived, the villagers were sitting around on the grass praying. Several men came over and introduced themselves and showed us around the village.

Abundant Carvings

The village was full of tamtams (binkbinks) and masks (ROM), many in the process of being carved. 

Crafting for Export

Couldn't resist!

I purchased a tamtam from a local man, trading school supplies, a can of corned beef, some batteries and some vatu.

The shy village children made friends with me quickly when I produced the lollies!

We met Chief Isaiah Bong and his family (right) and he proudly took us to see the bungalows he had built (far right) and took time to explain much of the cultures and traditions of the village especially concerning the ROM, with the tabus and secrets involved with getting a mask and being allowed to color it.


Isaiah showed us the hot water baths and high cliffs where sulphur vents into the ocean making the area an interesting dive site.


The chief invited us to attend the huge annual ROM Ceremony with the traditional pig killing and several days of celebration, eating, singing and dance. Unfortunately our expiring visas prevented us from partaking in the rare opportunity.

On the walk back we stopped at several houses along the way to see  carvings. Back at the boat, Freefall and Endless came aboard for cake and lemonade.

Trading for Boar's Tusks

It was not long before Joseph from Ramletvan paddled out to Ascension to trade for a boar's tusk that I had been hoping to acquire. He was being very secretive about the transaction. Tusks are highly valued in Vanuatu and are used to buy wives! A typical tusk, like the one I fancied, is about 15 to 20 years old.

Joseph wanted "spirits" and would have traded a value of $50 for a bottle of my $2.00 wine but conscience and principal prevented me from taking advantage of this opportunity. Alcohol is a problem with the native population and oftentimes leads to spousal abuse. In the end, we settled on $2000 vatu, earphones, a towel and a soccer ball I had purchased in Port Villa. I offered him some chocolate cake I had just baked thinking that would be a treat for him. But he did not like the taste and, to our horror, actually spit it out! And to think we politely choked down snails and who knows what at the village feast to be polite.


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