“Vanuatu cultural festivals are unique and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, ranging from the
Vanuatu Custom Travel
VANUATU CULTURAL FESTIVALS
Vanuatu is considered to be one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth and this is reflected in the amazing variety of cultural festivals and ancient “living” rituals that occur each year. And Espiritu Santo is the perfect jumping off point for many of these festivals as it is the gateway to the northern islands of Vanuatu. So here is a comprehensive list of annual Vanuatu cultural festivals on a month by month basis (please check with local tour operators or Tourism Vanuatu for exact dates by clicking HERE)
- St Paul’s Day – Rah & Mota Lava islands
February – March
- John Frum Day – Sulphur Bay, Tanna Island – John Frum is a mythical figure associated with a cargo cult which arose on Tanna Island. Usually depicted as a WWII soldier from the US, John Frum is said to bring wealth and prosperity to those who believe in him. Every year, a military parade is held in his honour, the village men dress up like US soldiers and parade with wooden rifles while the flag is raised and prayers offered to the great Cargo God that lives in the USA.
April to June
- Nagol Land Diving – Pentecost Island – a rite-of-passage ceremony held during the yam harvest season (and inspiration for today’s “Bungee Jumping”). Initiates dive off tall elaborate stick towers with only vines tied to their ankles, and must barely touch the soil first with the chest or head at the moment the vine “catches” the fall and springs them back into the air. One of the must see Vanuatu cultural festivals.
- Sand Drawing Festival – Malekula Island – Sand drawing is an ancient and totally unique form of art and communication, where the drawer creates beautiful sand artworks using only their fingers in one continuous flowing motion. The line must touch all intersections of a straight-line tic-tac-toe type framework resulting in complex geometric designs of intersecting circles.
- St Barnabas Day – Rah & Mota Lava islands
- Maskelyne Canoe Race and Festival – Maskelyne Islands, Malekula (28-29 July) – the Maskelyne Islands off of Malekula are stunningly beautiful and this 2 day event features kastom dance, canoe-making, kava tasting, shared local meals and of course the famous canoe race, finishing with a huge “island night” celebration.
- Fanla Village Festival North Ambrym Island (19-20 July) – 2 day community party centred around an ancestral, mysterious dance called Rom. Fanla village is one of the best places to see this incredible dance featuring very elaborate costumes, it is the oldest village in Ambrym and the people there continue to follow ancient customs. See bamboo flute playing, traditional drumming, magic, wood and lava stone carving (which you can purchase during the festival), weaving and more. One of the Vanuatu cultural festivals not to be missed!
- Yam and Magic Festival – Olal, North Ambrym Island (21-22 July)– on an island renowned for its black magic, this is one of the more ancient Vanuatu cultural festivals. It revolves around the sacred importance of yams to the Melanesian people. Witness ancient tales, custom dances, sand drawings and different kinds of ritual magic.
- Lamen Bay Outrigger Canoe Festival – Epi Island – traditional sailing canoe race, beach races, beach football and volleyball, tug-o-war and men’s, women’s traditional outrigger canoe races.
- Big Bay Festival – Santo Island – held at Mantantas in Big Bay, it’s a long hard drive to get there on a very rough dirt road but it’s well worth the effort Mantanas is where the first Spanish and Portuguese explorers arrived in Vanuatu in the 1600s. Similar to other Vanuatu cultural festivals, it features kastom dancing, displays of traditional food preparation and weaving, sand drawing, kastom stories, as well as a delicious Melanesian feast and guided tours of Vanuatu’s largest Conservation Area – Vatthe.
- Nemagi Luan Manbush Festival – Unua – Melkan Village, South Central Malekula – the ‘Man Bush’ are the original Small Nambas tribes that have retained their traditional customs. To experience this festival you need to hike into the remote village of Melkan. Amongst the festival activities are fire-making, masked dances, women’s dancing, nesowong (Manbush) food preparation, magic displays, local tam tam music, bow and arrow making, kastom mat and natangoura weaving, a fire display and kava ceremony. Plus a small Manbush experience with a half day trek to learn bush craft and survival skills – Manbush style.
- Circumcision Ceremonies – Tanna Island – one of the more traditional Vanuatu cultural festivals, this event occurs between July and August. The ceremonies revolve around the boys in the village being turned into young men (traditionally with a piece of sharp bamboo). Lots of feasting, yelling and colourful celebrations.
- Back To My Roots Festival – Olal, North Ambrym Island (25 -27 Aug) – One of the bigger Vanuatu Cultural Festivals not to be missed. 3 days of tam tam drumming, black magic shows, Yeng Dances, women’s custom dancing, Namangi ceremony (highlight), flute demonstrations, sand drawings and of course the famous Rom custom dance.
- Lamap Art and Cultural Festival – Lamap, South Malekula (11-12 August) – entire local community of Lamap celebrate their culture, traditions and unique way of life with a two-day art and cultural festival. Includes an authentic pig exchange ceremony, skill displays, custom dancing and stories, island feasts, string bands and kava tastings.
- The Lakona Bay Kastom Festival – Gaua Island – Hosted by Chief John Star, Father Levi (local Anglican minister) and the villages of the Lakona Bay region, this is unique among Vanuatu cultural festivals and includes music, food, wood/stone carving, water music (where women make “music” using only the still water of river pools as their instrument), and of course the famous Snake Dance where men and boys paint themselves in black and white bands like the poisonous sea snake to try to evoke its spiritual power.
- St Bartholomew’s Day – Rah & Mota Lava islands
- South West Bay Nalawan Festival – Malekula – 2 day cultural festival celebration at Fire Beach, Lebo Village and Lawa, in South West Bay, celebrated every year since time immemorial to worship the gods of their ancestors just prior to the harvest of their crops. Unique activities are performed such as spectacular custom dances and authentic grade-taking ceremonies. There is also a yacht race to the island.
- Port Sandwich Cultural Festival – Malekula
The local community of Lamap celebrate their culture, traditions and unique way of life with a two-day art and cultural festival. Authentic pig exchange ceremony, skill displays, custom dance and stories, traditional island feasts, local string bands, kava tastings and plenty of cold Tusker. A unique villagestay option is available for those guests who wish to gain a truly personal cultural experience.
- Nalint Big Nambas Cultural Art festival – Mae Village, Malekula (25 Aug) – the Nalint Big Nambas tribe will be hosting this cultural art festival for the first time in 2016 in order to revive their culture. It will incorporate stories about the Big Nambas history, cultural performances (dances, pig killing ceremonies and more), traditional cooking/food preparation, weaving, and more.
- Twin Waterfall Festival – Vanua Lava Island – located at the beautiful Waterfall Bay, this festival is known for its poems, songs, exhibitions of house building and canoe building, dancing, feasting and much more. Off the beaten track but well worth making the effort to see – one of the more traditional Vanuatu Cultural Festivals.
- Paama Island Mini Arts Festival – Tevali Aot Village, Paama Island – a small revival festival put on by the local community
- Maewo Special Cultural Festival – Maewo Island
- Rah Island Canoe Race – Rah Island – this is one of the more interactive Vanuatu cultural festivals and offers visitors the opportunity to participate in a 30 minute outrigger canoe race around Rah Island, a very picturesque part of Vanuatu. The race begins and finishes on the beach in front of the Rah Beach Bungalows (formerly known as the Harry Memorial Guesthouse) and takes place at high tide. Other activities include a local prize vegetable and fruit competition, sand drawing demonstrations and a swim race across the lagoon.
- Dam Nipiyakeh Nalwan Festival – Mun Village, South West Bay, Malekula – Mun Village in association with Mun Kastom School host a one day festival high up in the hills above South West Bay. You have to hike in part of the way to see this, but as Vanuatu cultural festivals go, this is worth it. Highlights include an authentic custom pig killing ceremony, a kastom rank giving ceremony, sand-drawing and weaving demonstrations, and a visit to the ancient village – with eerie cannibal sites, remnants of ancient ancient clay pottery unique to the island and a banquet of delicious Melanesian kaikai.
- Vanua Lava Arts Festival – Vureas Bay, Banks Islands – in addition to the usual kastom dances like the Snake Dance, Elgetiti Dance, Inokor Dance and Mag Dance, this 4 day festival also features guided visits to historical sites, workshops on how to catch freshwater prawns, water music shows and traditional fire making.
- Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival – Luganville, Santo – a 2-day family friendly music festival that draws almost 200 musicians from around the Pacific, including Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Australia, and proudly hosts many kastom performance groups and musicians from Vanuatu’s Samna Province
- Fest Napuan Music Festival – Port Vila, Efate – mix of traditional and contemporary music, dancing and gospel
- Toka Festival – Tanna – a 3 day extravaganza that takes place only every few years when the paramount chief deems conditions favorable. Tribes from all over Tanna meet to feast and dance. Women paint their faces with brilliant designs and hundreds of them dance for 24 hrs non-stop, followed by a massive traditional village feast. One of the Vanuatu cultural festivals not to be missed!
- St Andrew’s Day Festival – Rah and Mota Lava Island – for more than 100 years, the people of these islands have been coming together to celebrate the life of Saint Andrew. During this fascinating cultural festival, visitors can join the locals as they fish using a giant traditional coconut leaves fishing net, taste the “volcano baked” food, see the famed sea snake dances and trek up the Rock of Rah or the Sleeping Giant mount.