Keamu cultural village immersion

10 fun facts about the aboriginal people of Mystery Island in Vanuatu

Ed Pineda

I was lucky enough to experience a rare opportunity to meet and interact with the indigenous people of Aneityum which is commonly known as the Mystery Island located at the southernmost part of Vanuatu.
After a short boat ride and a 5-minute walk, we reached the humble village of Keamu. Here are some of the most interesting facts I've learned from this 2-hour immersion.
1. The current population of the island is just 1,800 people. 10 years ago, they only had around 900 dwellers. Few centuries back just before the Europeans came, the island is believed to have around 12,000 residents but diseases and blackbirding caused an abrupt decrease in their population.
2. At the village border just before you enter, there is a plant called “ni-yeng” blocking the doorway. The presence of this plant indicates that you are not welcome to enter the village. Aside from gates and walkways, they also put ni-yeng to fruit-bearing trees which means you're not allowed to pick the fruits hanging on it. To enter a village without getting harmed, you should have a strand of leaves called "inpa". In olden times, if you are from one tribe going to another with an inpa in your hand, it means you have come in peace.
3. In the olden days, People of Aneityum are cannibals. If they had a tribal war, the remaining bodies after the combat will be served for a feast.
4. People in the village live a very simple life. The island has no electricity, no running water, no paved roads, and no internet. They have a service boat that comes once a month heading to Port Vila to buy all their necessities.
5. The island is divided by chiefdoms governed by a chief. A chief is never chosen, as the role is being passed from generation to generation.
6. Although with the use of paper money in modern times, they still use traditional currencies in between villages by trading. The most common traditional currencies are weaved mats, roosters, taro, and weaved baskets.
7. There are only 4 flights a week going to Mystery Island.
8. Con shells are used to communicate and only warriors are allowed to blow it. 1 blow means welcoming visitors to their tribe and 3-4 blow means the chief needs to gather everyone.
9. Since the island is in the Pacific, they always encounter a tropical storm. As a survival technique, they pick all the fruits   (especially bananas) that fell on the ground after the catastrophe, dig a hole in the ground and preserved it. This provision is called “Namarai”.
10. They have great respect for women as their role in the community is very significant. Starting at the age of 4,  girls are being taught  how to weave baskets, mats, bags, and anything that can be knitted by coconut leaves and banana fiber.
Other noteworthy topics during the immersion are traditional medicines, arranged marriage, survival cooking, hunting, and how the community works. Do you know any indigenous people that has similar way of living like the Keamu people?

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