Experience Vanuatu’s Unique Festivals this Year!

Aug 25, 16 Experience Vanuatu’s Unique Festivals this Year!




If you’re looking to take your Vanuatu travel experience to a new level and step beyond sunning yourself on the beach – here’s a handy guide to the many unique and wonderful cultural experiences the archipelago has to offer over the next few months.





The artistic, cultural and linguistic traditions of Vanuatu are extremely diverse; there are 65 inhabited islands (of 83 islands in total) and over one hundred indigenous languages. Consequently, the cultural events that take place on different islands all hold a unique significance. Visitors are welcome to attend a number of these; it is, of course, important to remember that cultural practices must be treated with respect and sensitivity.




Back To My Roots Festival

Olal, North Ambrym (25 – 27 August 2016)


Visit Ambrym Island with its distinctive volcanic black sand beaches and tropical jungle, and attend the Back To My Roots Festival in North Ambrym, in late August. You will be able to experience kastom welcome dances (some of which are divided into Men’s and Women’s dances, a tradition which visitors must also adhere to), tam tam drumming, traditional flute music and sand drawing. The main event, however, comes at the end of the festival with a performance of the distinctive Rom kastom dance, which is specific to Ambrym. The Rom dance is performed only by men, and tells the story of a battle between good and evil.



rom dance vanuatu

Image: The traditional Rom dance, performed on Ambrym Island. Image via Trip Advisor.




Dam Nipiyakeh Nalawan Festival

Mun Village, South West Bay, Malekula (September 2016) 



Malekula is the second largest island in the Vanuatu archipelago and is well known for its cultural and linguistic diversity. The Dam Nipiyakeh Nalawan Festival is a one day festival in the hills above the South West bay of the island, where visitors are welcome to observe a kastom rank giving ceremony, visit a traditional village to hear stories and see clay artefacts unique to this part of Malekula, and then join in a feast of delicious Melanesian delicacies.


malekula nalawan festival vanuatu

Photo: Kastom dance performed wearing the distinctive masks of Malekula at the Nalawan Festival.



Paama Island Mini Arts Festival Tevali

Aot Village, Paama Island (22 – 23 September 2016)


This festival holds particular significance following the devastation suffered on Paama Island as a result of Cyclone Pam. The local community have revived the festival as a celebration of the recovery they have made and encourage visitors to come and experience the stunning landscape and unique culture of the region. You can fly to Paama airport, and travel by boat from there until you reach Tevali Tot Village on the coast. The festival includes music, traditional dance and storytelling, and visitors can stay with local families or in guest bungalow accommodation.


paama island festival vanuatu

Image via Paama Island Mini Arts Festival Facebook page.




Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival

Luganville, Santo (October 2016, exact date to be confirmed)

This 2-day festival is an event suitable for the whole family and easily accessible in Espiritu Santo’s major town, Luganville. Around 200 musicians from Vanuatu and all over the Pacific (New Caledonia, Australia and the Solomon Islands, to name a few) gather to share a mix of contemporary and traditional music and performances. Local groups from Samna Province are a proud highlight of the festival, with kastom song and dance performances and musical acts that blend traditional music with contemporary song-writing trends.


santo festival vanuatu

Image via Lukaotem Gud Santo Festival Facebook page




The Fest’Napuan 2016

Port Vila, Efate Island (October 12-16)


This four day, free public music festival has become an annual event not to be missed in Port Vila, and is now one of the longest running regular music festivals in the Pacific. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the Pacific, and to experience an intersection of Vanuatu’s traditional and contemporary cultures alongside musical and cultural insights from neighbouring countries. The theme for 2016 is ‘Independence in the Pacific: What we have achieved and what we are still fighting for’.


For anyone hoping to experience Vanuatu’s culture beyond the usual tourist experience, this is valuable chance to reflect on Vanuatu’s complex history and the struggle of many Pacific nations for political independence after centuries of colonial rule. The festival is a celebration of Vanuatu’s proud independence and cultural self-determination, as well as an exploration of the challenges still facing Pacific nations today.


rapper vanuatu music

Image: Samoan rapper Tha Feelstyle at the 2015 Fest’Napuan, showing local aspiring artists how to produce a music video. Image via @wantokmusik on Instagram.



The Toka

Tanna Island (October 2016, exact date to be confirmed)


The Toka is one of Vanuatu’s most spectacular kastom traditions, taking place roughly every four years on Tanna Island to celebrate the alliance formed between the numerous Tanna tribes. It’s impossible to say at this point what the exact start date of the Toka will be – it will occur in October this year, but the Chiefs will decide when the conditions are most favourable and preparations will be underway very quickly after that. The Toka is a magnificent series of kastom ceremonies including music, song, dance, gift-giving and feasts, spanning several days and bringing together different cultural traditions from across Tanna. It can be hard to plan a trip especially to attend the Toka because of the fluidity of the timeline, but if you happen to be visiting Vanuatu in October, it’s well worth keeping your ears pricked for any mention that the Toka is about to start!


tanna festival vanuatu toka

Image via Trip Advisor.




St Andrews Day Festival, Rah and Mota Lava

Banks Islands (29 November-1 December 2016)


Visit the remote Banks Islands for a one of a kind celebration! This 3 day festival is a century old tradition of Rah Island and neighbouring Mota Lava, celebrating the life of St Andrew. This is quite a unique experience as cultural festivals go, because visitors are able to join the locals in a number of activities. You can learn to fish using a huge net made out of coconut leaves, eat the delicious banquet of ‘volcano baked’ food that is unique to the area, and climb to the top of the Rock of Rah. Members of the local community perform a traditional sea snake dance you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and the increasingly famous women’s water music is also traditionally local to the Banks Islands. This festival is well worth venturing a little off the beaten track to experience, and all proceeds go back into supporting the local community.


water music vanuatu

Image: Women’s water music of the Banks Islands is becoming increasingly well-known across the world.


Find information about VanuatuFlights, and Accommodation visit Air Vanuatu’s Website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *