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Tanna and the nearby island of Aniwa
|Location||South Pacific Ocean|
|Area||550 km2 (212 sq mi)|
|Length||40 km (25 mi)|
|Width||19 km (11.8 mi)|
|Highest elevation||1,084 m (3,556 ft)|
|Highest point||Mount Tukosmera|
|Density||36.36 /km2 (94.17 /sq mi)|
Tanna (sometimes spelled Tana) is an island of Vanuatu. It is 40 km (25 mi) long and 19 km (12 mi) wide, with a total area of 550 km² (212 sq mi). Its highest point is the 1,084 m (3,556 ft) summit of Mount Tukosmera in the south of the island. In the east, northeast of the peak, close to the coast, is where Siwi Lake was located until mid April 2000 when, following unusually heavy rain, the lake burst down the valley into Sulphur Bay, destroying the village with no loss of life. It is the most populous island in Tafea Province, with a population of about 20,000, and one of the more populous islands in the country. Isangel, the provincial administrative capital, is on the west coast near the island's largest town of Lénakel. Mount Yasur is an accessible active volcano which is located on the southeast coast.
Culture and economy
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: 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." 
The island is the centre of the John Frum religious movement, which attracts tourist interest as a cargo cult. The first wave of the John Frum movement was a means to escape from what was known as Tanna Law, imposed by the presbyterian mission at Lenakel from early in the twentieth century until World War II. Many Tanna Islanders had moved from their traditional villages to the mission villages on the coast, only to be subject to highly repressive church practices designed to change their cultural norms.The first John appeared at night as a spirit at a place called Green Point and told the people to return to their traditional way of life (custom). From that time until the present day custom on Tanna has been seen as an alternative to modernity encouraged by many missionary denominations. Yaohnanen is the centre of the Prince Philip movement, which reveres Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and prince consort of the United Kingdom. John Gibson Paton, the famous Protestant missionary served here from 1858. His wife and small child died of malaria early in his mission and he developed paranoid tendencies[dubious ], one of which was to carry an unloaded firearm. He was driven off the island in the early 1860s and organised a naval bombardment[dubious ] of the Port Resolution area at this time. As a result he was restationed to the neighbouring Polynesian island of Aniwa.
There are three main languages spoken on Tanna: the southern language of Kwamera, the South-Western language adjacent to the slopes of Tokosmera, of which there are many dialects spoken by very small groupings,constitute two of the languages. The remaining majority of Tanna islanders speak four dialects, being North Tanna in the northwest, Lénakel in the west-central area near Lénakel,and the middle bush dialect in the central plateau of the island, which is very close to Lenakel Whitesands in the northeast near Whitesands. These are generally grouped into the Tanna languages family, which is a subgroup of the South Vanuatu languages, an Austronesian language branch. According to Ethnologue, each is spoken by a few thousand, and Lénakel, with 8,000 speakers, is one of the dialects of Vanuatu with the most speakers. Many people on Tanna also speak Bislama, which is one of Vanuatu's three official languages (together with English and French).
The island is one of the most fertile in Vanuatu and produces kava, coffee, coconut, copra, and other fruits and vegetables. Recently, tourism has become more important, as tourists are attracted to the volcano and traditional culture. To help preserve the integrity of culture as a tourism asset, only local people are permitted to act as guides. There are many accommodations available on the island. There is an airport at White Grass on the western coast.
The active volcano, Mount Yasur, at dusk.
The island was first settled about 400 BC by Melanesians from the surrounding islands. The glowing light of Mount Yasur attracted James Cook, the first European to visit the island, in August 1774, where he landed in an inlet on the southeastern tip of the island that he named Port Resolution after his ship HMS Resolution. He gave the island the name of Tanna, probably from the local name for earth, tana in the Kwamera language. In the 19th century, traders and missionaries (chiefly Presbyterian) arrived, but the Tannese stuck to their traditions more strongly than other islands; there remain fewer Christians in comparison with the other islands of Vanuatu. The island became famous in Europe as a place of cannibalism and risk for missionaries. It was not a principal site of World War II, but about 1,000 people from Tanna were recruited to work on the American military base on Éfaté. First exposure to First World living standards may have led to the development of cargo cults. Many have died out, but the John Frum cult remains strong on Tanna today, especially at Sulphur Bay in the south east and Green Point in the South West of the Island.
A secessionist movement began in the 1970s, and the Nation of Tanna was proclaimed on March 24, 1974. While the British were more open to allowing its holdings in Vanuatu to achieve independence, it was opposed by the French colonists and finally suppressed by the Anglo-French Condominium authorities on June 29, 1974.
In 1980, there was another attempt to secede, declaring the Tafea Nation on January 1, 1980, its name coming from the initials of the five islands that were to be part of the nation (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango and Aneityum). British forces intervened on May 26, 1980, allowing the island to become part of the newly independent nation of Vanuatu on July 30, 1980.
Five men from Tanna's Prince Philip movement cargo cult, which considers Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh a god, were brought to the United Kingdom as part of the Channel 4 reality show Meet the Natives in 2007. Part of their itinerary included an off-screen meeting with the prince.
In 2009 the Travel Channel aired Meet the Natives: USA, which brought five men from another group from Tanna to the United States. Their tribe reveres John Frum, an American World War II sailor who generations ago had taught the inhabitants to live in peace. The Tanna ambassadors were taken across, visiting five states, and eventually meeting former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and verifying with him that the spirit of peace taught by Tom Navy lives on in the current U.S. President, Barack Obama. While visiting with a family on Fort Stewart, US Army Major-General Tony Cucolo conferred a World War II Victory Medal and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal upon the chief in representation of the contribution the people of Tanna in World War II.
- Lissant Bolton. Tree and the Canoe: History and ethnogeography of Tanna, The Oceania, Dec 1996
- David Stanley. Vanuatu Travel Guide at Southpacific.org
- Biography of John Gibson Paton at Christian Biography Resources
- Strange island: Pacific tribesmen come to study Britain, The Independent, 6 October 2007
- Meet the Natives: USA, Travel Channel, Accessed 24 December 2009
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tanna, Vanuatu.|
- Tanna at Flags of the World
- Pacific Island Travel page, with photos and cultural information
- Languages of Tanna, including language map
- Collection of photos from Tanna
- BBC News, Is Prince Philip an island god?, 10 June 2007, accessed 10 June 2007