Tanna: Yakel community’s way of life unchanged by Hollywood acclaim

Updated 9 April 2017, 7:20 AEST

Vanuatuan Tanna community members may have travelled to LA to attend the Oscars, but back home life for stars of the internationally acclaimed film Tanna remains unchanged.

 It is a world away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but nestled between a volcano and the tropical rainforest on Vanuatu’s island of Tanna, lives the cast of the internationally acclaimed film of the same name.

Key points:

  • Tanna was nominated in the foreign language category at this year’s Academy Awards
  • The movie was filmed on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu and stars the Yakel tribe
  • The cast had never acted before and continue to live a traditional lifestyle

The first-time actors belong to the Yakel community, one of the region’s last traditional societies.

Despite the global attention, the Yakel community’s way of life remains unchanged.

Lack of experience did not prevent the actors from putting in star performances.

The film was nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Foreign Language category.

The cast even made the journey to attend the award ceremony in LA, walking the red carpet in traditional dress.

The dialogue of the Australian production is in the Yakel community’s indigenous languages, Navhal and Nafe.

The film explores the clash between community traditions and encroaching Western values, such as individual freedom.

Yakel member Jimmy Joseph Nako, who was the cultural director for the film said “we want to show us”.

“We want to show how we live and the humour of happiness in our culture to the rest of the world,” Mr Nako said.

The true story follows two villagers, whose romance sparks a war between communities.

The lovers are both from the same village, but their love affair destroys plans for an arranged marriage, meant to settle a long-standing feud between two island communities.

It is said that many years ago a former chief of the Yakel tribe told his people to reject everything introduced from the Western world.

The village people eat what the forest provides and wear handmade clothes sourced from local materials.

There are no schools, no shops, no TV and no phones or internet.

The lifestyle is referred to as kastom.

Tribal chief deeply respected by community

Tribal chief Mungau is deeply respected by the community.

Actor Albi Nangia said he believed listening to the chief leads to harmony within the community.

“Here the chief has to make a decision for everything,” he said.

“You can say and express anything, but you have to respect the kastom.

“You have to be respectful of the chief’s decision. Your own decision is not good.

“When the chief makes a decision you live better in the kastom. Then there is peace.”

So life in Yakel continues as it always has, Hollywood or no Hollywood.

Who needs a Malibu mansion when you can live in a treehouse.

Communities keen to capitalise on Hollywood success

Away from Yakel village on the outskirts of Port Vila, on Vanuatu’s main island Efate, lives the Renterpao community.

The Renterpao community is comprised of around 200 people from various Tanna villages.

Working together, the various tribal members are planning to perform Toka kastom dances for tourists.

The community’s leaders are keen to cash in on the international attention resulting from the Oscars fame.

“Not only is kastom dancing in our blood, but the joy and unity of kastom dancing hold our people together and they dance to promote our identity to the world,” Chief Mantoi Kalsakau III said.

In a break from tradition the women hope to send their children to school with the extra income.

Traditionally, the three-day spectacular Toka ceremony features the exchange of gifts between communities, marking the graduation of new chiefs, and a pig-killing ceremony, guaranteeing peace and prosperity.

The ceremony begins with women dancing and chanting, surrounded by men who are waiting for sunrise when their Toka dance bursts into life.

The dance tells the stories of daily life working in the fields, hunting, wars and of coming together.

It is a story, that given the response to the movie, looks likely to attract plenty of interest from international tourists.



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