The island of AMBRYM owes its name to Captain Cook who anchored off there in 1774. It means “here are yams” (ham rim in Ranon language).
Marum & Benbow Volcanoes
When you go inland, you will be struck by the greenish vegetation (a sort of moss) that covers the ancient lava flows. However, stay longer and you will see that AMBRYM is first and foremost the “black” island due to its volcanic ash and because of its ‘black magic’ steeped in mystery. In the villages, the ancient customs play a significant part in day to day living. The “Man blong Majik” are treated with the utmost respect and practice sorcery and magic beyond all imaginings. In addition to the two volcanoes which you can visit on foot from the coast, AMBRYM prides itself on some unique characteristics, such as the sculpted tam-tams, sand-drawing, fern masks and local dances.
AMBRYM is famous for its magnificent tam-tams (or slit gongs) sculpted out of tree trunks. They are the some of the most impressive items of art in Vanuatu. The dancing areas in the traditional villages are decorated with Tam Tams planted in the ground, which can measure several metres high. They are used to beat the rhythm for the singing and dancing during ceremonial rituals.
You will see others being used for decorative purposes in hotel reception halls or gardens, in private residences and in some offices or gardens of the Government. Mt Benbow (1160 m) and Mt Marum (1270 m) volcanoes are constantly making their presence felt. They are located in the middle of the island and form a huge caldera some 10 to 12 km diameter. Successive eruptions in 1913, 1929, 1937, 1946, 1950 and 1979 caused a lot of damage.
The villages to the south were evacuated and the people settled on Efate (at the village of Melemaat) and the south east coast of Malekula. The lava flows and ash dust which surround the two volcanoes give the landscape a moon-like aspect and the sight is breathtaking (Note: these are very sacred places, you need a professionally trained guide with permission from the custom chief).
The most striking custom dance is the Rom dance. It is held every year in Northern AMBRYM and is followed by a pig-killing ceremony. Traditionally it has been an exclusively a male event and kept very secret. The masks, which are made especially for this event, are superb. The outfits worn for the dance are destroyed immediately it is finished so the spirits won’t haunt the dancers. Other local dances are more open to the public eye, they include: Hipipur, Welele or Roplar, to celebrate the New Year or marriages.
Magnificent sand drawings are also found here. Originally used to depict a story and were drawn as the story developed. At the end, the finished picture would represent a turtle, a canoe or a human face, which would be in relation with the story. Nowadays, such drawings are more often used to leave a message. The most skilled artists can continue drawing until the picture is finished without lifting their hand once.
PAAMA is the smallest of Malampa Province's main islands just south of Ambrym and rarely visited by tourists - as yet!
PAAMA'S waters however are home to a spectacular array of marine animals including turtles, and dolphins. During daylight, all of PAAMA's neighbouring islands are clearly visible from various locations on the island including Ambrym and furious Lovpevi - a now uninhabited volcanic island that is constantly spewing smoke and lava. Indeed, on a clear night the red glow of Lopevi and Ambrym's twin volcanos can be seen clearly from the black sand beach at Liro. Tourism is just opening up in to PAAMA and this should be a fantastic place to visit in years to come.
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