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Vanuatu: Mae Big Namba's

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Mae Big Namba's | Vanuatu | Oceania

[Visited: November 2012]

It was somehow obvious that, after seeing the Small Nambas, we also wanted to see the Big Nambas. So one day after a very enjoyable performance by the former, we were looking forward to seeing also the Big Nambas. A short drive took us from our bungalow guesthouse near Norsup through the coconut palm-tree plantations to the village of Mae. A modest woman, who at times seemed a little shy, waited for us; it turned out that her English was not too good, and when she discovered I spoke French as well, it was hard to make her speak English again for my travel companion. She took us on a short tour through the village, showing us the places where copra was processed, her own house, the school, and a kitchen; while sitting there, we saw a few women in traditional Big Namba dress; the performance was about to start.

Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Beginning of one of the dances of the Big Namba's

We could hear tam-tams being played rhythmically, and were curious about what we were about to see. How would it compare to the Small Namba show we had seen the day before? We were directed to the nasala of Mae, and I was a little underwhelmed by the two men, four women, and a bunch of kids waiting in the Big Namba dress. Sure enough, we looked with a lot of interest at the clothes they were wearing; again, and it was impossible not to look at the nambas, or penis sheaths, of the men: long covers made of natural materials, attached to a kind of belt around their waist. I still thought that more Big Namba's were on their way, but when one of the guys introduced himself, and explained what we were going to see, I realized that this was it. Our guide had disappeared, and showed up dressed just like the other women with the typical reddish hair-dress. There were dances of welcome, of circumcision (young boys around their 12th year are to be circumcised by a piece of bamboo, and stay together for a month as an important step to manhood), and other dances.

Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Big Namba man blowing a conch shell

One of the differences we noted was that most of the dances were performed by both men, women and kids; then again, a dance with only two men would have been a poor show indeed. The most impressive part was, according to me, when the men would both be playing the tam-tams, beating them hard with their sticks, giving a powerful and energetic vibe to the place. But otherwise, I felt the same sense of awkwardness I had felt in Tanna, and which had been absent the day before. It is said that it is thanks to the visitors that the traditional dances are kept alive - but then I wonder, what is the point, if most people in the village don't dance, and those who do, don't seem overly convinced in what they are doing? Sooner than I thought, it was over; there was no display of skills, not much further ado. Yes, we could talk a little with the Big Namba's, take their pictures - again, it was surprising that they did not show any sign of embarrassment for being almost naked in front of our eyes. In all, after the excitement of the day before, and considering the fact that the Big Namba's charge quite a lot more for much less, I left with a bit of a hangover feeling.

Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Hammering the ground with wooden sticks to make music
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Singing with a small tam-tam: Big Namba man
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Big Namba kid with a small tam-tam
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Old Big Namba woman with tradiitonal hair dress and kid on her arm
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Dance of the Big Namba's with an old woman in traditional clothes
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Traditionally dressed Big Namba woman
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Big Namba kids after their performance
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): The Big Namba man playing the tam-tam
Picture of Mae Big Namba's (Vanuatu): Group of Big Namba women after the performance

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