A Glimpse Of Tanna
This July I will be headed to the remote
island of Tanna, in the chain of Vanuatu
located in the South Pacific. I was invited
by the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation to design
an experimental bungalow for their Artist’s
Retreat on the Naihne land.
The Happiest Place On Earth
The New Economics Foundation rates the happiness of countries across the globe. While the USA is near the bottom of the list, the unassuming chain of Vanuatu is number #1. Aside from its apparent level of happiness, the island of Tanna, where I am headed in July for a 6 week stay has a very interesting history and a peculiar religion practiced on some parts of the island. The two sects of the “Cargo Cults” as they are referred to, are the Prince Philip and John Frum followers. When the island was invaded by the United States Navy during World War II, some of the locals believed that salvation would ultimately come from an American soldier of African descent named John Frum. The practitioners are still waiting for this young soldier to return. In this short (57 minute documentary) and American film maker goes in search of John Frum and discovers a population of islanders who view shoes as evil and live in close concert with nature.
Where Am I Going?
The area of the island where I will be living is called the Middle bush and is on the West Central coast of Tanna. The Naihné, whose tribes govern this land are not John Frummer’s. So far as I am told they practice a more polytheistic religion and hold their local volcano in tremendously high esteem. I would too if there was an active volcano a few miles from my apartment. While I am on the island I will be working with Chief Jimmy Lume, who runs a small vocational school for building. His students, some members of the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation, and I will be building an experimental bungalow for future residents of the VPF’s “Artist’s Residency”. Is this all sounding like a cross between Joe Versus Volcano and Gaugin’s voyage to Tahiti? It sounds like it to me.
Ultimately I have no idea what to expect and that is the best part. This will be the first time a photographer has been invited to live within the Naihné village. I am honored to receive this gesture and hope (fingers crossed) that I will be able to share the authenticity of the experience through the lens of my Leica.
In the mean time here is the documentary on the Cargo Cults called “God Is American.” Its is by no means a perfect film, but it does allow us some views of an island that has virtually no images. It is a 4 part video, so don’t forget to watch the additional parts. It is fantastic and unique for sure.
The project is sponsored in part by Photo Village and I would like to thank them for their generosity.
I would like to hear your thoughts on the project. If you have questions, comments, or ideas about the project feel free to comment. The goal of the project is to open up a dialogue between Tanna and the greater global community so join it!