Shaped like a dog sitting down, Malekula is the second largest island in Vanuatu and also one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse islands. There are over thirty different languages spoken on the island but what really typifies Malekula are the ancient tribes which used to live up in the hills - the Big Nambas in the North and the 'Smol' Nambas in the central part of the southern area.
The names Big and Smol Nambas relate to the size of the penis sheath coverings worn everyday by the men in ancient times. These were made out of banana or pandanus leaves and are still worn by some tribes today. In the villages of Smol Nambas, the men would sleep in one house, the “amel” while the women and children would sleep all together in another house. It was the Smol Nambas in the southwest who introduced the practice of elongating the heads of their young children, a custom unique to this area of Vanuatu. Only a handful of elderly survivors of this traditional practice remain.
In ancient Big Nambas tribes it was standard practice for a village chief to have several wives, a tradition which continues in some parts today. Tribal warfare was very common, and would flare up at the least provocation. They would cease after killing three or four opponents and would then celebrate, finishing off with a repast in which their victims often figured on the menu.
Today many visitors are intrigued by Malekula's history of Cannibalism. There are many ancient cannibal sites still hidden in the bush. These remnants of the old ways can be visited in the North of the island both in Big Nambas and Smol Nambas territory.
The interior of Malekula is mountainous, rugged and forest-covered with good hiking and bird watching. Custom is still a very important part of life in Malekula, with traditional dance, songs and other ceremonies such as circumcision and grade taking continuing within the lives of contemporary man in Malekula. The villagers are exceptionally proud of their cultural heritage and eager to share their rich traditional history with visitors.Back