Experience the ritualistic Rom dance Ambrym, Malampa Province
Being one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, Vanuatu’s traditional practices, including ceremonial dance, magic and ritual, are alive and well. Ambrym is considered the black magic epicentre of Vanuatu and it’s where the Rom dance is performed.
The Fanla or Rom dance is connected to circumcision and initiation traditions for young boys and is an ancient ritual shrouded in secret knowledge. Costumes are kept in hiding until the ceremony begins and some of the masks can’t be used more than once.
Deep in the dense forest, there is a clearing where large drums sit. The rhythmic beating of drums and shakers begins as warriors dressed to represent evil spirits emerge, adorned in a mix of leaves and huge, brightly painted masks. The men stomp their feet in time to the drums, eerie chanting and soft flute music. Make no mistake, this is an experience that will give you goosebumps. This is no tourist show – it is genuine heritage and belief, wrapped in the supernatural and rich in symbolism.
The dance, while a form of magic, is also a method for younger members of society to move up the ranks. It’s also believed the fertility of the crops is affected when these dances are performed, and masks are burnt at the end of the ceremony to ensure evil spirits do not haunt the wearer or plague the village.
Air Vanuatu flies to Ambrym Island a few times a week. Check the domestic schedule and, remember, if you book when in Vanuatu with your international ticket in hand, you get 20 per cent off your domestic flight price.
Book everything else through the Vanuatu tourist centre either in the provinces or go into the office in Port Vila.
A tour to see the Rom dance starts at about US$140.
There is a 50-minute walk from the airport to Fanla. Transfers by truck take about 20 minutes.