First held in the late 1700s in East Tanna, the Nekowiar Festival is one of Vanuatu’s biggest and brightest events and originally marked the end of a conflict between neighbouring tribes.
There isn’t a set date and time for the festival – it takes place when Tanna’s kastom chiefs collectively decide when it is most fortuitous to hold. In fact, the 2020 event was the first time the festival took place since 2012!
The festival is an extravaganza of the senses, taking place across three full days and nights. Hundreds of dancers join together and paint their faces with brightly coloured designs, significant to their tribal community, and the following days are filled with kastom song and dance.
The female dancers kick proceedings off. They sing in harmony and dance a traditional dance of Napen Napen, until they’re too exhausted to continue – swapping in and out with one another throughout the day and well into the evening. On the second day, it’s the men’s turn to perform the traditional Toka dance, chanting and dancing energetically to the beat for hours on end.
On the last day, everyone gathers together for a feast and food, pigs and other goods are exchanged between tribes at a ceremony known as the Niel, to reconcile any quarrels and disagreements between them.
Normally, Air Vanuatu flies daily from Sydney, four times a week from Melbourne and four times a week from Brisbane to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. From there, travellers can catch one of Air Vanuatu’s numerous daily flights from Port Vila to Whitegrass Airport on Tanna.
For the three day festivities it’s approximately US$45.
Dates are only advised a few days ahead of the festival, so you’ll need to be ready to book