National Geographic : 1972 Jan
The inhabitants themselves identify each other by their village of origin, such as "Me man belong Lendombwey." The Namba groups are small. Although Malekula has more than 12,000 inhabitants, I found that only about 250 still live according to their ancient beliefs. Half of these are Small Nambas and half Big Nambas. Most of the others inhabit coastal villages and are Christians. Huddled Boys Await Tribal Rite In 20 minutes my three guides and I reached a clearing which was a taboo ground-off limits to those not involved in its rituals. There several men stood with cane torches, while five boys, about 7 to 11 years of age, huddled nearby, their heads wrapped in banana leaves. One of the men, an old chief named Ilabnam binpin, approached us and spoke to my guides in the local language. One of the guides trans lated into pidgin: "Old fella he tell em all same. Ee got one custom belong pickaninny. You savvy look-look more work em allgetta camera belong you." The chief was permitting me to photo graph a children's ceremony never seen by outsiders. About six weeks earlier, 1 knew, these boys had been circumcised, and as a visitor I had been barred. Hearing of that event, I explained to Ilabnambinpin that if I were allowed to photograph Small Namba ceremonies, the people of the faraway United States would learn about their way of life. In this remote area of the Pacific, it helps to be an American. The most isolated inhabi tants know about America's activities during World War II, when the New Hebrides was a staging area for the retaking of the Pacific from the Japanese. Several hundred thousand GI's saw these islands on the way to Guadal canal and beyond, and an important base was established at Santo on the island of Espiritu In a village compound surrounded by dense forest, Small Namba women shred pandanus leaves to fashion fiber skirts. Some display ash-whitened faces, the sym bol of mourning for a dead child in the family. Low fence keeps out wild pigs. About 125 Small Nambas dwell here in Lendombwey and in nearby hamlets. The Big Nambas inhabit the island's northern highlands, 30 miles away. Rugged terrain limits contact between the tribes, which have different languages and traditions. Malekula BIG NAM BA Brown shows the territory of still-primitive Nambas; other Nambas have migrated to various parts of the island. SMALL NAMI 0 20 STATUTEMILES Elevations in feet DRAWNBY ELIESABBAN COMPILEDBY HAROLDA. HANSON S GEOGRAPHICARTDIVISION NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY LA. MALEKULA, 60 miles long and 25 wide, is the second largest of the New Hebrides. In World War II hundreds of thousands of U. S. servicemen passed through the archipelagoen route to Pacific battlefronts.The Nambas and other New Hebrides tribes gainedimmense respect for the American fighting men. Today Britain and Francejointly govern the 70-oddislands.