The islands of smiling people

“After the cyclone a group of people from france came to help in Vanuatu. They were surprised. How are people still smiling? The cyclone destroyed our food and houses. But it will never destroy our smile.”

-Man in Bayab Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu

Mount Yasur


The third dispatch of VOIIAGE explores Mount Yasur, an active volcano on Tanna Island and the villages surrounding it.

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Vanuatu is an island group of volcanic origin in the South Pacific Ocean. First inhabited by Melanesian people around 400BC, the first europeans arrived in 1606 and almost 200 years later the islands were colonialised for their resources and labour. This european influence, mostly by France and the UK, remains until this day.

In 1906 France and the UK agreed to jointly rule Vanuatu (then called the New Hebrides, a name given by Captain Cook when he rediscovered the islands in 1774), under the British-French condominium. The colonial rule lasted until 1980, when an independence movement took over power under Walter Lini.

Normally living in tropical abundance Cyclone Pam hit many islands badly in 2015. 11 people died but the destruction of houses, plants and infrastructure was massive. With winds up to 300km/h most traditional bamboo houses as well as the cheap tin houses simply flew away.

Now people are still rebuilding their houses and gardens, well aware that the next cyclone season is just around the corner.

Especially rural areas still struggle a Lot. Foreign aid missions, mostly from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France and China are hardly reaching them. Many basic supplies like tools, diving goggles, rice and solar lights are missing. During the current dry season now a draught is additionally making the supply of water very difficult.

Hybrids from Vanuatu:

Gaua Island

Baby Jesus & Black Magic

The fourth hybrid. A collection of articles, videos, photographs and audio field recordings captured on Gaua Island between December 2015 and January 2016.


Mount Yasur

The third dispatch of VOIIAGE explores Mount Yasur, an active volcano on Tanna Island and the villages surrounding it. Here the people have protected their traditions against missionaries and still live the “Kastom” life.

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All Stories:

Watermusic ◊ X

Endlessly they play the water with their hands, they slap and hit, they play and laugh. All day, in the shadow of the big trees, in the river or the ocean or where the two meat.


Domestic violence is a present issue in many countries around the world. In Vanuatu many women, children and animals are subjected to violence on the daily basis. And they stay. They find a way to deal with it, to accept it and to still smile.

Uncontrolled Anger ◊ VII

Violence, the raw physical force intended to hurt or kill a person or an animal is committed daily, endless times around the world. The cycle of hurt and anger spins and spins. But why do we hurt others? And how can we stop it from spinning?

AVER ◊ Christmas Songs ◊ VI

My head is full of streams of thoughts about the disappearing island life and cultural genocides. I slowly fade into a deep, dreamful sleep. Responsibility and powerlessness fight their endless game.

Black Magic ◊ V

After having spent Christmas morning in the Anglican Church of Aver my thoughts are circling around the churches influence on the people here. Somehow I can only see the negative side and it leaves a lingering sadness on my tongue that doesn’t want to vanish. Part two.

GAUA III ◊ Baby Jesus

Since centuries christian missionaries are traveling to the most rural places in the world to convert heathens into tamely believers. What legacy do 500 years of proselytisation leave behind? A two-part experience on a small island in the South Pacific. Part One.

GAUA II ◊ Pig Joys (Poem)

Pigs traditionally have an important role in Vanuatu’s kastom system. They are one of the few animals that have not been imported by the Europeans. A poem for these wonderful animals.

◊ GAUA I ◊ full moon christmas

Every night the people of Vanuatu indulge in a ritual, they give themselves into the hands of a numbing root that grows up in the mountainous regions. Silently they drink the grey juice and connect with the sprits of the bush, their ancestors.