A Customary Meeting on Yanaba Island

© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

8 November 2017

After leaving the acidification study site, the Taranauts penetrated further into Papuan territory, sailing northeast overnight to the Egum Atoll. On the island of Yanaba, a formal meeting was organized amidst the traditional huts on stilts overlooking the lagoon. Such meetings, indispensable for continuing our sampling, remind us of the necessity of taking time to listen and talk to each other.


We arrived early this morning in the small, shallow pass of Egum Atoll. First mate Nicolas Bin was in the crow’s nest to signal the reef, no maps being available. We anchored near the village of Yanaba Island.


Skilled Sailors

A well-crafted canoe approached us, maneuvered with dexterity by the customary chief Andrew, a mature man with a lively expression. He invited us to meet his community at the end of their Sunday religious service, to explain our visit to the atoll.

Early in the afternoon a delegation of Taranauts composed of Loïc, Vincent, Joern, Cristoph, myself, and of course our Papou scientific observer Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, landed with the surf on the beach.


photo 5_pirogue a voile de Yanaba_VH

At Yanaba Island, a traditional  pirogue with sails © Vincent Hilaire -  Tara Expeditions Foundation


The Waiting

We spent 2 hours in the shade of the tribal chief ‘s hut, waiting for community leaders to gather.

Children were observing us with mischievous looks. Already questions were being asked and trust began to develop.

Once the head of the council (different from the tribal chief), the magistrate and the school principal joined us, we could present the Tara Pacific expedition and explain why we had chosen to come to this particular island. An experienced speaker, calm and self-confident, Alfred did a great job of explaining the work we wanted to do here.

About 500 people live in autonomy on the 2 inhabited islands of the atoll. 120 children attend school here. There are no regular connections to the nearest “big” islands — only the native canoes with rigging made of all-natural materials. These islanders are excellent sailors. It takes them 2 days to reach Alotau, the capital of the province.

The council deliberated and after they negotiated fees, we were authorized to take coral samples from their waters. We then toured the very well-organized beachfront village, and visited the school where we distributed some supplies and Tara Junior magazines to the teachers.



photo 19_la coutume_VH copie

The meeting begins in the shade of the hut, with Tara’s crew at the center © Vincent Hilaire - Tara Expeditions Foundation


The visit of the village

Nearby, 2 huts in ruin — a medical clinic and a post office — have been closed for almost 10 years. Where is the state ???

So close and so isolated. No power. Here and there a solar panel and a battery. No radio transmitter, no satellite communication, no internet.

A 30-hp outboard engine (at present functioning only in reverse) was donated by the provincial government, but now sits alone in a locked shack. Here nothing is wasted, everything is transformed and re-used: plastic materials (buoys, cans, etc) brought by the sea are all used or recycled.

photo 14_les enfants de Yanaba_VH copie
Yanaba Island children next to Tara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


An Isolated Community

The last foreigners to visit this island were 2 Australian anthropologists who spent 2 months here more than a year ago. Passenger boats are extremely rare. Nevertheless, the inhabitants dare to hope that someday tourists will visit, and they’ll be able to create small businesses.

My feelings are mixed: I can’t help but think these people live in a tiny paradise. But the raw, infected wounds the young people show us, asking for medicine, remind me of the harsh reality.

As soon as authorization was given, Jon, Becky, Grace and the 2 Guillaumes set off on one of Tara’s zodiacs to locate a site for sampling. Tomorrow morning around 5:30 we’ll weigh anchor and move closer to the sampling area.


Simon Rigal, captain 


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