Arts & Crafts in Vanuatu

©John Nicholls - Traditional WeavingVanuatu’s art ranges from traditional art objects through to contemporary pieces and sculpture. The majority are decorated with traditional patterns, a stylised face or a representation of an ancestral spirit. Ancient art forms include petroglyphs and rock paintings, and several islands have caves decorated with animal paintings and hand stencils. Complex sand drawings are also used on some of the northern islands to recount legends, songs and ceremonies.

Vanuatu’s traditional crafts, such as shell necklaces, ankle rattles, carved bowls, masks and elaborate headdresses, are closely linked to ritual ceremonies. Tree fern statues, carved for men’s grade-taking ©John Nicholls - Traditional Anklet, Malekula Islandceremonies (a public show of status and power), are produced on both Ambrym and Malakula. Other carved items include miniature canoes, animals, bows, arrows, clubs and spears, as well as the large platters and bowls in which yams and kava are pounded. The platters from the Shepherd Islands are especially beautiful, often carved in the shape of birds or fish.

Elaborate masks, sometimes decorated with paint, feathers and pig tusks, are still worn in traditional ceremonies on the islands of Ambrym Ambae, Maewo and Malakula. Most famous are those of the Rom dancers of Ambrym. Masks represent the faces of ancestral spirits and are usually made of tree fern or clay moulded to a wickerwork frame. The islands are also known for their exceptionally fine baskets and mats, woven from pandanus leaves and burao (wild hibiscus) stalks.

There are several art galleries in Port Vila, and also in Luganville on Espiritu Santo. In Port Vila, L’Atelier Vanuatu Visitor GuideVanuatu Visitor MapGallerie and the National Museum are worth seeing for visitors with an interest in art and culture. The Michoutouchkine & Pilioko Foundation Gallery has a fine collection of Pacific bric-a-brac as well as batik prints, and can be visited on the road to Pango village. On the same road, Diana Tam Home Art Gallery has fine art, gifts and souvenirs such as table linen, glassware, prints and gift cards using oils and watercolors.

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