Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Malekula Island in Vanuatu is the home of several culturally similar ethnic groups, including the Laus (or Small Nambas), Mewun, and Seniang. The languages, all Austronesian languages of the Malekula Coastal Sub-Group, are mutually unintelligible but some people are multilingual. Swidden horticulture provides the staple foods. Cash crops include copra, cocoa, and a small coffee crop. There is little else in terms of commercial activity.


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Oceania --Melanesia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Malekula file consists of nine English language documents with a geographical focus on south and southwest Malekula (Deacon, 1934, no. 4; Larcom, 1980, 1982, nos. 5 and 7; and Funabiki, 1981, no. 6), and the small island chain off the northeast coast of Malekula (Layard, 1942, 1936, nos. 1 and 2; and Harrison, 1936, no. 3). The major emphasis in this file is on the traditional culture of the Malekulans ranging from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth.

Probably the best single document on this period is that of Deacon (1934, no. 4) which records the author's own field observations during the period of 1925-1927 with much additional information obtained from the memories of his native informants dealing with earlier historical periods. Although this study deals primarily with the southwestern region of Malekula, it does provide comparative data on other regions as well (e.g., northwestern, eastern, northern, central, etc.). Even though much of the work deals with the age-grade rituals of the NIMANGKI and NALAWAN secret societies, there is also abundant information to be found in the text on geography, kinship, marriage, the economy, warfare, birth and initiation, the gongs (which are involved in many aspects of Malekulan life), death practices, totemism, and magic. Though dealing primarily with the islands off the northeast coast of Malekula (e.g., Vao and Achin), the studies by Layard (l942, 1936, nos. 1 and 2), and Harrison (1936, no. 3), do provide some additional ethnographic data on Malekulan society of this traditional period. Other more recent documents (1970s-1980s) dealing with Malekulan ethnography are: Larcom, 1980, no. 5, examining the effects of colonization and missionization on Mewun society, Funabiki (1981, no. 6), dealing with pig management in south Malekula, Simeon (1979, no. 8), describing the ethnomedical practices of Litzlitz village on the east coast of Malekula, and cultural revitalization processes in Tilley, (1997, no. 9).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article, "Malekula", by Joan C. Larcom in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 2, 1991, Terence E. Hays, editor. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis evaluation and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in September 2000.

Overview by

John Beierle

AMEL -- the men's club house -- category 345

BISLAMA -- a pidgin trade language -- category 198

clan magician -- categories 791, 614

IGAH -- the state of being "profane", associated with women and females of all species -- categories 771, 783

ILEO -- the state of "sacredness" associated with men and all things male -- categories 771, 778

KABAT -- mythical beings among the Mewun, similar to the AMBAT of Seniang -- categories 773, 776

KASTOM -- a stable body of traditions, unshared as well as shared, general concepts of -- 183

LAPAS -- an age-graded society for women--575, 561

LOGHOR -- a sacred place or thing -- category 778

MWELNGGIL (MALANGGIL) -- love magic -- category 832

NAAI SEVE -- a wooden barrier or fence surrounding a ceremonial area -- category 417

NAHAL AMUT -- the public highway -- category 491

NALAWAN -- a men's secret society consisting of a number of named clubs or age-grades -- categories 575, 561

NAMBA -- a turtle shell armlet -- category 301

NAMBWIR -- the gong rhythm of a clan -- categories 533, 202, 614

NANGGURANGGUR NEVAT -- a stone wall or partition separating the sacred part of the village from the rest -- category 417

NEEREW (NAAREW, NOOROW) -- a harvest festival to increase food supply -- categories 796, 789

NELEMEW -- a formal ceremony involving the transference of pigs in connection with the acquisition of rights or dignities -- categories 796, 432

NELENG -- a pageant rather than a religious ceremony -- categories 541, 535

NETAMBW -- the rites of incision -- categories 304, 881

NEVINBUR -- a secret society, more sacred than the NALAWAN, found in southwest Malekula -- category 575

NIMANGKI -- an age-graded society -- categories 575, 561

NIMASIAN --the death feast -- categories 764, 765

NIMBASAR ISII -- clans--category 614

NIMBATIN NOWOR -- a specialist in the rites of the harvest festival -- category 791

NIMBATIN NOWOR -- the clan magician -- categories 614, 791

NIMBEMBEW -- a large canoe -- category 501

NIMBINBEN -- an armband -- category 301

NIMESIAN -- death magic -- category 754

NIVAAL -- the making of war -- categories 721, 726

NOGHO -- a ceremony to increase food supplies (in Mewun) similar to the NEEREW -- categories 796, 789

NU UNENE -- the child's soul -- category 774

PLES -- an embodiment of land and people involving parent and offspring villages, clans, sacred places, localities, and social relationships -- categories 823, 571, 614, 621, 628, 778

RAMBARAMP -- an effigy of tree fern made as a commemorative statue of a dead man -- category 5311

removal of kinship relationships by the payment of a fine -- categories 582, 784, 601

TEMES -- ghosts, spirits, and fetishes -- categories 775, 776, 778

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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