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6 cultural festivals in Vanuatu you don't want to miss

In February each year, villagers on a remote Vanuatu island paint 'USA' across their chests and worship an imaginary American called John Frum. This cult celebration is just one of the many colourful festivals in Vanuatu. Local festivals here are unlike anything else in the world, showcasing everything from daredevil acts to mysterious masked dances and even magic shows.

They cover the calendar year, so to make things easier for you, we've put together this Vanuatu festivals guide. Pick one, two, or all of them - these are events you don't want to miss.

1. John Frum Day - February 15

John Frum is a mysterious figure celebrated by a cargo cult on Tanna Island. On February 15, the islanders honour John, believing if they pray to him he'll deliver riches in the form of cargo from the United States.

The John Frum movement has its origins in World War II, when American troops swarmed through the islands. Believing the material wealth brought by the foreigners was magic, villagers began worshipping John Frum in the hopes that he would return and bring more goods with him.

The military-style parade on John Frum Day is a unique and fascinating experience for anyone lucky enough to witness it.

2. Land Diving Nagol Festival - April to June

The original bungee jump, land diving is a rite-of-passage festival that involves a feat of tremendous courage for local men - leaping off a wooden tower with vines tied around their ankles.

Kicking off at the start of the yam harvest, the festival takes place every Saturday from April through to June. Tall towers are constructed from sticks, and men and boys from the local villages prepare themselves to jump from the top. The aim is for the jumpers to be pulled up by the vines tied just before they hit the ground. Traditionally, it's a way of thanking the gods and ensuring a successful yam harvest.

You might be peeking through your fingers, but you won't be able to tear your eyes away from this daring event.

3. Fanla Festival - July 13-14

Traditional cooking, weaving and bamboo flute music set the scene for this festival in the north of Ambrym, island of magic and fire. This event is centred around performances of the mysterious Rom dance, a sacred event believed to influence crops. Dancing is an important part of Vanuatu traditions and seeing this dance gives you a glimpse into a culture that dates back thousands of years.

This festival is also an the ideal opportunity to buy wood or lava stone carvings.

4. Yam and Magic Festival - July 21-22

An ancient cultural event, the Yam and Magic Festival celebrates the yam, demonstrating the importance the vegetable has to Ni-Vanuatu.

Ambrym, an island relatively untouched by western influences, is known as the epicentre of magic in Vanuatu, so the stories, dances and demonstrations include ritual magic. Locals believe strongly in the presence of magic, so this ancient festival is a serious event. If you go, be prepared for some strange happenings.

5. Lamap Art and Cultural festival - August 11-12

The community of Lamap comes together to celebrate art and culture with displays of skill, traditional storytelling, dancing and lots of local cuisine. This is your chance to see a pig-exchange ceremony! Pigs are prized among Ni-Vanuatu, as symbols of ritual and wealth, so the ceremony has great cultural significance.

This festival is a way for locals to celebrate their way of life and it's a great opportunity to experience their culture, instead of just observing it from afar. In the evenings you can join villagers sipping kava as you listen to string bands play.

6. Back To My Roots Festival - August 25-27

This annual festival is a three-day event that sees Ambrym island move to the rhythm of tam tam drumming and flute music. There are sand drawings, magic shows and of course custom dances for men and women.

The grand finale at the end of the festival is the performance of the Rom dance. Feel the ground reverberate with the rhythmic stamping of feet, and be mesmerised by the elaborate masks worn by the dancers.

Our Vanuatu cultural festivals guide is just the beginning - more culture, history and art awaits you in the islands. For more information about travelling to Vanuatu, reach out to our expert team. We can't wait to start planning with you!