Why There Is a Volcano on Tanna

I found the following legend in the book, Tales of the South Pacific, and thought it would be a really cool one to share. It comes from Vanuatu where ICAS has had many projects over the years.

I hope you enjoy it:

Why There Is a Volcano on Tanna

In the long ago days there was a man who was also a volcano. His name was Iahuei, and he was looking for a place to live. On Tanna Island there was a place called Memtahui. Should he settle there? No, it was too near the salt water. It would not do for a volcano.

Iahuei journeyed on. He crossed the sea to Aniwa, which was too flat. So he crossed the sea again to Futuna, and climbed up two thousand feet. Would this do? No, the top of the island seemed to be too flat for a volcano because there was a broad plateau there. So Iahuei went back by sea to Tanna.

As he walked on across this flat sandy place, Iahuei suddenly saw two women making puddings. They had pounded taro and mixed it with coconut. They had spread it on a big flat leaf and placed it in an earth oven to cook. Soon the puddings were steaming and tender on the hot stones of the earth oven. The women served portions of the pudding on banana leaves for plates. They asked Iahuei if he would like some, and he said he would. The pudding smelled delicious.

Iahuei sat down in the sand. He was tired after all his long journeying. He sat in the sand, working himself in a deep hole. It was very comfortable, so he eased his back two feet into the sand. He cried, “Bring me more pudding!” The women brought him more, which he ate sitting at his ease, leaning on the sand at his back. Again, he called out, “Bring me more pudding!” The women brought him some more pudding, and he ate it. “Bring me more pudding!” he yelled a third time.


“Why There Is a Volcano on Tanna,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

At this the women lost their tempers. One of them picked up a pointed digging stick. She raised it above her head and brought it down with all her strength. The pointed stick went right through Iahuei’s stomach and pinned him to the sand. But Iahuei was a volcano. Out spurted hot ashes, molten lava, steam and jets of boiling water. As this continued, the volcano rumbled and shook the ground.

And there to this day stands Iahuei, half god-man, half volcano.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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