Remarkable Vanuatu Customary Taro, Yam Exchange To Take Place In Tanna

'Niel' ceremony will see 'ship of taro' exchanged for yams

Compiled by Jane Joshua

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, July 14, 2017) – A remarkable tradition on Tanna called the ‘niel’ ceremony, will take place next week.

Minister of Lands, Ralph Regenvanu, visited the ‘ship of taro’ at Galilee area on Tanna, yesterday.

It is made up of approximately 50,000 tubers of taro.

It will be exchanged for yams on Wednesday, next week.

According to the minister, the name of the ceremony in the language of this area is ‘nieri’, while other areas on Tanna refer to it as ‘niel’.

“The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna,” authored by Joël Bonnemaison states that two of the great rites of Tanna’s contemporary kastom refer to the ‘nepro’ society, which entails the sharing of food among allies.

It further states that the ‘niel’ excludes any form of profit-making and does not designate a winner or loser.

“Tanna’s first society has no knowledge of debt, that powerful mechanism of social stratification which prevails in the graded societies of the northern part of the group,” writes Bonnemaison.

“Here, what has been received, is strictly given back, and what is owned is given away with expectations of receiving it back from one’s ally.”

He notes that the ‘niel’ rites tend to deal with specific food, citing examples of a ‘yam niel’ in exchange for a ‘taro niel’, a ‘banana niel’ for a ‘sugarcane or fish niel’.

Daily Post understands the highly respected late Chief Jacob Kapere was documenting the preparations of the niel ceremony, before his sudden passing.

As former Director of the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS), Kirk Huffman stated, it will be almost impossible for the nation to replace the late chief Kapere’s vast cultural filming experience.

The former VKS Director previously revealed that the late chief’s important field video film was his detailed film documentation of the opening ceremonies of the then newly-constructed vast traditional nakamal in the village of Purao, Tongoa, in January 1987.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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