Ambae - Settlements

Prior to the 1930s, most settlements in East Ambae were in the hills where residents were nearer their gardens and safer from attack than on the coast. In rimes of warfare, some settlements were fortified with log palisades. Each married woman, including cowives, had her own house in which she slept with her daughters and young sons. Older boys and adult men slept in the men's clubhouse na gamal. Christianity changed the structure of hamlets and encouraged relocation to the coast. Churches became spatial and social centers of hamlets. Women's houses became family homes in which husbands and sons might also sleep. Most na gamals ceased to be forbidden to women. But men's activities still take place in and around the na gamal, the largest traditional building in a hamlet. About two-thirds of the houses still have thatched roofs and bamboo walls. The need to rebuild makes hamlet mobility possible. Moves often reflect concerns with land tenure, although ill health attributed to magic and sorcery also can be an important reason for leaving a particular place. Cement and corrugated iron are increasingly used in house Construction, which is reducing hamlet mobility. Rural water development projects have constructed village cisterns to catch rainwater, these also encourage permanent settlement. Two towns are beginning to develop on the island, one at the old Anglican mission station on Lolowai Bay at the eastern tip of the island, the other at Nduindui in West Ambae. Dirt roads link these settlements with grass airstrips at Longana, Walaha, and Red Cliff and with many outlying hamlets. A handful of resident white traders lived on the island in the early to mid-1900s. The last such trader/planter left prior to independence.

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