Malekula - Orientation

Identification. This summary focuses on South West Bay, the home of several culturally similar ethnic groups, including the Laus (or Small Nambas), Mewun, and Seniang.

Location. The island of Malekula, at 167° E and 165° S, is the second-largest in Vanuatu. About 88 kilometers long and 48 kilometers at its widest, Malekula has few mineral resources aside from its fertile volcanic soil. Although there are no active volcanoes on the island, earthquakes are common. The southwestern part of Malekula is quite mountainous and covered with rain-forest vegetation. The climate provides a year-round growing season, divided into wet and dry periods, with most rainfall occurring between November and March, while drier, cooler weather dominates the region from April through October. Hurricanes are likely in January and February.

Demography. A detailed census of Mewun in 1974 recorded 482 people; the population of Seniang was about the same, while that of Laus was estimated at 125. In all three groups there is a surplus of bachelors, which seems to occur spontaneously but which has had an impact on social organization.

Linguistic Affiliation. All three groups speak Austronesian languages of the Malekula Coastal Subgroup. The Languages (referred to locally as Ninde [Mewun], Nahava [Seniang], and Mbotegate [Laus]) are not mutually intelligible, but some residents are bi- or even trilingual.

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