Tanna - Orientation

Identification. Tanna island is part of the Southern District of Vanuatu, a southwestern Pacific archipelago once called the New Hebrides. James Cook, the first European to visit this part of Melanesia, gave Tanna its name in 1774-"Tanna," in many of the island's languages, actually means "ground" or "land." Cook, pointing downward, no doubt asked "What do you call this [place]?" The Tannese mistook his question just as he mistook their answer. This cross-cultural misunderstanding was the first of many to follow.

Location. Tanna is located at 19° S and 169° E. The island is 40 kilometers long by 27 kilometers wide at its broadest point, with a total area of 561 square kilometers. A well-populated central plateau (Middle Bush) rises in the south to mountains more than 1,000 meters high. The island is mostly tropical forest, except for a grassy plain in the northwest that lies in the rain shadow of the mountains. In the east, a small but continuously eruptive cinder-cone volcano coughs up lava bombs and spreads volcanic ash across the island.

Demography. There are about 20,000 Tannese, 10 percent of whom have left home to work in Port Vila or Luganville, Vanuatu's two towns, and in New Caledonia. The island's population density is around 32.3 persons per square kilometer; the population is growing at a rate of 3.2 percent per year.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tannese speak five related languages that are syntactically and semantically very similar, differing mostly in phonology and lexicon. They are part of the Southern Vanuatu Subbranch of the Oceanic Branch of Austronesian languages. Most Tannese also speak Bislama (Vanuatu Pidgin English), and some are schooled in English or French as well.

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