Rah Island – 11/6/2011

Background on Rah and Mota Lava Islands (Banks Island Group)

Rah Island as it is known in English or Ra in bislamic, is part of the Banks group of islands in northern Vanuatu.  The coral islet has just one village, also called Rah.  The population of Rah is small, around 209 people.  Rah is situated just off the southern tip of Mota Lava Island.  Transportation to Mota Lava can be done either through walking at low tide across the straight or by outrigger canoe.

The Banks Island groups which includes Rah and Mota Lava, speak close to 15 different languages, but the official one is Mwotlap.  Each island has their own unique custom dances, specialty foods and culture.

Rah and Mota Lava Islands are still considered remote.  A ship visits once a month to bring supplies to the island and they are yet to have internet service.  However, if you like seafood you can certainly eat your fill of coconut crab, fish and lobster.  If you want alcohol, that is something you should consider bringing with you or perhaps try cava instead. Nerenijman on Mota Lava has three small shops and a bank which is open on Mondays, Wednesday and Friday.

Our Visit

We visited Rah Island as part of a yacht rally travelling from Brisbane to Espiritu Santo, the Banks and the Torres Islands.  An official visit on the 11th of June was organised on both Rah and Mota Lava Islands. We were collected from our boats by an island boat and brought to shore amid a waiting crowd of men, women and children, all eager to greet us with bright smiles upon their faces. Father Luke, who we had met several times, was leading the welcoming party.  The children eagerly grabbed a hand of all the rally participants to lead us to the village and the welcome dance.

The official dancers of the village were dressed in woven banana or panda-nus leaf costumes, women wore flower leis and some men were adorned with feathered headdresses.  We were all given a garland or lei to wear.  The beat of the drums increased in tempo as the dancing began.  We all eagerly watched before being encouraged to join in.  As the rally participants joined in, the dancing became more of a dis-organised shuffle around a circle, which the local kids found funny.

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When the dancing finished, the local pikininis or kids, the chief and Father Luke took us for a tour of the village.

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Our village tour included the church, a few of the homes, an outdoor kitchen and a restaurant.

Dr Allan Profke, the rally organiser arranges the rally boats to bring donated medication, medical and other supplies for the village each year, in return the Rah Islands puts on a celebration for all the boats in the rally.  Included in the celebration is lunch, which was served on a banana leaf and was delicious.  Tristan had his photo taken with the island’s chief during lunch.

The island had set up a stage, decorated with palm fonds and flowers for a presentation.  Dr Allan presented the chief with much needed supplies for the village and the Chief and Father Luke presented each boat captain with a statue, otherwise known as a tamtam.  The tamtam can only be carved by a male who has gained custom.  The tamtam can have up to six faces carved onto them, but you can only carve six heads if you have achieved a certain status.  Our tamtam had one face.

After the presentation we walked down the beach and sat overlooking the rocks of Rah and waited for the custom snake dance to commence.

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The dance is only performed by the men of the village.  The men paint themselves black and white to mimic the sea snake, which reside under the large rocks in the waters off the island.  Additionally, the men have a leaf in their mouth and carry sticks decorated with feathers and orange fruits. There are generally ten to twelve performers of varying ages involved in the dance which is accompanied by instruments.  We watched entranced as the men slowly made their way up the beach towards us.

banded sea snake dance

After the dance had been going awhile, the men started pulling up some of the women and men in the crowd to join in, I was first up.  Eventually most people joined in the dance.  But be warned, the black paint rubs off as I discovered and it doesn’t come off.

After the dance we all said farewell and were transported to Nerenijman, the main village on Mota Lava Island, which is just a short distance from Rah.

Tourist Information for Accommodation and Activities on Rah Island
Accommodation

Rah Paradise Island Bungalows:

Rah Paradise Island Bungalows and Restaurant was established in 1972 by Father Luke, who we met on several occasions during our stay.  It took 15 years before the Bungalows had their first tourists, a New Zealand group.  In recent years Rah has opened up to tourists who are seeking an idyllic paradise for their vacation. Since our visit, Father Luke has sadly passed away, but the accommodation and activities continue to be run by his children.

If you are looking for a place to stay on Rah Island, then consider Rah Paradise Island Bungalows.  For contact information for book see below:

Activities:
  • Snake Dance – Performed only by male Rah Islanders and lasts approximately 45 minutes. Cost is 2500 vt per person and a booking of a minimum of two people.  To organise the snake dance contact Noah: 5396125 or get your accommodation to book it for you
  • Kastom Village – A 2 hour trip to see the kastom village to learn Rah Island’s history, learn how they made fire and discover the type of currency used. The cost is 2500vt with a minimum of two people.
  • Weaving with Sara – Sara will share the different items that have been created through weaving before you have a go at weaving a bracelet. The class lasts about 2 hours and costs 1000 vt per person.
  • Hike to Sleeping Mountain – Local guide Ben, will share the history of Sleeping Mountain and his knowledge on the plants that grow on the way. From the top of the mountain you will have a fabulous view of Rah and other nearby islands.  On your return trip you will visit a village on Mota Lava.  The trip takes half day and costs 2500 vt per person.  To book the Sleeping Mountain tour phone Ben: Ph: 5344276 or get your accommodation to book it for you.
  • Turtle Sanctuary – A full day trip to the turtle sanctuary where you learn about these amazing creatures can be organised for you. The cost is 2000 vt and the boat transfer to reach it is 15 000 vt per person.
  • Snorkelling and Fishing – The island has a limited amount of snorkelling equipment which can be hired so you can explore the waters surrounding Rah. If you’re an angler than you can always try your hand at fishing during your stay on Rah.

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