Nekowiar (Toka) festival, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The “Nekowiar” and the “Toka” Dance

The ‘Nakamal’, the sacred venue where dances are performed, is surrounded by an impressive array of flimsy structures covered in palm fronds or tarpaulins for protection.

The first rays of the sun, filtering through the fluttering leaves, cast light here and there on the glitter of colourful spangles, streamers and feathers… A few traditional skirts (grass skirts) join in the general orgy of vivid colours, producing a rainbow effect, whereas others throw up to the light the natural whiteness of the burao fibres enhanced by a creamy background of custom leaves, a blend of decorative and fragrant leaves and fronds.

In single file, the first group of women march into the Nakamal, winding themselves snakelike to form a spangled moving mass. The strange song struck up in a loud voice soars to the rhythm of stamping feet on the ground and hands steadily beating cushions of woven pandanus filled with dried leaves. Soon after, five other groups, each comprising a hundred or so women, join them. This is not stereo, nor quadriphony, but hexaphony! An incredibly hypnotic effect…

This is the start of three days of dancing and ceremonies which will ultimately be crowned by the dance of the Toka, marking the graduation of new chiefs, and an impressive pig-killing ceremony, guaranteeing peace and prosperity!

Spectators from all over Tanna island flock to the scene, pressing themselves against the simple bamboo barrier protecting them from the frenzy of dancers in a trance.

This display of stupendous energy is even more spectacular during the second night when the women sing and dance non-stop while the men, closely bunched up, chant and shout with rumbling voices to the rhythm of their wild girations.

The “Nekowiar”, more commonly known as the “Toka dance”, derived from the name of the most important dance in the ceremony, is not held every year. It is held at the discretion of the chiefs. In addition, to ensure no bad spirits come and ruin the ceremony with a jinx, the date is kept secret right up until the last minute. To be able to attend this event requires a lot of luck or some very good friends on Tanna who are in the know. Because of this, despite its undeniable significance from a cultural point of view, the Toka ceremony has been able to maintain its genuineness and authenticity, and has not been perverted by tourism.

The Toka of Green Point 2010. Documentary available in French (6000 words).

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