Inhabitants Of Tanna Island In The Pacific Worship An American Soldier Called John Frum

It’s mid-February, and a troop of men are falling into formation with the letters “U.S.A.” adorning their bodies. They begin to undertake something like an army drill, with the American flag being raised into the sky. But this scene isn’t actually taking place in the United States. On the contrary, all of this is happening on Tanna, an island of the Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu.

The island of Tanna lies in the very south of Vanuatu. It’s not a large island, some 20 miles in length and 16 miles across at most. About 28,000 people call the island home. They have a beautiful place to live, with sand stretching across a seafront that gives out onto reefs, backed by luscious, verdant hills.

It’s pretty remote, requiring anyone visiting to make a long drive through a plain before crossing a lake, then dodging potholes on the route down to the village. The settlement looks out on Sulphur Bay, sitting next to a beach of black sand, itself overlooked by Mount Yasur, a smoking volcano.

The nation of Vanuatu is composed of two chains of islands that join into a Y. There are roughly 40 islands and 40 more islets and scraps of rock. Of these, 65 have a population, many of its people clinging to the sides of steep mountains, menaced in some cases by volcanoes that, like Mount Yasur, are active.

The islands sit in the southwest Pacific Ocean. They lie between New Guinea and Fiji, with the Solomon Islands to their north and, distantly, the Australian state of Queensland to their west. If you want to visit Vanuatu, you can take a ship from nearby New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand, or you can fly in to the two biggest airports, at capital Port Vila and Espíritu Santo Island’s Pekoa.