Community is vital to life on Tanna Island where people are linked by family, history, environment and lifestyle. These bonds are not tenuous but the lifeblood of village culture. Tanna Farms is part of this rich, social tapestry, and the people involved in the coconut oil business are our family. Let’s meet some of them:
“Life here is simple,” says Julie Tevi. “Life here is good.”Lenakel is a safe environment to bring up her family, under sunny skies, surrounded by nature, amid a community where “people are kind and respect each other.”
When she’s not at work, our 35-year-old Coconut Mill Supervisor is likely to be found in her garden, where she grows much of her family’s food. She says the coconut is a vital part of island life, and every day in the village, people cook with the coconut meat and oil and drink the coconut water. “When I was little, I didn’t think coconut was very useful, but now that I work in a coconut mill, I have found it is very useful. I love my job; it’s my first time working in an oil mill, and I’ve experienced many things I didn’t know.”
The work gives her money to pay for schooling for her children and to buy them clothes, but the revitalisation of the coconut industry and Tanna Farms Coconut Mill has had a far wider impact on the island community. The only option before the mill was to sell coconuts at the markets, which yielded little money, she says. “Now if we want money for Christmas or something, people know they can bring their coconuts to Tanna Farms.”
Daniel Kaurua left the missionary school he attended as a boy in year 6 because his parents couldn’t pay the fees.
Now the 50-year-old coconut oil mill worker is paying for his two youngest brothers to go to school, the only ones among 10 siblings to get an extended education. The rest of the money he earns at the mill goes towards buying materials to build his house. It’s a simple life and one that visitors are often surprised by, he says. “I think they think that people don’t live like this anymore.”
When he’s not at the coconut mill, Daniel, like Julie, will be at home working in the garden, where he grows taro and bananas. “We always go to the garden every day.”
On Tanna Island you are free, and you don’t have to worry about anything, says Deborah.
“It’s a lovely island with friendly people… Life is easy; we plant lots of crops for eating. We understand money for school fees, but we mainly work in our gardens.”
The 21-year-old mill worker and coconut soap maker earns money at the mill to help her family and friends, including buying food and paying school fees for her three brothers.
Traditionally the islanders have used coconut for cooking, for making roofs for houses and for animal feed, but “Tanna Farms has now shown us how to make coconut oil and soap,” she says.
Deborah’s advice for visitors to Tanna is not to limit themselves to seeing the volcano – “Soccer, they should come and watch a soccer game.”