There are three main festivals in north Ambrym (Fanla Art Festival and North Ambrym Magic Festival in July, and Back to my Roots in August), each an annual extravaganza of cultural demonstrations, ceremonies, fashion shows, Rom dances, magic and cooking lessons.

The Rom Dance

Ambrym’s most striking traditional ceremony, the Rom dance combines maghe (grade-taking) elements with magic. When a man wishes to move up in the village structure, he must find someone who owns the design of a mask and ask to buy it, with pigs and cash. The owner makes his nakamal (men’s clubhouse) tabu (taboo), and the buyer comes to discuss the purchase and learn the rules determining the colours and shapes of the mask. Once the design has been bought, the buyer invites men to pay to enter this nakamal where they practise the dance for days, cooking the food the buyer has provided. Finally there’s a feast, and the next morning the dancers perform wearing the extraordinary costume: a tall, conical, brightly painted banana-fibre mask and a thick cloak of banana leaves.