9: Recently Vanished Islands in the Pacific
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The vanished islands described in this chapter are adjudged authentic (see Table 6.1). The test of authentication is largely based on both the details of the oral traditions (particularly whether the same tradition was obtained independently from different groups in the same area) and its credibility given the geological context of the island(s) alleged to have disappeared . Other supporting information, such as mention of the vanished island in written accounts not based on oral tradition and the presence today of some indicator of a sunken island in the place where it is reputed to have disappeared, is clearly helpful in judging the authenticity of a particular island’s alleged disappearance. Much of the information in this chapter is new, acquired from indigenous informants as part of my research projects between 2002 and 2005. This information is privileged in the sense that it was given for a particular purpose and should not be used elsewhere without appropriate acknowledgment of those informants and their affiliations. Recently Vanished Islands in Papua New Guinea The rich body of oral tradition in the islands of Papua New Guinea contains much detail about volcanic eruptions. The 1982 book The Time of Darkness by Russell Blong is a superb illustration of this, showing how people throughout the New Guinea Highlands recalled through oral tradition the deposition of the andesitic Tibuto Tephra associated with an eruption of the Long (Arop) Island volcano about 1660. While also showing that variations in the details of stories about the yuu kwia (the time of darkness) were manifold, Blong demonstrated the validity of using oral traditions from preliterate societies to reconstruct the extent of volcanic phenomena such as ashfall. Long Island is off the northeastern coast of the main island of New Guinea (Figure 9.1), and what made the 1660 eruption exceptional was that it was powerful enough to eject Recently Vanished Islands in the Pacific 9 148 Vanished Islands and Hidden Continents of the Pacific tephra across the New Guinea Highlands, not to mention plunging them into darkness for several days. Most Long Island eruptions are not so powerful. Some 60 kilometers northwest of Long Island lies a small coral reef, Hankow Reef, that is believed to mark the site of another island volcano named Yomba, now disappeared, about which oral traditions were extensively collected and analyzed by Mary Mennis.1 Many people in the Madang lowlands of New Guinea trace their ancestry back to Yomba, which apparently disappeared following a volcanic eruption preceding the 1660 eruption of Long Island. Most people questioned by Mennis insisted on this; for example, the people of Kranket Island (just off Madang on the New Guinea mainland), who settled there only after Yomba blew up, have a clear recollection in their traditions of their ancestors being on Kranket during the 1660 ashfall from Long Island. Consider what some of them had to say about Yomba (material in brackets mine). Yomba Island was as big as Karkar [Island: approximately 425 square kilometers]. . . . It had two mountains—one was a large mountain with smoke inside. When it erupted the island sank into the sea. . . . When the island sank it caused a large tidal wave.2 The island of Yomba was bigger than the islands near Madang. It had a mountain on it. . . . When Yomba fired up it erupted on its own. Karkar did not erupt, nor did Arop. Arop is there, and Karkar and Bagabag, but Yomba has gone. It used to be in line with the other islands.3 Yomba went down a long time before Arop [Long Island] erupted [in 1660]. There was a loud noise and the mountain on Yomba fired up and the island sank. The men from Yomba swam from the big island to Bilibil. . . . The island of Yomba was as big as FIGURE5IFNPEFSO HFPHSBQIZPGUIFTPVUIXFTU FSO#JTNBSDL"SDIJQFMBHP  TIPXJOHUIFMJOFPGBDUJWF WPMDBOPFTUIBUNBZIBWFPODF JODMVEFE:PNCB5IFBDUJWJUZ PGUIFTFWPMDBOPFTJTBUUSJC VUBCMFUPOPSUIXBSEQMBUF DPOWFSHFODFBMPOHUIFPDFBO USFODITIPXOUPUIFTPVUI recently vanished islands in the pacific 149 Karkar. The people there made pots. When they got the warning that the island was about to blow up, some left and went to Mindiri, others went to Kranket, Yabob, and Bilibil.4 People who are dubious about the possibility that Yomba actually blew itself to bits would do well to study the 1888 eruption of the volcano on nearby Ritter Island. This eruption, which involved...


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Subject Headings

  • Geographical myths -- Oceania.
  • Oceania -- Geography.
  • Lost continents -- History.
  • Geographical myths -- Pacific Ocean.
  • Pacific Ocean -- Geography.
  • Islands of the Pacific -- History.
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