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Tanna  |  Ambae  |  Karua  |  Ambrym  |  Lopevi  |  Gaua  |  Epi

Lopevi: attempts at settlement

Attempts at settlement  |  Occasional violent eruptions
A potential threat for nearby islands

Attempts at settlement

Given that the volcano is usually quiet over periods of up to 20 years, attempts were made at human settlement of the island, ending in evacuation during the active phases. The total area of the island is about 30 km2, and only a strip of land between the sea and the rainforest along the western shore is habitable. No one ever attempted to settle on the much more inhospitable eastern shore.
What induced people to try to settle there is not just the quality of the volcanic soil – the nearby islands of Paama and Epi are just as fertile and much easier to cultivate – but most likely the fact that Paama was getting severely overcrowded. The 1979 census taken just before independence (July 30, 1980) showed the population density at Paama to be 7 times higher than nearby Epi. For decades, population migrations from Paama to the islands of Vate and Malekula have been observed. The great linguistic variety of Vanuatu (over one hundred languages still spoken in the 40-odd islands) makes it possible to trace such migrations, including that of inhabitants of Paama toward Lopevi: the Lopevi residents who were moved to Epi at times of volcanic threats still spoke the language of Paama.
A Presbyterian bishopric was due to be established on Lopevi in 1958-59, but plans were postponed on account of the major eruption which occurred in 1960, followed by nearly continuous activity through the 60s and 70s.
Lopevi residents who were moved to Epi at the end of the 50s mostly settled there, but continue to keep food gardens on Lopevi, which they spend weeks at a time tending. Every year, they perform ritual ceremonies to pacify the spirit of the volcano.

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