Tanna | Ambae | Karua | Ambrym | Lopevi | Gaua
Lopevi: attempts at settlement
Attempts at settlement | Occasional
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
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
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.