The Happiest People in the World
The Torba province in Vanuatu, in the middle of the South Pacific is a remote and beautiful place. As a result the government struggles to service many of the small communities that populate these islands.
In the fall of 2019 we had the opportunity to visit one of these communities and see for ourselves why in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, a recent report on the ni-Vanuatu name “the people of the Torba province the happiest people in Vanuatu”.
As Vanuatu is consistently voted the happiest place on Earth by the Happiness Index, the people of torba province are literally the happiest people in the world.
I wanted to find out why and what these people can teach us about bringing more happiness into our own lives.
A large part of the reason for their happiness is these villages have a strong sense of their Kastom, their cultural traditions.
In their remote and isolated island home these cultural traditions are the glue that binds their "tribe" together. They provide the villagers with a set of principles to live by, a sense of community, and most importantly a way to build connections within themselves and others. Their culture gives their lives meaning and purpose.
This is probably the best place in Vanuatu to see Kastom practiced in daily life in the village setting and witness the impact it has on their lives.
We were very fortunate to spontaneously witness a Kastom practice unique to these islands practiced only by women. Water Music.
After visiting this place and getting to know the people I think the practice of water music holds many of the secrets as to why these people are so happy.
The women of these islands have been playing and making sounds in the water by splashing, scooping and slapping the water for as long as anyone can remember. The practice of “vuslamlam” as it is called in the local dialect has been handed down from Grandmother to mother to daughter for generations.
Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 80’s the women of this island group began to revive the practice of water music. As of 2014 there are three distinct groups in Vanuatu who perform water music.
While it’s difficult to know exactly where water music originated, we do know that it’s resurgence is generating an interest in other forms of cultural renewal in Vanuatu.
It's important to note that the women themselves do not look at water music as an official Kastom tradition. They see it more as a game, a bit of fun.
It is this perspective that I think holds the key to their happiness.
While their culture binds them together they're able to not take it to seriously and to still have fun with it. To play with it, molding it in different ways and allowing it to evolve into its own shape.
Not only does the practice of water music assist in cultural revival but it offers women the chance to support their local communities economically through cultural tourism. This gives them a sense of purpose and meaning.
In a culture that is traditionally dominated by men these are big and to some degree, controversial changes. Nevertheless, they're welcomed by many and the data proves the changes are working.
One of the traditions surrounding water music is that ONLY the women are allowed to do it. However the women on Gao were kind enough to allow me to participate and try to teach me a few things on how to play the water. It was a TON of fun and was a great reminder that what makes life really worth living is our ability to let go, to play and to have fun.
The lessons we can learn from these beautiful people isolated on their own little island in the middle of the Pacific are perhaps more important today while we're faced with our own isolation.
They teach us to find our own culture, traditions and tribe and practice these things by sharing them with others. Most importantly, they teach us to have fun!
Find something you can play with everyday. Maybe try your own water music splashing in the bath or while doing the dishes.
Life is meant to be played not watched.
You may be in isolation but you're not alone.
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