1°43' South
142°50' East
The Wuvulu Research Center for Wuvulu Island and the Other Western Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, Bismarck Sea, South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Manus Province.
Wuvulu Island
A brief, general overview

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The geographic coordinates of Wuvulu Island are:  latitude 1o43' South and longitude 142o50' East.  Wuvulu is a low coral island of volcanic origin with a maximum elevation of 3 m (10 feet) above sea level.  It is approximately 19.3 km (12 miles) in circumference and 4 km (2½ miles) by 7.2 km (4½ miles) in diameter with a surface area of 1,400 ha (3,600 acres).  The island is completely encircled by a fringing coral reef with no natural harbor, making it impossible to anchor ships.

Wuvulu is the westernmost island of the Western Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, located 224.5 nautical miles (416 km) to the west of Manus Island and the Admiralty Islands, 140.3 nautical miles (260 km) north of Wewak, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, and more than 593 nautical miles (1,100 km) south of the Carolines Archipelago.

The Western Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago include, from west to east, Wuvulu, Aua, Manu, Awin, Sumasuma, Sama, Ninigo, Pelleluhu, Heina, Liot, Hermit, Sae and the Kaniet islands; in all, more than 70 islands and atolls.

For additional details visit the Geography page.

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For a brief historical overview, visit the page: History of the Western Islands and Chronology of European "discovery".

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The average temperature is between 21o and 35oC (70o—95oF).  Prevaling trade winds of moderate force blow north-westward from June to September and south-eastward from November to February.  The annual rainfall is between 200 and 300 cm (78—118 inches) evenly distributed throughout the year.  The island is located in the equatorial zone, outside the hurricane, storm and earthquake areas.

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It is estimated that the population was approximately 1,500 during the 19th century.  As in so many other South Pacific islands, malaria and other diseases brought by German planters and by missionaries in the late 1800's and the early 20th century decimated the population whose number fell to less than 300 by 1905.

Today, the population numbers approximately 1,000 individuals divided in two main villages on the west coast of the island, Auna (sunrise) and Onne (sunset).  In 2000 the census counted a combined total population of 1288 (652 males and 636 females) for both Aua and Wuvulu islands compared to 923 in 1990¹.
Each village is situated right on the seashore in a clearing where the coral sand soil rapidly absorbs water after rainfalls.

The islanders build wooden and thatched houses, many raised off the ground to allow for better ventilation.  Planked floors are cut from large driftwood logs.  Before the Germans cut down most of the island hardwood forest, indigenous trees were used for building materials and house walls made of planked timber were fitted so well together that the Wuvulu houses were reputed to be mosquito-proof.

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See links to Languages in the Western Islands

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The Wuvulu islanders are excellent fishermen and women and one of their principal source of food is of course fish.  One interesting fishing technique involves a group of women walking on the reef while pulling a long string of coconut leaves between them, forming a large circle and slowly closing the circle toward a preset pile of stones on the reef.  The frightened fish inside the circle seek refuge inside the stone pile.  The women then surround the stone pile with small framed nets, remove the stones, catch the fish by hand and kill the fish by biting it on the head.  A very efficient technique in which women of all ages participate.

Early islanders dug out very large cultivation pits out of the coral soil of the island.  These pits filled up with rain water and formed large ponds still used today to plant taro (fula in Auna and fuda in Onne²) which is harvested within three to seven years of planting.  Each family has a vegetable garden where sweet potato, cassava (used to make tapioca) and a type of cabbage is grown.

The islanders use a traditional open air coral "stove" heated by burning dry coconut husks, hardwood and empty coconut shells.  After this fuel has burned, the stove is covered by up to three layers of different size coral stones spread over the hot embers.  These open stoves remain hot for up to twelve hours and are used to cook most of their staples in cooking vessels made of fresh, green pandanus leaves which, because of a high water content, do not burn easily and remain green on the inside.  A lot of the food, fish, vegetable and fruit alike, is cooked in coconut milk.

Missionaries introduced "taboos" in the diet of the islanders, forbidding consumption of all shell fish, coconut crab and turtle which had of course been routinely consumed by their ancestors for centuries.  Clearly an unthinkable and most arrogant interference in the life of these great islanders.

¹ Stephen P. Pokawin, Manus Province, Medium Term Development Plan, The Fourth Plan: Year 2000-2002, Volume One and Volume Two. Lorengau, Manus Province, Papua New Guinea - June 2001. Chapter 1, Table 2: Distribution of Population by Local Level Government Areas.
² Thanks to Carolyn May Drapok

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