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.
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.
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.
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
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
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