26 July 2022




Erromangan culture and the sea: new illustrated community book celebrates indigenous knowledge



A new illustrated children’s book created entirely by Erromangans launched today.


Netai en Namou Toc (Stories of Mother Ocean) is a collection of Erromangan stories and traditional wisdom about the connections between people, culture and the ocean.


In a first for the Pacific Islands region, the book combines a traditional wind map, weather and maritime navigation terms, with traditional wisdom about marine resources.


The book “is a continuation of the journey Erromango’s people have taken over more than 3,000 years living with and by the sea,” says Chief Daniel Dam Atnelo, President of the Erromango Cultural Association (ECA), who published the book.


Erromango lost over 90% of its population after Europeans arrived in the 1800s. Five of the six languages originally spoken on the island have been lost to humanity since then, along with much of the traditional knowledge they embodied.


ECA has published Netai en Namou Toc to help preserve Erromangan traditional knowledge about the ocean into the future.  


“Through this children’s book, we want to ensure our rich culture continues to be known and celebrated for generations to come”, says Chief Atnelo.


Sixty Erromangans of all ages generously shared near-forgotten stories and traditional knowledge about the ocean to safeguard them for present and future generations of Erromangans.


The full colour 64 page book is entirely illustrated by Erromango artists, including the late Andrew Tovovur, who sadly passed away earlier this year.


The book also celebrates traditional elders Sempet Naritantop, Jerry Taki, Nenvi Nompuat, and Lui Nouye, who were able to share their knowledge before passing.


The One Ocean Hub’s DEEP Fund, based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland generously supported the Netai en Namou Tocproject, which includes support from the UK Government. “This project has been one of the most exciting and creative projects that the DEEP Fund has had the pleasure in supporting,” said Dr Stuart Jeffrey and Dr Lisa MacDonald, who manage this global competitive fund.


“This book is important for the protection and promotion of indigenous knowledge.”


The ECA also acknowledges the invaluable support of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Friends of the Museum and Lucy Joy of the Department of Fisheries.


The Australian High Commission also generously supported the printing of the book in Erromango’s main indigenous language Sye, English and French.


The ECA has been working closely with the Erromango Natmonuk Simanlou Island Council of Chiefs and communities to record, preserve and promote the island’s cultural and linguistic diversity since 2008.

Photo caption: Book cover design by Ava Nautong Howlett


For further information about the Erromango Cultural Association please visit: http://www.erromango.org/