Mount Yasur – the Throbbing Heart of Tanna

Photo by Rolfcosar

Tucked away on the south-east coast of the Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu, is Mount Yasur, hailed as the most accessible active volcano in the world. Standing tall with a height of 361m from the sea level, Mount Yasur has been continuously erupting for several years. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Tanna and travellers from across the globe line up to experience the grandeur of the volcanic eruptions in person. The Vanuatu government consistently monitors the level of volcanic activity and restricts access to the different zones of the volcano based on the same, these levels are mapped on a scale of 0 to 4, 4 being the most extreme resulting in all access to the volcano being closed.

Mount Yasur was generated when the Indo-Australian Plate was pushed under Pacific Plate due to the tectonic movement of the two plates in opposing directions. The volcano was, however, discovered by the civilised world much later in 1774, when Captain Cook arrived at Tanna, apparently due to intrigue regarding the strange, mysterious glow emanated by the volcano, which he noticed in the sky from afar. It is believed that the volcano has been active ever since, with regular mild to slightly violent explosions that are technically termed as Strombolian and Vulcanian. Both Strombolian and Vulcanian eruptions are violent but short-lived eruptions caused by the build up of high pressure in the gases inside the magma, resulting in an explosion. The Strombolian eruptions are ejected to greater heights as compared to Vulcanian eruptions, due to the higher viscosity of the lava in the case of the latter. A BBC television crew, led by Kate Humble visited Yasur as a part of the series “Into The Volcano”, that shed light upon some of the most active volcanoes in the world, the series aired in early 2015. The television crew discovered some unusually thick layers of ash deposits, which revealed the possibility of two extremely violent explosions in the region, hundreds of years ago, which could have also generated the depression that Yasur currently stands in.

Apart from bringing in revenue from tourism, the mountain also holds great cultural significance among the natives of Tanna, particularly the followers of the John Frum Cargo Cult. This cult, which originated during the times of World War II, worships the spirit of John Frum, a messenger who predicted that immense wealth will be brought to the island by the American Forces. Till today, John Frum is worshipped as a figure of the promise of wealth and welfare for all the inhabitants of the island. The followers of the cargo cult believe that the spirit of John Frum still resides in the volcano and therefore revere Mount Yasur as well; in fact, Yasur literally translates to God in their language. Every year on the 15th of February, the locals celebrate John Frum Day, a festival to honour their deity and his holy abode, Mount Yasur.

The volcano appears both majestic and mysterious, with its formidable presence in the otherwise humble terrain of Tanna. It is indeed the pulsating heart of this island nation.