Yomba Island (Hankow Reef, Atlantis of the South Pacific, Fact or
First published July 2005. Reprinted with an addendum July 2006.
According to oral traditiond of the people who live near Madang on the north coast of
Papua New Guinea, Yomba Island was a large volcanic island that stood off the coast
of Madang until about ten generations ago. The position of the island is debatable, but it
was probably in line with the other volcanic islands of Karkar, Bagabag and Long
Islands and situated where Hankow Reef now stands. Evidence from satellite
photographs shows Hankow Reef to be the remnants of a volcanic cone, which could
have once supported an island. As the mountain erupted and sank into itself, a large
tsunami engulfed the adjoining coast.
The trouble is Yomba Island no longer exists and the people who fled centuries ago
have long since died, so we must depend on the testimonies of their descendants with
backup from other sources. According to genealogical evidence and oral history
testimonies, Yomba Island was occupied by an Austronesian language group who were
pot makers and traded for food and goods hundreds of kilometers along the north coast
in large triple-deck canoes. At the time of the eruption some people were visiting the
coast and survived the eruption while others managed to escape on canoes or floated
on coconuts. Eventually they settled in small communities along the mainland coast
and on nearby islands. The only knowledge that this island existed is found in the
traditional stories of the descendants from the original inhabitants. After these traditional
stories were collected and collated in the 1970s, Yomba was listed on the international
list of volcanoes, although no specific location was given.
This monograph is an updated version of an article in Oral History (Papua New
Guinea) published in August 1978. A brief summary also appeared in the
Cooke-Ravian Volume of Volcanolgocial Papers in 1981. This account is presented
again at a time when there is a growing interest in volcanoes and tsunamis. The
evidence from village informants along the Coast is discussed and then deductions are
compiled. Finally conclusions are made as a basis for further research for
volcanologists, archeologists and anthropologists. As this research was done in the
1970s, when many of the informants were quite elderly none of them would be alive
today (2005). These oral stories are very ancient and may be amongst the oldest in
Papua New Guinea. They are remembered because of the catastrophic nature of the
disappearance of an island and the devastating consequences, including widespred
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