Research Papers
Yomba Island (Hankow Reef, Atlantis of the South Pacific, Fact or Fiction?

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 tusnamis.

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