Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cyclone approaching Port Vila

We are still here in Port Vila in Vanuatu. We have been pretty busy experiencing Vanuatu and monitoring the weather for the last week. We went for a village feast on Friday which was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip so far. We went with some other cruisers and were met from our taxi by the village caller - a man dressed in a grass skirt, full war paint and calling on a conch shell to announce our arrival in the village. We met with Alick, who had arranged the visit and he explained that in the old days the call was for intruders and alerted the village to attack but now they accept visitors and we were quite safe! Although in many ways Vanuatu has adopted western ways you are very much aware that the ‘past’ is not that long ago and the ‘kastom’ or traditional life is only a little way beneath the surface or still prevailing in some parts of life here. We entered the village and were welcomed by the Chief. We were given a coconut to drink. The villagers were all dressed in traditional grass skirts, flowers, leaf garlands and body paint. They all smiled nervously at us but made us very welcome. The men were then invited to drink Kava, which they had to down in one. It makes your mouth numb then your legs if you drink enough. Traditionally women cannot even see the kava being prepared let alone drink it, but they allowed us to try it - not really my thing but an experience. The village we were in was a group from the neighboring island of Tanna who had come to Efate to earn money to send back to their island. They explained that when they are in their own village life is very different and strictly in line with traditional kastom ways, so for example women wouldn’t drink kava. People from Tanna are especially famous for turning their back on modern influences. They have a very special dance called the Toka dance which is usually only performed at an annual 3 day festival called Nekowiar where the villages of the island come together to make alliances and arrange marriages. This village had been given special permission to perform the Toka dance outside of Tanna and we sat and watched an amazing spectacle of men chanting, bamboo poles being rustled together and passionate singing.
After the dance the men were taken off with the warriors and us women went with the village women to serve the food. The food, laplap which roughly translates to pudding, had been cooked under ground wrapped in banana leaves with hot rocks. It is basically a lot of root vegetables and some meat cooked in coconut milk - it really is absolutely delicious. After dinner we had more dancing. The women and children joined in and invited us too. Andrew had a little boy called Rubin and I had a little girl called Joanna who held our hands tightly for the duration of our attempt to join in, which left us exhausted. The children didn’t let go of our hands until we left and Joanna gave me part of her feather headdress. It really was a very special evening and we felt very honored. The next day we took some gifts to Alick for the villagers.

They have fantastic little buses here which you just hop in and say where you want to go - the driver then finds a route for all the travelers it only costs about 50p and it’s really fun. We went down the south of the island to a village called Mele where they have a cultural centre which was really interesting. We learned all about the history and kastom of Vanuatu along with a lot of tales which we found terribly funny but which the locals believe. Black magic is a really big influence here and even more so on the island of Ambrym, we have noticed the local people really believe this and we have to try hard to respect their views. The history of cannibalism here is pretty horrid as is some of the traditions such as burying people alive - women with the husbands if they died before them, unwanted children, elderly people, sick people etc. When one chief died he was buried with 40 family/villagers who were alive. They also had practices such as knocking out a women’s front teeth to make her more beautiful, bringing up an illegitimate child until he was 13 and then hanging and eating him. The last ‘reported’ case of cannibalism was in 1969 so the government doesn’t really like it discussed as many ‘flesh eaters’ are still alive. There is a lot of joking about it though; the local beer adverts says ‘who’s on the menu?’ and there are tourist t-shirts of cooking pots with people in. I could go on forever but one last strange thing for now - there is a village here that believes Prince Philip is their Chief, they worship him and await the day that he will return to Vanuatu!

We have also done some great snorkeling here, had snakes around our necks, held and eaten coconut crab, spent hours wandering around the 24 hour market and been to see all the sights of Port Vila including the President’s residence, a pink court house and a some interesting churches.

We hoped to fly down to Tanna to see the active volcano there but unfortunately the flights were full. As it happens we could have gone later as we are still here because a cyclone has developed currently 200 miles north east of us. We joined up with a rally heading to Bundaberg in Australia which was supposed to leave on or after 23 October but that day cyclone Xavier made it’s appearance and is currently heading our way. We have prepared the boat best we can and are on a mooring in a pretty protected harbour but are very anxious to see what the next few days will bring.


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