Journal 37; Southern Vanuatu
August 1 - Sept. 3, 2011
Greetings from Port Vila, Vanuatu! We had a pleasant three day/three night trip from north Fiji to the most southern Vanuatu Island, Aneityum. When exiting the last reef in Fiji we were lucky and landed a nice Wahoo. Soon after getting settled in Aneityum an expected storm hit the island. Fortunately the anchorage offered great protection for the next four days of high winds.
We received a pleasant surprise at Aneityum by discovering there were week long activities celebrating ‘Reconciliation’ between this island and Samoa. The story is that in 1841, or 170 years ago, a small group of Samoan missionaries landed at Aneityum. They received a ‘warm’ welcome by the locals. That is, the locals considered them enemies and ate many of them by roasting several of them alive over a fire. So a small contingent of Samoan missionaries flew to Aneityum to receive apologies from the descendents.
The missionaries, who went to Aneityum and other destinations throughout the Pacific, were certainly brave and dedicated. They knew they most likely would never return to Samoa and their Christian beliefs could bring them martyrdom.
The opening Reconciliation ceremonies began by men and boys dressed in traditional warrior attire reenacting an attack on the Samoans as they arrived by boat ferry from the airport. Later there were welcome songs, dances, prayers and many speeches.
Since Christianity is now the center of Pacific Islanders daily schedules, the following day was most interesting. This was the day the Aneityum’s formally asked for forgiveness of their forefather’s sins. Several village chiefs stood before the Samoans and the one that was the spokesperson. He continually interrupted his speech by his weeping. To bolster his emotions, he had brought a group of older women that wailed into their towels throughout his speech of forgiveness. The chief not only asked for forgiveness but he felt is was necessary to describe the details of roasting a missionary over open flames.
After that prolonged speech and forgiveness was completed, a group of men dressed in warrior attire and carrying clubs marched before the Samoans to present food for their dinner. The food included taro plants and a live pig that was trussed and carried to the center. The pig must have known what was next on the program so it began squealing so loud that it would make Ned Beatty proud. Suddenly a warrior took his club and smashed the pig’s head. There was blood everywhere but the locals were nonplussed while I thought a few of our cruising friends were going to pass out. Since JoDon and I both were raised on farms killing animals was routine, but I do not recall ever seeing it being done on stage. Wow, what a bloody memory!
The visiting Samoans were mostly missionaries. Their leader had been a missionary in China for 27 years and only recently returned to Samoa. The only female Samoan was now working as a missionary in India and Bangladesh. Another Samoan was about to depart for the Philippines for his missionary duties.
When the weather improved we took a hike into the mountains with Soren, a local that served as our guide. Soren took us to his small farm where he grew cassava, kava, field cabbage and other vegetables. While walking he explained the traditional use of plants and trees along the way, including the one plant that is used as body paint. Soren explained that to start a small farm they chop down a plot of trees and wait one year. They burn the remaining vegetation and use the land for about 3-4 years before the soil becomes unproductive.
Soren also introduced us to kava, Vanuatu style, by coming to El Regalo. In Tonga and Fiji they grind dried kava root into a pulp and strained it, similar to coffee. In Vanuatu men (or boys) chew the roots and the upper plant into a moist pulp that is later mixed with water. It is best not to think about what you’re drinking but Vanuatu kava actually tastes much better and is more potent than the other islands. After drinking Vanuatu kava you could have dental work performed since your gums are numb.
Required headband of fern from higher altitiude to prove you were there and warrior face paint!
The people of Vanuatu are classified as Melanesians. Melanesia is not a country, but instead a "culture area." Culture area is a term used by anthropologists to refer to a geographical region where people share many of the same traits. These traits include family structure, marriage rules, organization of society, and ways of gaining survival needs or making a living. Melanesia itself is part of a larger culture area called Oceania that includes Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Australia. The native inhabitants of Melanesia, called Melanesians, are characteristically dark-skinned with frizzy hair. They are sometimes referred to as "Papuans," from the Malay word papua meaning "frizzy haired." Melanesia includes the islands of New Guinea, Vanuatu (the former New Hebrides), New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and some smaller neighboring islands. Vanuatu became an independent nation in 1980. All of Melanesia lies within the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and is south of the equator. Melanesians migrate locally to other nearby islands or to Australia. A small percentage leave the region entirely and take up residence in the United States, Canada, or Europe.
The Children of Aneityum, Vanuatu
It was time to move on to Tanna Island to see Mt. Yasur, an active volcano. Arriving into the anchorage there was a hint of what was to come as steam was venting up through the trees. A group of us cruisers hired a 4 wheel drive pick up to take us to the top of the volcano. The volcano was a life experience and something that we will never forget and our words inadequately describe the force and power of the volcano. In the western world with personal safety the foremost concern you would never be able to view a live volcano so close. But this is Vanuatu so we hiked to the top of the volcano and could look down into the cauldron of glowing hot lava. The volcano continually exploded and would emit booming concussions that caused you to jump and then red hot lava would shoot into the sky. As Americans it was almost everything that you would see and hear at a big 4th of July fireworks, but this was unpredictable Mother Nature erupting her fury. The guides warned us to not run when the lava projectiles dropped to close. It was better to play them like a baseball fly ball and slowly move out of their way when they fell to avoid being hit. Fortunately there was a strong wind to our back and the smoke and debris drifted away from us downwind.
An impressive playhouse for the local boys.
The volcano’s sounds were pure evilness. Imagine a movie soundtrack when an evil sprit would speak and call your name into an inferno. It was really scary. To listen and see a small sample of the volcano, click here. (having a little trouble, hope it works..;)
We will be in Vanuatu for a few more weeks so will update the website again before we leave. Hope all is well with friends and family.
Brian and JoDon