Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Underway along the West Side Malakula Island, Vanuatu

Underway along the West Side Malakula Island, Vanuatu
16 degrees 11 minutes S
167 degrees 16 minutes E

The last few days have been a relative rush to arrive at South West Bay on Malakula Island for a special four day Arts festival. The festival was to include Grade takings (some sort of promotion ceremony), much dancing, feasts, circumcision ceremonies, and all sorts of other interesting customary ceremonies. This being a very remote location it was a local festival with only a few outsiders in attendance. Unfortunately, it had rained too much the last month thereby delaying preparations and the festival by a month. A big disappointment as to get to South West Bay we'd committed to sailing to the downwind side of Malakula Island making impractical the exploration of the more interesting bays to the eastern side of the island. Adjusting our plans we are now rushing to Bank islands for another Arts Festival starting in four days. To complicate matters we have a mandatory stop in Luganville on the island Espiritu Santo to check-in with customs authorities who are only open on weekdays thus making for the tight schedule. To my chagrin no wind today and an adverse current is further slowing our progress.

Last night we stopped in Lambumbu Bay where we spotted our first Dugong or Sea cow and what is believed to be the original inspiration for the mythical mermaid. The connection to a mermaid is quite a stretch as the dugong is certainly not half a woman, but to its' credit does have a mermaids tail to a certain degree. The sailors to have created this lore must have been many, many days at sea and delirious to imagine this creature to be a lovely, singing half woman half fish concubine. The Dugong which is more akin to a seal of some sort feeds on sea grass and is much endangered and extremely rare so it was quite the treat to spot one!

Also in Lambumbu bay, we met four young men fishing in their dugout canoe. They tentatively made their way closer and closer to the yacht until we called out a welcome and then they came closer, but still cautiously. They were all quite shy and clearly didn't use English too much as it would have to be their third language. None the less we had some conversations about the Dugong, fishing, their village, where we were from, etc. They said they have 'many yachts' that come to visit. We asked, how many and they said three. A little dumbfounded, we tried to clarify, was that 3 that left today or a week a month or what? They so, oh no it's about 3 a year! I held up three fingers and they nodded vigorously. Too bad we are in a hurry as this may have been a neat stopover. We gave them a gift of some fish and an "Outside" magazine. They just kind of hung around in a sort of silence that is very non-western, alternately taking turns paddling and leafing through the magazine. Our western culture compels us to talk and fill silence as we generally get uncomfortable when staring at a new acquaintance in silence. Not so with the island people who are content to just stare in silence for long intervals with complete comfort. Just another example of cultural differences of living at the pace of Vanuatu.

Our brief day and a half stop in South West Bay was interesting as we went to shore to ask permission to anchor in the bay. Chief Tom greeted us on the beach and we presented him with a parcel of our freshly caught Wahoo and asked permission to visit the large salt water lagoon, beach village and reef. He said we'd need to go to the next bay to find the owners of the reef and perhaps pay a small fee. He also said we'd need a guide to visit the lagoon and offered to come along. We made a short trip into the lagoon connected to the sea by a fast flowing stream of tidal powered seawater. On the way back to the village beach the Chief asked if we knew about Marijuana. Pause. I said yes we knew about Marijuana, but did not smoke. Pause. His questions seemed to be more of a proposition than anything. Humm. Moving right along he then asked if we had "drink" onboard the yacht. Humm. I said we had only a few beers. He said he would like to go to the yacht. It was becoming clear that this particular village lacked the Chiefly leadership of other villages in Vanuatu and Fiji, leadership we'd deeply respected. I said out of courtesy that perhaps tomorrow after we visited the village he could visit the boat.

We agreed to meet Chief Tom the next morning at his home and then check out the village. We arrived at the beach and when we asked where the chiefs' house was we were informed he had gone to his garden. Humm. First impressions seemed to be reaffirmed. A young woman approached and we asked if we could visit the village. She said "Ok" and led the way. Kathy and our now "tour guide" Kemah walk side by side down the beach chatting. I took the opportunity to get some interesting photographs of the many dug out canoes that lined the beach. Kemah was nice if a bit shy, but gave us a full tour of the village with brief descriptions of important areas such as the grave yard, and various churches along the way. This village had none less than three elevated covered stages for performances, constructed of bamboo and thatch. Apparently, they are used by a single local string band. Why three stages were built in such a small village we know not.

The first man and one of the few we met in the village was named David and the local Kava exporter. I asked to see his shed where he stored the Kava and inside large sacks full of the Kava root were ready to be sold to the next passing ship. I asked how much he sold the Kava for and when he replied 1000 vatu ($10 USD) for one kilo I was a bit shocked as some middle man must be making out with Kava selling for more than double in Port Villa. I didn't really want or need the kilo of Kava, I ultimately purchased, but it was just such a good deal I rationalized it would make fine gifts for new friends in future villages.

Off in the distance I heard some hammers pounding and as we approached a group of men we were lucky enough to find them working on a dug-out canoe. A canoe carved from a very large log with the middle hollowed out and an out-rigger attached. I asked plenty of questions and got some good photos. In this particular village of four hundred there must have been over fifty of these outriggers in service. Later we met a very old man with serious cataracts swinging an adze expertly as he hollowed out a small canoe. Perhaps this one he was crafting would be for one of his undoubtedly many grandchildren.

Later, we met Kemah's mother and perhaps six of her cousins. We bought some beautiful shell necklaces from them. In turn we unloaded a pack full of gifts in the form of excess food supplies we had on board. The gifts were well received and quickly reciprocated with several large ripe "Pawpaw" or Papaya, fresh green beans and a dozen or so fresh limes. We had to be off to keep our self-imposed schedule to the Banks islands so we raised anchor and set off for a few hour sail to Lambumbu bay.

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