Friday, January 14, 2011

Rano Island, Vanuatu

Vocabulary: Eris (hello), Ramsam (goodbye to one person), Ramsamay (goodbye to more than one person), Ramsamyo (sweet dreams), Ta (thank you).

Today we are on Rano Island, Vanuatu. The island actually has a pier we climb onto from the zodiacs...prior to this we have been making wet landings on beaches.

The Vanuatuans on this little island have started to create a tourism industry, displaying all the traditional crafts and dance and food preparation. We walk along the beach, looking at the women's craft stands where they show shell necklaces, woven straw bags and mats, ankle bracelets made from large seed pods and worn as part of the traditional dancing costumes, and hand carved replicas of outrigger canoes.

We follow a cleared path that makes a large circle inland, and enter cleared 'forest rooms' where different aspects of the culture are played out for us. We begin with some older men, dancing a public dance, anyone can join in. There is always one person making the tock-tock sound on a drum or tree or piece of wood, to create the beat. All the dancers are adept at dancing in unison - the choreography is sophisticated. The earth reverberates when all the pounding feet land at once.

The women, bare breasted and in woven skirts, come forward in two lines, shaking their feathered sticks, and weaving in and out of the lines. Their ankle bracelets, made from seed pods, create a soft shushing sound that accents the beat. After their dance is finished, we speak with them, and discover that most speak French and are more comfortable in that language then in English. They are charming and friendly and open.

We go to the Boabab tree and watch the sorcerer perform some 'magic' - simple tricks. We see a wall of flat stones, and learn that these are everybody's birth certificates - when a child is born in the village, s/he receives a flat stone and it is added to the wall. When that person dies, his/her stone is given to a relative. So they have birthstones, but not gravestones.

We watch the men dance. There is one dancer who is like a bird...his arms seem to lengthen and grow into wings. This is a powerful dance, with a loud and tuneful music behind it.

We see a woman weaving a mat...her hands and fingers work so quickly, she is like a loom. The older women are preparing a yam mash. After it is baked in the fire, shredded coconut is sprinkled on top... delicious. The coconut industry is their biggest industry...they burn the shells for fuel, they keep the coconut milk, they export the coconut oil to Europe.

In a funny way, this village is like a home grown Disneyland...everything prepared for the tourist, in easy bites. Seen another way, it is interesting to see how these people, on an island far far away, have chosen to present their traditions to foreigners. Our guide told us that the last cannibalistic meal eaten on this island was in 1913...not so long ago! We actually visit the "cannibal's room", and see real human bones in the fire pit. I wonder if they are the actual bones from that last meal, or where exactly did they come from?
Later, as we walk along the shore again, and take pictures of the houses made out of woven reeds, we see everybody has a cell phone. So, while there are clearly still people living, or perhaps just having knowledge of, the traditional life, modern 'civilization' is encroaching. Is there electricity? I don't know. Are there cell phones? Yes. Television? No. Radio? Yes. There are PVC pipes that drain the water down to the beach. Are there pumps? I don't know. The pipes used to be made of bamboo. Is PVC an improvement?

I see a grandmother walking with her toddler grandson along the beach. Every few steps he squats down and releases a turd. She folows behind and kicks the turd into the ocean. Jonathan says that the adage "The solution to pollution is dilution" is correct in this case, as E.Coli is rendered null in a large salt water environment.  Still, seeing this doesn't make me want to snorkel close to shore!

I meet Charles, who insists on giving me one of the beautiful Crown Conch shells. I tell him I have no more money, but he insists. He asks will I bring back a t-shirt for his daughter. I agree.

I go out on a dinghy with a group and Jonathan*, who brings us into small inlets in the bay to see what birds we might see. First we see some Giant Clam shells, which he tells us are disappearing. We see some large fruit bats, soaring from tree to tree. Maybe a Lorikeet as well?

As we travel back to the ship it starts to pour. This is nothing new, as we have been wet since we started in Fiji. It is so endless you can only laugh about it. No one has dry clothes, as they will not dry hanging in your room. Everyone's room and bath are like damp caves. Many times, you just want to swim back, as it might actually be warmer than sitting in the wind on the dinghy.

Jonathan tells us a story from growing up in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia when he was growing up there): He and a friend, both 12 years old, went crocodile snatching out on a river. Jonathan's friend held his legs while he leaned out of the boat and grabbed one, about 5 feet long, around the neck. He dragged it back into the boat, and flipped it upside down, in which position it becomes immobile. So they had the leisure to observe and examine it, before throwing it back into the it flies through the air it starts gnashing again! As he said, 12 years old and incredibly stupid...and fearless!

On board with Olinne, immigration officer of Vanuatu

On island of Rano, Vanuatu

Children displaying local wares


Chief (note pig tusk necklace) playing slit-gong drum

Speaking French with the ladies

*Jonathan Rossouw, expedition leader, expert in birds and reptiles, also extremely knowledgeable about mammals and coral reef fishes.

Travelling on the Clipper Odyssey, Day 3, November 24, 2010

1 comment:

  1. what an adventure your on tamara. funny that they say 'ta' for thankyou as i was brought up on 'ta'.hope theres more pasific episodes..will look out for them xxxjanet