It’s a bit of a contrast from the holiday resorts on Fiji to the village life here on Tanna, Vanuatu. The villages surrounding our anchorage have very few amenities – no electricity, a couple of stand pipes for water in the centre of the village and bamboo and woven mat huts. But saying that they are the friendliest and happiest people we have come across.
Because we came to the east side of the island, as this is the best anchorage for yachts, we had to travel in the back of a ute 2 hours across the island to the main town of Lenekal to check into the country and clear immigration.
There are no tar roads on the island and the quality of the dirt roads is really bad, nearly impossible in the wet weather. On the way in Penny managed to score the front seat of the vehicle and I was in the back with 14 other locals and all their produce for the market.
By the time we got back to the boat we were both black with volcanic dust and in need of a stiff drink. One of the main reasons people come here is to experience Mount Yasyr, the active volcano. There is no vegetation here just an alien prehistoric desert. Just before it gets dark you travel by truck up to the mountain and after a short walk you are right on the edge of the crater looking down into the belching chasm with red molten rock being spat out at regular intervals often reaching heights well above you.
Fortunately they seem to drop back into the crater, but when she’s angry she spews out molten rocks outside of her boundaries. Fortunately they seem to travel through the air very slowly (so it appears) so it gives you time to get out of the way of falling debris if necessary. Where you walked along the edge you can see large rocks that have recently landed. The thing that amazed everybody was the noise and the shaking of the ground.
The highlight of our visit to Tanna was the circumcision ceremony that we were invited to. Between the age of 8 and 12 (the mothers decide what age) young boys are circumcised by a village elder (no pain killers!!) and then spend one month in isolation from the village learning about ‘secret men’s business’!!
During that time they are not allowed to see any women. At the end of a month the family invite all the neighbouring villages to a huge feast which starts at 5.30am and goes right through to the next day. We arrived at about 8.00am as they were preparing three huge piles of gifts in the centre of the arena consisting of bananas, yams, kava, mats, baskets and cloths.
Then they bought out several large pigs trussed up on poles which they preceded to club to death. There was also a cow but fortunately they cut its throat. The sight was enough to make you become a vegetarian for the rest of your life!
The three boys who had been circumcised came into the arena with the men of the village and proceeded to walk around the gifts chanting and stomping their feet. Then boys were given gifts. We gave T shirts, sweets and cake, but Penny thought antibiotics would be more appropriate.
The women were crying presumably because they hadn’t seen their little boys for a month. After a short time all the food was taken away to be prepared and shared among all the people who had attended, which was about 200, some of them had walked all through the night.
We weren’t invited to the feast (which was a blessing) but we were given laplap which is their national dish. It is made of pork fat with some meat thrown in. I have to say it was pretty disgusting for our delicate palates.
After everyone had eaten the men spent the afternoon getting stoned on kava, which is meant to be a lot stronger than the stuff you drink in Fiji. It’s, strictly men only. The women were diverted up a different track so as not to walk through their sacred kava pit.