Friday, November 28, 2014

The Maskelyne Islands: Part 1

The most peaceful anchorage EVER!
After leaving Lamen Bay off Epi, we sailed the twenty some miles west to a group of islands known as the Maskelyne Islands. There are several smaller islands surrounded by reefs that make up this group. It is a lovely and peaceful area. The ni-Vans use dugouts with outriggers so there are no motor wakes except those made by yachties.

Upon dropping our anchor, the locals came to welcome us. Several families were heading home from their gardens and had children with them. There had been no school today due a teacher's conference. The fathers had the harvest and the children in one large outrigger canoe and the mothers were in their own smaller dugout. Definitely a "two car family."

Returning home from the garden.
But that is where any hint of affluence ends! The people in this area are isolated and have no stores to service them. There is no real use of currency as there is nothing to buy here. They do need money to make purchases from the supply ship if they don't have fish or goods to trade for things they need. It is a difficult thing: do you encourage them to keep living as they have done for hundreds of years or do you help them acquire some of the conveniences of the modern world. This is a discussion among yachties during happy hours.

Looks like a successful day of fishing! They start young.
They live off the land and sea and without electricity, running fresh water and cook over open fires. They fish on the reefs, but their dugouts cannot go out into the ocean for bigger fish so they greatly appreciate it when a yacht has ocean fish to spare. They mainly live on fruits and vegetables from their gardens, an occasional chicken or pork meal when they slaughter one of theirs.

One little piglet that may be a pet instead of dinner one day!
She was looking for a writing tablet so we gave here a
notebook and some pencils. Can't resist that smile!
They come to the boat with produce and fish to offer as gifts - which really means trade, as one should give a gift in return. They offered pumpkin (winter squash), papaya, coconuts, and bananas to us. I am sure if we requested something else, they would bring it the next day. In exchange, we gave them canned meats, powdered milk, rice, flour, pencils, paper note pads and of course, lollipops. This is against my better judgment as a former dental hygienist, but the children's eyes light up when they see the candy. And it does bring a little joy!

(I know, it is not good for them either!)

Doing the laundry - the hard way!
These kids are amazing! They move around
the dugouts with such grace and balance.
The clothes they wear are second hand and are more like rags than clothes. Yet they are grateful to have whatever they can get. Dennis noted that one of the fathers was not wearing a shirt and the children were in tattered clothes, so he went below and brought up a nice T-shirt for the man. I was wishing we had more to give away. We will be bringing back more next year.

Another fisherman demonstrating the use of a slingshot type
 of device they use to shoot fish instead of a hook and line.
One man was looking for sail cloth to make a sail for his dugout. Another needed line so we offered some that we use, but figure we can replace in New Zealand. Fishing hooks were also requested as they catch fish to trade for supplies when a ship stops infrequently, plus fish for dinner. Another man with two little girls in his canoe was looking for a book bag for his daughter to carry to school in the canoe. She is now toting her books in a lovely black and white canvas LancĂ´me bag!

Grinding the pepper plant root to make Kava. Their Kava
is much stronger than other islands. I think it is because
they use the fresh root and others let it dry first.
We were approached by Vincent and two others inviting us to the village on Avokh for their Kastom (Custom) Dancing and Village Tour with the Chief plus food tasting. There is a $3,500 Vatu per person fee which is $35 USD. We were never able to get an answer to our question of who gets the money. Between the four of us, they took in $14,000 Vatu. Hopefully the village as a whole benefits and not just the chief.

Karina with the blonde hair!
There are about 300 residents living in three clans within the larger village. There were three different "neighborhoods", essentially. But all of them are related through many years of bloodlines. Each clan has a chief, but Chief Kaiser is the head chief and he gave us the tour. Vincent was along for the tour and helping with the communication in English. He had been educated out of the village, but had returned after marriage. We met one of his daughters who has blond hair! Sort of! She was shy and a real cutie.

There is a special area where the dance is done and others
are not allowed in that part of the forest unless they have
attained a certain status - or are paying visitors!
Here in the larger island of Malekula, there are two different kastom dance groups. The ni-Vans in the north are called Big Nambas. The ones in the central and south are known as the Smol (Small) Nambas. The men must earn the right to dance by passing through several "grades" of status. These are not classroom grades, but rather levels of achievement of manliness. The big and small terms refer to the size of the penis sheath made of plant leaves worn during the dancing. It directly relates to the type and amount of plant material used to cover the penis, not the size of the covered object! Oh, to be so free!

It appears that only certain men can dance the traditional
bird dance. They called theirs the Hawk Dance.
Our guide, Vincent, was not even allowed to see the dance since he has not yet reached the appropriate grade. It is interesting that I was allowed - even encouraged - to take photos, and yet many people in the village have never seen the dance. There is definitely a hierarchy here among the males.

And women are very low in status. At least they have stopped knocking our the wife's front teeth. They used to do this to show that she was taken! More on them in the next blog.

Nambas and body paint with ankle bracelets did not leave
much to the imagination. Check out the muscle definition!
The dancers only wore the Nambas and ankle bracelets made of dried nuts that make noise as they dance. And some body paint - as in traditional designs in tan mud on chocolate colored skin. These dancers were physically fit. There was not an ounce of fat on their well defined muscular bodies. Even though they were basically undressed, it was not a distraction as the dance ceremony is taken very seriously and is held in esteem. Like all of the other dances we have seen throughout the islands, they had their version of the bird dance. This performance was the most closely aligned to the ancient ways as we have seen so far.

The Chief wanted Joyce and I to have a photo taken
with the dancers. Since not everyone can see it, I am
not sure why it is okay to have photos!
Someone asked why we all have on so many clothes when the natives are naked. It is a malaria area and the mosquitoes love me so I am covered up, wearing repellent sprayed clothing and taking medication! Therefore, not taking any chances as I don't want malaria!

Dennis downing a coconut shell of Kava.
After the dance ceremony and tour, we returned to the landing area and the community gathering structure for a tasting of their traditional food and kava. The kava in Vanuatu is said to be much stronger than on the other islands. I don't care for it so took a pass, but Dennis, John and Joyce can vouch for the difference in strength and effect. It was a quiet evening on the boats after the kava!

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