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We work as ecotourism guides (as well as biologist and boat captain) often on the BC Coast, but also as far ranging as the Arctic and Antarctic. We have an insatiable curiousity for the planet; all its hidden gems and what makes them tick. That and our love of sailing is what inspired us to sail around the Pacific in Narama, our tough and pretty little sailboat.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vanuatu Kastom

Stephen with Odealia and her four boys on Narama

Our first introduction to the culture of Vanuatu was in Port Vila and it felt a little more produced for tourists, but was still very interesting.  We had a rough crossing from Lifou Island, but luckily it was only two days before we made landfall.  The feast night that we attended in Vila had a ground oven and then a performance by a group of singers from Tanna Island as well as lots of songs by the local kids.  We also had a look at the Museum in town which had local kids learning song and dance and an art exhibit by a contemporary artist as well as many artifacts from the different islands.
Heidi with Louie's family:
Espel holding Simone, Alice one of the village elders, Joe the oldest son and Louie

When we arrived in Port Sandwich on Malakula Island Stephen met Louie a local man whose mother is one of the few in town who still sings the old Kastom songs.  So we arranged for a private performance in their home and met the whole family.  The weather turned sour shortly after and so we ended up staying in Port Sandwich for over 10 days, which meant that we got to know that family very well.  We had Espel and Odealia (Louie’s wife and sister) out to Narama with a bunch of their kids which was great fun.  The next day we took Odealia and her youngest to the local hospital and offered to pay the fee (only a dollar for adults and half that for children) for wounds that looked terrible.  We have been given lovely gifts from them including a grass mat and a tusk necklace and wanted to help them after their generosity. 

The Pig Tusk necklace
given to Stephen by Jean-Marie,
Odealia's husband.
Our next stop after Port Sandwich was Ranon on Ambrym Island.  When we mentioned to a few local people in Malakula that this was our next stop they often said “Oh be careful strong Kastom!”  It seems that although most people in Vanuatu will tell you that they are Christian there are still some strong beliefs.  For example on Ambrym you are not allowed to visit the active volcano at certain times of the year as the spirits will get angry and upset their yam crop.  We didn’t have time to visit the volcano but had a great view as we sailed over.  We did meat Parry a local man who took us on a walk through the village and showed us several carvings by different artists.  We couldn’t resist and traded for one TamTam statue and bought another of a masked dancer.  We also walked to the next village of Ranvetlam and traded for another intricately carved “pig killer”. 

Life sized Tam Tam
Over 4m tall
 used by the chief
to call people tegother

Our small Tam Tam
and the rope we traded for it
The rope is for the carver's cow.

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