Departure for Malua Bay, Malakula Island

August 31, 2008

We have been anchored in Peterson Bay on Espiritu Santo Island for for past two days. We have not done much here — some boat projects and a little snorkelling. We are the only boat anchored off of Malono Island, just off Espiritu Santo. There are about a half-dozen other boats in an ‘inside’ anchorage but Sabbatical III draws too much water to enter there. It has been very peaceful here.

Tomorrow morning we begin the difficult task of heading back to Port Vila. Difficult because the route takes us right into the wind and seas most of the way. Consequently, we will have to rely on our diesel engine for much of the passage.

We will leave at 0615 local time. Our route takes us south down the eastern side of Espiritu Santo, past Malo Island, and then into the Bougainville Strait where we should be able to be under sail for a few hours. We hope to arrive at Malua Bay on the western side of Malakula island while there is still some light, if not we will spend the night at sea.

M.

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Photos from Ambrym

August 27, 2008

We are off of Espirito Santo Island, just across the channel from Luganville, the second largest city of Vanuatu. I just posted some photos to our Ambrym blog (see below). We will be here for a couple of more days re-provisioning, getting more vatus to spend, and doing some boat maintenance. We had a great sail here from Ambrym two days ago.  This is where James Michener was posted in WW II and formed the basis for his book on the South Pacific.  There was a huge US base here during the war.  The old Quonset huts are still in use. We will write more later.

M.

Back to my Roots Festival, North Ambrym

August 23, 2008

Dancers at Halhal Village, North Ambrym
Dancers at Halhal Village, North Ambrym

We have been anchored off Nebul village in the far north of Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, since Monday, August 18. We have been so busy with the ‘Back to my Roots’ festival we have not had the time to update our blog until now. A lot has happened during these past days and there is much to tell. Our experience is much better conveyed by photos and video but we will be unable to post any of these until we return to Port Vila in 10 – 14 days, depending on weather. The people of north Ambrym have been fantastic and the festival was extraordinary. It ended with the most famous dance of Vanuatu, the Rom dance, that is only performed here.

Passage to Ambrym.

We left Awai Island in the Makelynes on Monday (Aug. 18) with the promise of 15 knot winds from the SSE — good enough for the 36 nautical mile trip to north Ambrym. There is a very strong current in the channel that separates the Maskelyne Islands from Malekula. Fortunately it was a fair current that morning and we made over 8.5 knots through the channel. As we headed almost due north and moved away from the islands the current disappeared and so did the wind and we had to motor until we ‘turned the corner’ past the big bulge in Ambrym Island and altered course to the northeast. The very high twin volcanoes that dominate central Ambrym diverted and accelerated the wind up the western coast and allowed us to finish the passage under sail. The Mt. Benbow and Mt. Marum volcanoes are quite active and their ash plain takes up one-third of the island’s area. The anchorage off Nebul village was filling rapidly and there were at least 8 sailboats within view coming up behind us and half a dozen ahead of us. We monitored the marine radio traffic and learned from ‘Rise and Shine’ that anchoring in close to the shore would be a mistake — their anchor rode was entangled in rocks and coral. Unexpectedly, we got a radio call from ‘Vera’ and learned that they were just 6 miles ahead of us, having spent the previous day at the hot springs area of Ambrym Island. When we arrived they directed us to a place just to their port side. Michael had dived on his anchor and the nearby sea bottom and found only black volcanic sand. We are sitting in nearly 75 feet of water. I would not feel comfortable anchoring in anything deeper. We put out every last foot of chain we have (265 feet). You have to put out lots of anchor chain because strong gusts of wind (williwaws) come thundering down the slope of the volcano, straining anchors and making boats swing and dance. Everyone is aware that a few years ago some boats dragged out to sea (but recovered) and that last year one boat wound up on the reef at nearby Olal. The whole village of Olal came out and pulled the boat off the reef.

By the end of the next day there were 25 boats in the anchorage plus some overflow at the nearby Ranon village anchorage. Two fully crewed sailing superyachts also showed up — Silver Tip and Squall. Luc and Jackie from Sloepmouche once again acted as the liasons between the ‘fleet’ and the villages involved in the festival. Every evening they would make annoucements on the marine VHF radio with information on times, places, and events. There is no hotel or airport in north Ambrym, no roads or electricity, and only a single pickup truck, so it is very hard to attend the festival if you do not have a boat. Nonetheless, there were eight tourists who took the cargo steamer from Port Vila and stayed either at the mission house or on the floor of the rural cooperative bank. A four-man French film crew was also in attendance, having received permission to make a movie of the event. The film crew was not friendly and took it as their right to jump in front of us with their camera and sound boom, occasionally blocking the view at key moments. Back to my Roots Festival.

Nakamal at ritual grounds
Nakamal at ritual grounds

We dinghied to shore at 8:30 am on Wednesday for the first day of the festival. We were greeted by Zebulon Taleha, a barefoot and handsome 20 year old of Rantvetgere village. His job was to guide a group of us to the ritual dancing grounds every day. I am not sure why, but Zebulon took a particular liking to me. He treated me as if I was the ‘chief’ of our small group of yachties. He walked along side of me answering questions and offering explanations. Our group would not come or go until Zebulon asked for my assent. My connection with Zebulon added importantly to our experience as described below.

Chief Napong Norbert
Chief Napong Norbert

The ritual grounds are near the Kastom (traditional life) village of Halhal. To get to Halhal we walked thirty minutes along a beautiful coastal path that is intensely lush and green. Just before the northern-most village of Olal, we took a simple foot path into the interior. For another 15 minutes we walked through groves of coconut palms and forest until we reached the ritual grounds. It is a small area of grass with large tamtams –, logs with intricate faces carved on them and then hollowed out for drumming. The tamtams on north Ambrym, as well as wood carving more generally, are considered the finest in Vanuatu. They take hundreds of hours to produce. Traditionally, those making illicit copies of tamtams were executed. The largest tamtam at the ritual ground is 15 to 20 feet tall. There is also carved stone sculpture. In the forest just 50 meters away is a grass hut (nakamal or mens clubhouse) and surrounding area that is reserved for men. Here men dress (or undress) themselves for rituals, drink kava, and store ritual items such as the distinctive club used to kill pigs, a key element in north Ambrym rituals now that ritually killing humans is tabu. Interestingly, the men that were to be ritually killed and eaten were called ‘long pigs,’

Roasting Breadfruit
Roasting Breadfruit
Making breadfruit paste (laplap)
Making breadfruit paste (laplap)

Once men reach maturity, they begin the quest to reach higher levels (grades) in society in order to earn respect for themselves and their spirits when they die. To do this they must own many pigs and use pigs as currency to advance in grade. In north Ambrym there are 14 grades although no man currently alive is higher than grade 11. Men must also pay with pigs to acquire a bride. Zebulon is a grade 1 and is unmarried as he has not acquired the pigs necessary to advance in grade much less marry. In order to take part in the ritual events we were to witness, a man must have a sufficiently high grade and/or pay a price in pigs for the honor. It is a great honor to be a costumed dancer in the Rom dance and men must pay their chief in pigs for that honor.

Men cooking
Men cooking

On the way to the ritual grounds we stopped at Zebulon’s house and he gathered up a load of carved bamboo flutes that his father had made. They are beautiful and inexpensive so we bought enough to outfit a small orchestra. About 200 meters from the ritual ground, there were young men in the path collecting the admission fee of 7000 vatu per person for the three days (about $80 per person). As a trade good, we brought along a brand new Camelpak backpack, the kind with a water bladder and drinking tube plus plenty of zippered pouches for storage. We thought this backpack would be perfect for someone trekking up and down the volcano. We asked if we might trade this backpack for admission for the both of us. The young men taking the admission fee could not make this decision themselves, they had to ask the chief. Two minutes later a burly bearded man wearing only a namba (penis wrapper) walked up to me and, in accented English, asked to see the backpack. We bargained for a minute and a deal was struck — the backpack plus 2000 vatu ($21) would get Laura and I in for all three days. One of the young ‘ticket takers’ was delighted. He is the son of the chief and he put on the backpack and wore it for the rest of the day. We saved nearly $140 and made someone very happy.

Women cooking
Women cooking

Speaking of nambas, on the walk to the ritual grounds, Zebulon quietly sang. At one point he sang “Oh when the saints go marching in; Oh when the saints go marching in; I want to be in that namba; When the saints go marching in.” I am not sure whether he knew the word as “number” or “namba”. The latter would seem a more likely phrasing to him.

The seating for us yachties consisted of two bamboo poles set on trees branches. Laura and I brought small cushions. Some yachties had small folding chairs which were much more comfortable. Part of this bamboo seating area was covered by thatch augmented by a plastic sheet. The covering is important since it has rained about 20 times a day since we arrived — and this is the dry season. The tall volcanoes that produce the williwaw gusts also cause it to rain incessantly over north Ambrym. Drying laundry is pretty much impossible. But this weather is good for growing yams and taro in the rich volcanic soil.

The chief who traded the backpack from me was the master of ceremony for this event. His name is Napong Norbert and he is a very charismatic individual. He described and interpreted every dance and ritual act in both pretty good English and very good French. It is likely that he used French for the benefit of the French film crew as there were no other Frenchmen in attendance (but there were three Belgians). During the colonial period, Vanuatu, then known as the New Hebrides, was jointly administered by England and France. There are French speaking (and nominally Catholic) villages next to English speaking (and nominally Presbyterian) villages. Kastom villages tend to be in the interior of islands.

Wheres Waldo?
Where's Waldo?

All the foreign guests were asked to leave the ritual grounds so that we could be led in by the chief and other high grade men dancing the welcoming dance. Most of these men were between 40 and 80 years old as it takes many years to achieve a high enough grade. (Young men danced in most of the other dances.) The male dancers were followed in my dancing barebreasted women in grass skirts who likely are their wives. Then the foreign guests walked behind until we were in the ritual grounds. There were also many ni-Vanuatu (local Vanuatans) were stood in the background to watch, particularly on day three when the Rom dance was performed. This festival was organized by a number of different villages so there were a number of chiefs present. Chiefs carry carved wooden walking sticks as badges of office.

Rom dance

Rom dance

The dances that were performed during the first two days of the festival did not involve intricate steps. The men typically were in a tight circle with their bare butts facing us, and they stomped to the beat of the tamtams while singing or chanting in their local language. All the men wore a leaf namba that attached their penis to a bark belt. Various kinds of leaf foliage stuck into this belt covered the small of their backs. The dancing was very energetic and the songs and melodies were mesmerizing. I will leave it for the video to describe the action. On both the first and third days of the festival, a pig was ritually killed. On the first day it was a smallish pig that squealed mightily. We did not know what was about to happen but had some inkling that the pig might meet with violence. Chief Napong Norbert spoke in the local language and then took a club to the pig. It was a bit of a shock to us. That pig was served for lunch two days later.

There were food stalls at one end of the ritual grounds. Women sold laplap, bananas, coconuts, boiled eggs, fried dough, bread rolls with meat inside, and nangae, on oval, nut-containing fruit that tastes like an almond. A dozen nangae are sold skewered on a thin bamboo reed, and are quite delicious. Laplap is a pasty mixture of taro root and yam covered in coconut cream and served on a banana leaf. The food was very tasty and inexpensive. I also indulged my recent fondness for kava with help from Zebulon. At the end of the second day we went to the nakamal of one of the chiefs, and he served me and the Veras some potent fresh kava. We also had some kava on the third day in Olal village.

Part of the activities on the second day was a communal lunch. The buff young men of low grade prepared most of the food. It seems that low grade men must prepare their own food and only higher grade men have it prepared by women. The food preparation was in the men’s only area next to the nakamal — a woman could be killed for entering this tabu area. I went there to take photos and some of the women cruisers then gingerly entered as well. One of the chiefs told the women yachties to leave but then the highest chief (by grade), Napong Norbert, over-ruled that chief and said that foreign women could enter. The food preparation was as energy-intensive an activity as the dancing. Wearing only their nambas, the young men scraped coconut meat and squeezed it into coconut cream, and collected firewood and roasted breadfruits. They pounded the cooked breadfuits into paste and laid the paste onto large banana leaves. Hot stones were extracted from the fire and put into open coconuts in order to heat the coconut water which was then worked into the paste. The large sheets of paste where covered with coconut cream and then cut into pieces. The work was so grueling that men would rotate into and out of tasks to give each other a breather. While this was going on, the wives of the high grade men sat some distance away and roasted yams on an open fire. They would reach into the fire to snatch out a yam and proceed to scrape its exterior with the edge of a tin can top. They did this repeatedly, scorching a yam, scraping it, and then repeating the sequence. Laura and I found the food a bit on the starching side and prefered the bread products at the food stalls, but the preparation was really a very interesting sight.

Rom dancer
Rom dancer

The famous Rom dance was performed on the third and last day (yesterday). The Rom dance is connected to a secret and sacred society of men that remains a mystery to outsiders. I asked Zebulon about it and he provided only ambiguous responses. Fantastic and fearsome masks and full body costumes of banana leaves are one distinguishing features of the Rom dance. These costumes are worn by those being initiated into the secret society and they must make their own masks in secret and according to secret rules. Any outsider who witnesses a mask being made is to be whipped with nettles, or pay a fine (a recent and welcome amendment to the rules). Members of this secret society are keepers of the powerful ‘black magic’, a set of magic skills that can kill men or make the yams grow. Zebulon is hoping to be an initiate of the Rom secret society next year and dance in full costume. We hope to be there. Those who were initiated into the secret society in the past, including all of the chiefs, also danced in the Rom dance but wear only nambas. The Rom dance has a whole different look and feel to it than the dances of the previous days. The men stomped and sang more intensely and seemed in a trance-like frenzy. Sweat poured from bodies. I can only imagine how steamy it must have been for the young men who were completely covered in banana leaf costumes with large, heavy masks on their shoulders and covering their head. Toward the end of the dance, a very large pig was brought out and ritually killed and then left to the side as the rituals continued. The ritual grounds were crowded with ni-Vanuatu who came to see their chiefs and their sons dance. It is said that the yam harvest depends on it. The final dance is a farewell dance that is also a bit of a frenzy. Inside there was a tight circle of singing and dancing men. Outside of that circle women in grass skirts were pulsing slowly to the beat. The foreign guests were invited to join. A gentle rain fell even though it was sunny — and the dancers bodies were glistening. I danced with the men while blindly shooting digital still pictures at very close range while Laura danced with the women and took video.

Rom dancers pose
Rom dancers pose
Dancers
Dancers

After the festival was over, there was a banquet in Olal village for the yachties. Some chiefs and those who organized the festival also attended. There was a formidable spread of local foods including the ritually killed pig from the first day of the festival. While waiting for the banquet to begin, Zebulon approached me and said that one of the chiefs wanted to give me his chiefs walking stick. He brought over Chief Massing, who seems to be about 80 years old. We had met Chief Massing, who has some close connection to Zebulon, on the first day of the festival and took a great photo of him. We printed that photo on glossy photographic paper on the boat and gave it to Zebulon to give to the chief on the second day. The chiefs walking stick he gave me had been used by his father, Chief Naroum Naim, and so was quite old. I was quite taken aback by the honor accorded me. Perhaps Chief Massing was grateful for that photo, or perhaps Zebulon persuaded him that I was a chief lacking a walking stick. The people of north Ambrym were uniformly generous and so this act of kindness may not be as unusual as it seems. Zebulon told me afterwards that a man of my age and status must have a chiefs walking stick, and now I do.

M.

Chief Massing with his chiefs walking stick
Chief Massing with his chiefs walking stick
men cooking

Men Cooking Video

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Labo village, Ten Stick Rock, and the Maskelyne Islands

Aug 16, 2008

We left Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula this morning are now anchored off of Awai Island in the Maskelyne Islands, a group of small islands that lie just off of the southeast corner of Malekula. The passage here is mostly southeast into the prevailing tradewinds so today was a good time to go since there was little wind to contend with. We motored the whole way, about 34 nautical miles. Lot’s of other boats that were in Metenovor Bay for the festival also left this morning and 9 of them are anchored here with us. The plan is to stay in the Maskelyne Islands until Monday when the wind is supposed to build and then sail northeast to Nebul village on the island of Ambrym for another festival.

On Wednesday, August 13 we were at Labo village for an all day festival of Kastom dancing by Small Nambas, arts and crafts, and lunch, all put on by Labo village. The event they put on was nice but more appropriate for a visiting cruise ship than for yachties. It was a bit too scheduled. While strolling on the beach at Labo we ran into our kava-growing friend Justin from Wintua village. He was brewing fresh kava in a knoll nearby, mostly for the dancers and locals. He invited us to join in, and we did.

On Thursday, we went to Benahur village at the far tip of Metenovor Bay. We were invited to tour the village and, for a small fee, snorkel the wonderful reef that stretched out from Ten Stick Rock just across from the village. This was much more informal and low key. They put out some local foods for lunch and village people came by and chatted with the yachties who dropped by. It was a rainy day, so not that many people came off of their boats. After lunch and a tour, Laura, Britta, and I snorkeled the reef. The water was very clear and the reef was exceptionally beautiful, one of the nicest we have seen. There were lots of very big fish swimming around, which is always fun to see. A woman from the village told us how Ten Stick Rock got it’s name. In 1942, the village chief granted the US Navy the right to use the rock (actually a small island) for target practice in return for ten sticks of tobacco (10 cigarettes).

Yesterday, Laura and I snorkeled off the reef of Labo village, which was very disappointing. Our Labo village hosts had told us that their reef was a “marine reserve” with giant clams. But most of the coral was dead, there were only a few clams and these were not very giant at all, and these had been transplanted from a thriving reef in an attempt to attract tourists. We then crossed the bay to return to the wonderful reef of Ten Stick Island.

M.

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Kava and Chief Albin Reuben

Aug 12, 2008

We have had an interesting 24 hours. To our great pleasure, “Vera” sailed into Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula yesterday afternoon and dropped anchor right alongside of Sabbatical III. They have changed their plan to depart for the Torres Strait and will now attend the festival here in Malekula and then continue with us to the Black Magic Festival in Ambrym Island. They shared in all of our adventures of the past day.

Yesterday evening “Vera” and “Sabbatical III” dinghied to Wintua village and met Justin the kava grower on the beach as arranged. He took us to meet Chief Wilson to whom we paid our respects with some small gifts. Then he took us to the nakamal for kava. He explained why kava from southwest Malekula is considered among the best in the world. His kava is exported to New Caledonia and Fiji as well as all the islands of Vanuatu. However, the kava shipped outside the village is dried first which, according to Justin, appreciably reduces it’s quality. The kava we were to enjoy was just cut fresh and prepared in the traditional manner. The bark is carefully cut away from the kava roots which are then washed and chopped by hand and then washed again. The chopped roots are then kneaded with water by hand until a soft mush. This kava mush is then pressed through a cloth baby diaper to get the kava we drink. This process produces a potent drink that he refers to as “morning fresh” since there is no morning hangover. Much of the other kava sold in Vanuatu and elsewhere he referred to as “two day kava” because it leaves an unpleasant hangover on the second day.

We put his kava to the test. None of us are experienced kava drinkers (Michael and Britta had never tried it before) but we all found it to be a most pleasant experience. It is hard to describe since it is really nothing like alcohol or anything else we know of firsthand. It’s effect might be understood by Michael’s comments before and after. As we entered the nakamal, Michael said “I really do not want to he here..let’s not stay long.” After drinking kava Michael said “This is really a nice place. Let’s stay here longer.” Kava puts you in a nice place. Our hosts were careful that we not consume to much and that we safely found ourselves back to our dinghies.

This morning we went to Tisri lagoon for the grand opening of the “Southwest Malekula Yacht Club”. The yacht club is a grass hut meant to attract yachties like us to an area that does not get tourists due to its inaccessibility. There are no cars or roads, no electricity, and no ferry or regular air service to this part of Vanuatu. The “yacht club” is a joint endeavour of the community and Luc and Jackie of the Belgian vessel “Sloupmouche”. “Sloupmouche” has been in Vanuatu for two years and runs the cruisers net on the VHF radio in Port Vila. There was live music, flowers for our hair, fresh coconuts, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. A total of 33 boats were at anchor (up from two when we arrived last Friday). The cruisers brought gifts for the community and the community served lunch and danced. Sabbatical III and Vera had to leave before the lunch and dancing in order to get to Lawa village, about 4 miles north, for the burial ceremony of the father of Chief Albin Reuben. We had been specially invited by the Chief to photograph the event.

When we arrived at the beach at Lawa, we were met by John who told us that the ceremony had begun some hours before. He directed us to follow him to the place. Fortunately, as directed by the Chief on Sunday, we brought hiking boots as we were led at a fat pace deep into the tropical forest on a muddy trail, ascending steep hillsides covered with tropical hardwoods. We met people coming from the interior highlands carrying parts of pigs and loads of taro root. Each person greeted us and extended their hand to us to shake. Finally we reached a clearing demarcated by stone pillars. Laura almost fainted from heat exhaustion. We had missed the ceremony. Chief Reuben apologized profusely and explained what had happened. His father, who was born in 1915, was the most important link between the coastal dwelling Small Nambas of Lawa and the other villages on the coast of Malekula and the Manbush people in the rugged interior. There are fewer than 1000 Manbush people left. The Manbush people have no contact with the outside world, including the Small Nambas on the coast. They have never seen the sea. They have never intermarried with Polynesians and other potential partners of lighter skin, and thus are smaller and darker than the coastal peoples and have mistakenly been described as pygmies. Chief Albin Reuben’s father protected them and was their contact with the outside. They came out of the forest to this clearing high in the hills to honor a Small Namba man that they had known and respected for decades. Unfortunately, the Manbush people are not attentive to issues of time, and they showed up three hours early and left just before we arrived. While they were there they danced and performed rituals to honor the dead father of the current chief. It is almost impossible for outsider to ever see the Manbush people and we are sorely disappointed that we missed doing so. Chief Albin Reuben said that such a meeting of Small Namba people and Manbush people may not happen again for years.

Nonetheless, Chief Albin Reuben instructed the drummers to return to their places and play while he and his nephew performed the funereal dance of the Small Nambas just for us. I filmed it with our Flip video camera.

M.

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Exploring Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula

We have spent three days in Metenovor (Southwest) Bay. Two days ago we went to Wintua village which lies just across from Sabbatical III. It had rained heavily in the previous 24 hours so the paths were quite muddy. We were told that Wintua received more rain than villages just one mile away, and that is why it’s gardens are so productive. We met Justin who cultivates a kava garden and also runs the farmers cooperative. Villagers cultivate kava and copra for export to Port Vila. Their kava is highly regarded in Vanuatu and has a ready market in other islands. After a tour of the village, Justin picked some pamplemousse (pomelo) for us from his uncle’s tree. We gave him a new t-shirt. He expects us to return this evening at 5 pm for a visit to the nakamal, the place where men drink kava. Women are ordinarily forbidden from the nakamal but an exception will be made for Laura as she is not bound by all the local customs.

There is one particularly nice house in Wintua. We asked about it and were told it belonged to an Australian woman named Beverly and her husband from the village. The Australian woman had come to Wintua years before as a missionary along with Australian husband. After some time she divorced her Australian husband and married a local man. Unfortunately, he died some months ago and his widow was back in Australia visiting her grown children from her first marriage.

Yesterday, we went to Lembinwen village about one mile south of us. As claimed, it is a drier place that Wintua. A New Zealander controls a very large area of land around the village that he uses to graze cattle amid the coconut trees of a copra plantation. This enterprise gives employment to many villagers and is likely the cause of the prosperous character of the village. Most homes are of cinder block construction with metal roofs, and all houses are on large cement foundations. There were solar panels on many roofs and we could hear recorded music playing from inside (it was Sunday). Villagers are also fishermen, with at least half a dozen small skiffs powered by outboard engines plus one small tuna boat that said “Gift of the European Union” on it’s bow. Everyone in Lembinwen village is a Christian– either Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, or Christian Life Church.

Lembinwen village sits astride the entrance to Tisri Lagoon. The lagoon is quite large covering a few square miles. It has mangroves on much of it’s shoreline but the water is quite clear, not brackish, and full of fish. Laura and I took a dinghy tour through parts of the lagoon that gave us an idea of the size of the cattle/copra operation controlled by the New Zealander.

This morning a powered skiff came up to Sabbatical III with two men. One of them said he is Chief Alben Reuben of Lawa village. His father had died and there is to be a funeral ceremony for him tomorrow. He asked if we would be willing to photograph the events. We agreed. We found Lawa village on our charts. It is about 3 miles north and it should be a safe place to anchor with the predicted light winds from the east. To our surprise, we found Chief Albin Reuben mentioned in our guide book. His village is the gateway to the densely forested interior of Malekula where there are villages that live as they have for one thousand years. He is the contact person for expeditions into the interior as well as cultural sites along the coast where Lawa is located. We are quite excited about this opportunity. We will leave a cd-rom with the digital photographs with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila.

So we have an exciting couple of days ahead — a visit to a nakamal for kava, official photographers for the funeral of a chiefs father, followed by the Kastom dancing of the festival that brought us to Metenovor Bay in th first place.

M.

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Departure from rainy Port Vila to Malekula Island

August 7, 2008

We left Port Vila about 11am ago for the one hour trip to the anchorage off of Mele Island about 5 miles away. We will be here for only a few hours. At 5 pm we will depart for Southwest Bay, Malekula. The trip is about 100 miles. That is too far to do during daylight hours and still arrive with good light. We expect the passage to take about 15 hours although we cannot judge the wind yet since we are still in the wind shadow of Efate Island. We needed to leave the mooring field of Port Vila by noon in order to avoid low tide. There is a narrow and shallow pass to navigate to leave, thus the need to stop at Mele Island.

It has been raining off and on for the past 4 days. We carry our rain jackets wherever we go, and we have had a lot of places to go. We had to re-provision the boat which was a time consuming task that required stops in a variety of stores and markets. We also added 150 liters of diesel to our tank by schlepping jerry cans in our dinghy. We also had some nice meals out ranging from a cheap meal at the vegetable market sitting at a common table with all the other customers to two nice meals at French restaurants.

There is a three day festival in southwest Malekula that starts on the 12th. There will be Kustom dancing and other events. The two major groups on Malekula are the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas. The names originate from the size of the penis sheath (namba) that men wear. Apparently, the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas have not gotten along over the years, although there is no warfare between them these days. The size of your namba still matters alot in Malekula.

The Big Nambas wind purple pandamus fibers around their penises and secure the fiber to a belt made of bark. The testicles are exposed. They kept a stone fireplace where outsiders who they disliked (Small Nambas) were ritually cooked and eaten. If a Big Namba woman pleased her husband, he would permit her to have her two front teeth knocked out by hammering them with a rock. Small Nambas wear only one leaf on their penises, which they tuck into their bark belt. Testicles are also exposed.

No other boats are accompanying us for this passage. The Vera’s are in Epi Island and we might not see them again. They are leaving Vanuatu for the Torres Strait (north of Australia) in a weeks time. We expect to find quite a few other boats coming to this festival since it has been talked about alot.

M.

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Life in the Big City

Apron sold to tourists
Apron sold to tourists

We have been in Port Vila, the capitol city of Vanuatu for the past 10 days. It has been a good chance to catch up on all the internet work we had to do (mostly getting the blog to work again!), upload photos and videos, eat in restaurants and sit and drink cafe latte in nice little coffee shops, get some boat work done, and hear what other cruisers are up to. This is quite a nice city – very clean and modern. All the moorings in the harbor are taken – so many sailboats here. There must be 50 boats or so – way more than we have seen since leaving New Zealand. It is just a very comfortable stopping off point. Two things are incredibly cheap here for some reason – beef and cell phones! The beef in Vanuatu is delicious and very inexpensive and so we have been eating steak a lot. Cell phones are also very cheap here – they almost give them away – so everyone seems to have one. There is a big vegetable and fruit market open every day except Sunday and it is really fun to go there – tons of incredibly inexpensive greens (lettuce, bok choy, green beans), fresh peanuts, bananas, tomatoes, grapefruit and tons of tubers and sweet potatoes. We were excited to find fresh wild raspberries in the market today – first time we have seen berries anywhere on our trip. The grocery stores are well stocked and convenient. There are a lot of Chinese run stores here that are filled with movies and music. We were surprised to find (of all things)- five seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and bought it for a song. Really seems like a funny place to find Larry David.
All is well onboard Sabbatical III….

Squid on local dish of laplap
Squid on local dish of "laplap"
Entrance to daily market
Entrance to daily market

L.

Anchored and moored boats in Port Vila Harbor

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