Millipe Bay, day at Tomman Island

July 1, 2009
Millipe Bay, day at Tomman Island, Population 300
In the morning, a man paddled by with a canoe laden with wooden planks. I learned he was chief WIlliam of Tomman Island. We told him we’d be there shortly, and he said there would be activities for us to see on shore, including a football (soccer) match, and a man with a long head. One of the reasons Dad was keen on coming here was to see the “long-heads”, as they’re called, an old tradition of elongating childrens’ heads that was stopped by the missionaries.
A lot happened today, so I decided to write it in bullet points:
-Chief William and wife Annie greeted us on the white beach of Tomman Island, which is across the straight from Millipe Bay, where we are anchored
-At their lovely, flower-filled compound, William took out a clay bird, made by an elder family member, and dictated the village creation myth while a daughter translated into French. According to the myth, 5 brothers in Millepe sent a bird to kill a large clam in the ocean. The bird planted a tree in the clam, from which Tomman Island grew.
-WIlliam and Annie guided us through the village, showing us water sources, a primary school, churches, and the dance ground for the island’s traditional ritual dances. Only members of Chief William’s family can dance, and they do so to the drumming of large tamtams, a special kind of Vanuatan drum.
-Evidence of a confused colonial history: Although they are right across the bay, young people in Tomman Island speak French while people in Millipe speak English. Even crazier, in Tomman, the older generation speaks English while their kids speak French.
-I talked a lot (in French) with a young girl named Marilyn. Since neither of us speak French very well, there was a lot of miscommunication, and just nodding and smiling. What we did understand we high-fived to– figuring out we are both the same age, both un-married, and both prefer the village life to Port Villa, the capitol.
-Annie told an interesting story about the “Hidden Time”– what they call the period in thier history before missionaries arrived. In the hidden time, people from other villages would often come and kill women and children in Tomman, so the village moved. “Then we learned about God”, Annie said, “and now, no more” she shaking her head.
– They took us to see the last remainining long-head, an old man with what seemed to be an especially accentuated forehead. This used to be done by binding the heads of babies. He claimed to be 95 years old, born before missionaries and before WWII, during which he worked with the US Navy. He had a full head of hair, and a toothless smile.
-Finally we came to the village’s big sports field, ringed with palm trees. Today was the football match between Tomman and Southwest Bay, and everyone was out cheering, including fans from Southwest Bay and Millipe.
-Girls were playing volley ball on a court next to the field, and although no one was watching, they were pretty good!
-We drank coconut milk from green coconuts Annie cut for us
-William expressed his appreciation for Dad’s friendship profusely
-We bought coconut crab from William and Annie, who gave us a long demonstration of how to kill, cook, and remove “his mess”, and we also bought the clay bird and a clay mask from the elder man
-After lunch and a short nap, Dad went to drink kava with Chief Holland, Bill and Newman of Millipe in the Nakamal (a special place for men to drink kava)
-They made fun of him for coming exactly at the time they had agreed on– very American, they said
-After about 7 shots of kava, Dad stumbled back onto the boat, high as a kite
-Dad sat on deck, completely zoonked– don’t worry, I captured it on film
-Bill and Newman came over in canoe to help us cook coconut crab
-As we waited for the pot to boil, Bill and Newman explained the different methods by which they catch crabs, lobster, flying foxes (bats), squid, octopus, etc
-They also pointed out good locations to snorkel in the bay, but warned of a taboo area, inhabited by a dead man’s spirit
-They explained the Vanuatan “grade-taking” tradition, whereby men, who have the intention of becoming chief, attain higher social ranks by ceremoniously killing pigs
-We then enjoyed “Nambawan!” (say it phoenetically) coconut crab on deck while the sun set
-Bill and Newman said so long, as they paddled back to shore for more kava-drinking
-Dad burned reggae CDs for Bill, a self-proclaimed Reggae Man, and chief Holland
-Mom and Hannah made delicious babganoush and were generally domestic as Dad lay down, waiting for his kava buzz to wear off

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