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.