Ambrym, Pentecost and Maewo Islands
|Ambrym is well known amongst the Ni-vans as the island of magic. Because of the active volcanoes it is considered a place of great power and also a place of great danger. In the violent past of Vanuatu islanders from other islands were held a bay by the Ambrym inhabitants with the threat of spells and evil spirits.|
The traditions these beliefs spawned are still in practice today. On the slope of the most active volcano is the village which is the center for this spiritual work. The inhabitants of this village work through spiritual means to control the environment from earthquakes and ash clouds to the quality of the yam harvest.
Chief James is considered by people all over Vanuatu to be the most powerful in the these magic abilities. We had the opportunity to meet and share lunch with Chief James and learn a little of his people's ways.
The Village of Vanla is a 45 minute steep climb from Ronin. We were led by the chief's son, John. John toured us around his village and introduced us to the carvers and artists which make this village famous for carvings. We met with his father, Chief James and discussed the upcoming harvest. Chief James recently took over from the recently departed Chief Tofu who was considered to be one of the most magic men in Vanuatu history. Chief James carries on this tradition. The village is Christian but they view their beliefs in relationship between man and nature as an extension to their religion. This enable them to retain their culture and carry forward their traditions. This is the key to the magic of Vanuatu.
From Ambrym we sailed north to Lolton on Pentecost Island. Pentecost Island is famous for a feat of daring known as Land Diving. Land Diving involves jumping from a tall tower with vines attached at the ankles. The vines do not stretch a great deal and the jumper sets the length so they strike the ground on a slope. This celebration takes place in April and May on Saturdays with boys beginning in April jumping from lower levels to men jumping at the end from the top of the tower. This dangerous practice is to celebrate the Yam harvest and also to establish the bravery of the young men of the village. We didn't see it but maybe someday. Lolton is a nice anchorage and an attractive town. There is a nice guest house on the water which caters to yachties and is known for their all night string band jam sessions. As the capital for Pentecost it is the best place to get few provisions on this side of the island group.
We nest visited Asanvari on the southern end of Maewo island. Here we found the most beautiful anchorage we have experienced in the South Pacific. Ashore we met Chief Nelson at the Asanvari Yacht Club. The village is making an effort to attract cruisers. Offer services to help raise money for the village but they also seem to genuinely enjoy the exposure to people from all over the world that arrive by yacht.
The anchorage is gorgeous with a waterfall just a few feet from shore providing both a picturesque setting a good place for washing and bathing.
The village is large and spread out. A tour is a very pleasant walk with one of the village children as your guide. It was so neat and tidy that it seemed like a Disney version of a Vanuatu village.
Along the way we saw the traditional construction techniques in progress. Using native timber which is resistant to moisture and bug damage they construct very strong buildings which stand up well to the frequent cyclones that sweep the area. The walls are made of woven palm leaves and provide considerable strength for the weight. The roofs are most vulnerable and will usually require repair after a major storm.
The Asanvari Yacht Club has a kerosene refrigerator and it offers really cold drinks and beers at reasonable prices. They often run low and it is a great help to bring a case of beer or drinks for them. They will gladly reimburse you.
A must see at Asanvari is their Dinner Show. For 1500 vt they put on a dance show with their spectacular headdresses and custom costumes. One of the things that makes it fun is the children. They dance with the adults and everyone has a great time. Chief Nelson sings and many of the villagers join in clapping and singing.
We were struck by the amount of fun the dancers were having. It was a great atmosphere.
After the dancing a meal is served. The specialty is coconut crab. We are not big fans of coconut crab but they have a way of preparing it that makes it very tasty. There is also fish, root vegetables and fruit. It was a good island meal.
After everyone has their fill the string band strikes up for several hours of entertainment. The whole evening was really a lot of fun. they need a minimum of 8 to put it on so make sure you get a few friends to arrive when you are there. We almost missed it because we were there by ourselves for 3 days but on our last day 6 boats showed up and Chief Nelson made quick preparations so we wouldn't miss it.
We were sure glad we had the chance to see it.