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banam1.jpg (30569 bytes)Banam Bay is located on the southeast side of Malakula Island.  The anchorage is a bit deep but good holding in sand.  It is protected except from the north to east.. 

This stop was a real high point in our travels.  The village at Banam Bay is determined to develop their potential as a tourism destination.  They understand the importance of retaining their culture and identity while developing ways to share these attributes with visitors.banam8.jpg (14440 bytes)

They perform a dance show that is based on their custom rituals and it is not to be missed.  They will perform for as few as 4 people and they will perform every day if there is an audience. 

The show begins with a brief explanation of the program and warnings of the tabu areas and practices for visitors to the sacred area called a Nasara.banam3.jpg (24440 bytes)

First the men perform and it was our first exposure to the custom dress which is little more than a penis wrap.  More elaborate costumes and headdresses are worn during the performance.  Each dance is traditionally performed in a different ceremony like a wedding or circumcision.

The percussion instruments, singing and rattles worn by the dancers combine to make a chilling musical accompaniment.   The dance is done with such energy that the ground shakes from the pounding feet of the dancers.banam10.jpg (13719 bytes)

Next the women perform in their ceremonial area.  They were just the traditional grass skirt and sing and clap to accompany their dancing.  The children dance with the women.  The women are not allowed in the Nasara and the men are not encouraged to linger in the women's ceremonial area.

banam2.jpg (25712 bytes)The practice of magic is common in the Vanuatu islands.  It serves a number of purposes but it is primarily to promote the prestige of the chiefs and elders of the village and to entertain the villagers at special events like birthdays.  This magic has a long tradition and has been developed using only locally available materials so it needs to be viewed with this in mind.  These magic shows will not impress the western tourist with amazing illusions but in its context it is interesting to   banam6.jpg (22464 bytes)watch their showmanship as they entertain as their ancestors did with no western influence.  Drum roll please.

The first illusion involves the taming of the deadly Sea Snake.  The snakes are brought out wrapped in a banana leaf.  the snakes are calmed by the holder of the leaf so a collar may be slipped around their neck and they may be lifted by the noose.   The snake doesn't move and is stiff as a board.  Not surprising as it is a stick painted black and white.  There are no sea snakes in the Banam Bay area so they improvise.

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The next trick begins with a child being carried out in a basket of leaves.  The child runs off and the leaves are pulled apart one by one to show that they were not connected in any way. 

There was some liquid on the leaves but they were separated with ease.  This trick was fascinating as clearly they were using local products with interesting properties.

 

banam4.jpg (26813 bytes)The last trick is really a demonstration of local knowledge that should be left to the experts.   Here we see 2 men eating the leaf of a well known poisonous plant.  This plant is tabu because it causes severe itching and rashes when touched.  It is hard to spot in the bush so it claims many victims. 

The build up had the stick being handled carefully and everyone scratching as they neared it.  The 2 unlucky volunteers looked apprehensive as they approached their snack.  They were very careful to ensure that it did not touch their faces as they devoured the leaves.

After the magic show the villagers invited about 15 yachties to join them in a special celebration.  banam11.jpg (13188 bytes)All of the men pictured previously had beards because they had been growing their beards for 100 days following the death of their chief.  This was the day that they would shave their beards and reflect on his memory and look forward to the future.   The chief was 104 years old.  His relatives were shaved by others as a sign of respect.

It looked like a new group of guys once they were clean shaven. 

After the shaving ceremony we were invited to join them for some kava.

 

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This was our first chance to try kava prepared the Vanuatu way.  Our experience with kava in Fiji did little to prepare us for the strength of Vanuatu kava.

The kava is picked fresh and ground in a meat grinder. 

It is mixed with water just until it is the consistency of oatmeal.  This mixture is then stirred and allowed to sit.

banam9.jpg (10640 bytes)The kava paste is then squeezed through a burlap sack and the resulting liquid is consumed straight, no further dilution. 

It was strong and had a noticeable narcotic effect.  It is a calming effect and it puts me to sleep.  I also noticed that my balance wasn't too good.

I had 2 cups with Bruce from Aquhabi so we were the kava boozers. 

We also noticed that the villagers faced away when they consumed kava.  We later learned that this is the traditional method in Vanuatu, the opposite of Fiji where it is a social event and you face in toward a circle when drinking kava.banam13.jpg (10949 bytes)

The village has built a guest house operated by the chief's son John Eady.  It is an attractive traditional development.  The resort includes several rooms in the main building and a couple of bungalows with more to follow.  It is not for the tourist looking for a Hilton in the bush.  There is no air-conditioning and even no fans.   The beds are a thin foam mattress.  Wit these cautions it would be a great adventure for the right people.  The facilities are clean and well cared for and people are really great.  banam5.jpg (11518 bytes)Several days at he Talivu Saitol Resort, also known as the Banam Bay Beach Bungalows, would be a rewarding experience.  It is also very inexpensive at 3500 vatu for 2 with breakfast.  That is about $32 US.  For more information and booking contact Island Safaris at (678) 23288.

We grant permission to any organization promoting Banam Bay to use text and images from this page to assist with that effort.  A link may be established to this page at http://www.santotoday.com/gowestsf/banam_bay.htm.