I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

State of Nature

When sailing up to an island in Vanuatu there is no sense of time. The islands themselves have not changed very much in the past few thousand years - save the occasional cell phone tower - which seems to be one of the few modern concessions the ni-Vanuatu have. Upon sailing into an anchorage you might see smoke from a small fire seeping through the jungle, a canoe anchored on the shore and maybe a thatched hut or two. I can only imagine that Captain Cook saw the very same things as he arrived on these shores hundreds of years ago.

In fact, the ni-Van have retained their traditional ways of life more so than most ancient cultures around the world - partly from choice and partly due to their isolation - being at the edge of the world and all. In the Kastom villages they have rejected all things modern, and go about their lives just as they have since the beginning of time. The ni-Van in the Kastom villages still wear nambas (penis sheaths), grass skirts, do not have cell phones and (I am pretty sure) have stopped eating people. Although we have not visited any Kastom villages yet, it sounds like some cater to tourists, putting on dances and feasts when palangis arrive, while others completely ignore or ban white people altogether.

Even though the villages we have visited are not Kastom, it still feels like going back in time to walk through a village with naked children running around, chickens, dogs and pigs foraging in the bush, fierce looking men coming up to introduce themselves...

After leaving Epi Island we sailed to an island off the south end of Malakula, called Maskelyne Island. We were promptly greeted by Ambong, who introduced himself as the secretary of tourism for the island, and who arranged for us to see Kastom dancing, go for a walk in the bush, a mangrove tour and out to see the giant clams. We did all of these things the past two days, but it was the dancing that was most remarkable.

A group of ten palangis arrived on the shore and we were given a brief welcome, before being led through the bush into something of a mangrove swamp. We arrived in a sandy little clearing and a man welcomed us to watch the dancing, or rather gave us permission to watch. Then there was a howl. A drum started thumping and male voices started chanting. They came out in a line with their feet stomping to the rhythm of the drum. And of course, they were wearing nambas.

Here is a description of men wearing nambas from Captain Cook's journal:

"The men go naked, it can hardly be said they cover their natural parts, the testicles are quite exposed, but they wrap a piece of cloth or large lead round the yard which they tye up to the belly to a cord or bandage which they wear around the waist just under the short ribs and over they belly and so tight that it was a wonder to us how they could endure it."

It obviously took some cajones (no pun intended) for these young guys to come out and dance for us in their nambas, as the missionaries did a very good job of convincing everybody to dress modestly. And whereas the nambas look extremely uncomfortable and just plain weird, it is amazing to see that this tradition has withstood the tests of time and the wrath of God (i.e. missionaries). The men performed a few dances and watching them, in that swampy mangrove, with their voices chanting and the drums beating, it was as close to time travel as I will ever get.

We are now at Banem bay on Malakula Island (named by Captain Cook), which translated means "Pain in the Ass" Island, or, as I prefer, "Badass Island". Malakula is known for black magic and big sharks/shark attacks, and although I have seen 2 sharks here - which is two more than I have seen anywhere else in Vanuatu - I am not too worried. As for the black magic, I will be sure not to piss off any of the locals so as to incur any of their wrath. This afternoon we are going into the village to see more Kastom dancing, and it should be interesting to compare notes on this dancing versus the dancing on Maskelyne Island. I'll let you know how it goes.
At 10/12/2012 9:24 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°32.41'S 167°50.20'E

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