Malakula Children’s Day – 24/7/2011

Written by Tristan

Information on Childrens Day

Children’s Day is both a country wide annual event and a public holiday.  It that takes place on the 24th of July and has been celebrated since 1923.  The emphasis of the day is about the value of children and fighting child abuse, however for most it is really about children and parents spending time together.  Schools, churches, local governments and other organisations organise events for the day like parades, sports events, public speeches and other activities.  Although presents are often given to children by the parents, the real aim is to have fun together.

Our Visit

We went to a village on Malakula Island to participate in the Children’s Day Celebration.  The children all wore their school uniforms to the event.  A lady came around and poured baby powder on all the kid’s necks, including ours.  This was followed by another lady putting deodorant and more baby powder on us.  The adults then put necklaces on everyone.

A string band played some songs and then everyone went into the church.  The church was a room with a blackboard on one side.  The minister spoke for about half an hour and then church was over.

Once outside the children formed a line.  The parents gave their kids presents.  We were also given a present.  We opened our presents and found popcorn and lollipops!  The adults then shook all of the kids hands, including ours.  We had morning tea with the locals and it was scrumptious!  There was cake, cordial, oreos and popcorn.

After morning tea, the string band played a bit more, before we went back to the boat.  Later in the afternoon we went ashore and played frisbee and soccer with the local pikininis.

The downside of the celebration was that I picked up head lice.  All the kids loved by long hair and kept touching it and some how I picked it up.  Dad cut my hair and then I had to put a treatment on it.

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Cannibal Site – 20/7/2011

Written by Tristan

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Skulls of one of the previous chiefs. 

Background Information

Malekula was recognized as the last island to end cannibalism in 1969.  While the islanders were embarrassed of what their ancestors had done, the Department of Tourism has embraced the islands reputation of cannibalism and custom as a selling point.  This has resulted in tourists visiting the island to see the cannibal sites and watch the custom dances.  Today the islanders are eager to lead you on a trip into the mountains and tell you stories of the past.

So, who were the unlucky ones that were eaten?  Well first you need to understand that there were two tribes on the island, the Big and the Small Nambas, who did not get along and their disagreements often ended in war.  You need to think small scale war, not the WW1 or 2 type.  The type of war resulted in anywhere up to 4 people being killed. Cannibalism generally occurred after a battle or if a member of one tribe came too close to an area owned by the other tribe.  The cannibalism extended to one or two people, not a whole village.  The captured would be taken to a special area where they were killed, butchered, cooked and eaten. Women did not partake in the activity.

While its believed a few missionaries met their end through cannibalism, the majority of deaths were through tribal wars.

Our Epic Adventure

 Dad had met a local man, George, who was very eager to take us on a hike to see a cannibal site, so they organised a time and place for the following the morning.  Only Dad, Josh and I went on a walk to the Small Namba’s Cannibal Site.  We climbed over gnarled roots and walked through lengthy grass.  We were fatigued.  After four extremely long hours, I almost cried when we reached the top.  We had some yellow grape fruit.  The juice was a great refreshment. 

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George, Josh and I at the cannibal site,

After our short break we began our descent to the cannibal site.  At one point I almost fell in a spider web and at another point I did.  We finally reached the cannibal site.  George, our guide, said that this big rock was the fire stone, where the chief made fire. Was it for cooking their captives?

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We were then taken to a stone that had a small hole in it.  George reached into the hole and brought out two worn pieces of the first chief’s skull.  It was creepy.  George said that when a chief died, members of the tribe cut off the corpse’s head and guard it from vermin and dogs for a week, before it was buried in a house.

 

We followed George to the chief’s son’s skull, and then to the son’s son’s skull.  This one was whole.

 

George showed us a flying fox stone, where if someone said something against the chief, the chief would mutter a spell and flying foxes would eat all the insulter’s crops, and they would only stop if the insulter said sorry to the chief and gave him a pig. 

George pointed out a stone slab resting on some smaller rocks that was one the seat of the Chief.  Josh and I found we could both fit on the seat.

 

We then went downhill to a pile of rocks where I pretended to eat a human bone.  I almost dropped the bone when a tiny lizard popped out of it and jumped to the ground.

 

On our return trip we got lost.  George blamed the evil spirits clouding his mind.  I think he forgot his way. We were beyond exhausted when we reached a village and were able to replenish our water bottles with rain water, which we drank thirstily. 

We finally reached the dingy, with sore legs.  George said that Josh and I were the first kids to climb for eight hours to that cannibal site.  We made history!

Little Nambas, Malekula Island – 19/7/2011

Written by Josh and Karen

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Small Nambas on Malekula Island

Malekula also spelt Malakula is Vanuatu’s second largest island. Malekula lies between Espiritu Santo and Malo, separated by the Bougainville Strait.

The population of the island is approximately 23 000 and they speak nearly 30 different languages there. The island is home to two tribes, the ‘Big Nambas’ in the north and the ‘Small Nambas’ in the central and southern parts of the island. The tribe’s names are derived from the size of their nambas or penis sheath, that they wear.

Like many of the islands in Vanuatu, Melakula’s economy is based largely on agriculture, particularly copra.  Melakula has a growing tourism industry based on cultural dances by the different Namba tribes and visiting cannibal sites, as well as snorkelling and diving.

History

Like Espiritu Santo, Malekula was also discovered during a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese, Pedro Fernandes de Quiros in 1606. During the mid-1800s, when Europe was desperate for cotton the settlers cleared land and planted both cotton and coconut plantations, but malaria, cannibalism and cyclones drove the settlers away.  During the 1880s the French bought large tracts of land on the eastern side of the island and created Vanuatu’s largest plantation.  Constant friction over land ownership between the French and the British led to French troops being stationed on the island, however they left two years later having not resolved the issues.

Cannibalism had existed a long time on the island, but the last victim was cooked in a Big Namba oven in 1969.  A different form of cannibalism continued after this for several years, the ritual of eating flesh from a dead relative to keep something from them living.

Out Visit

We anchored off Melakula and dinghied ashore to visit the Little Namba village near Rano.   It was a 15-minute hike to reach the village, where we met some of the men.  The island is famous for two things, the first was cannibalism and the second is the penis sheath, we were here for the latter.  The village forms part of the tribe called the small nambas, because they wear a small penis sheath, although today they wear shorts and t-shirts, except when performing.

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The village are proud of their culture which has been passed down through the generations and are now performed for tourists.  In fact, the village has a custom school where children grow up learning the traditional dances and crafts.  While we were there it was only the men who performed.  The men wear their nambas made from either banana or pandanis leaf, which is wrapped around their penis and attached to a belt.  The only other thing worn was thick anklets covered in seeds that jingle like bells, when they stamp their feet.

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The seeds on their anklets jingle as they dance.

The Nambas have different dances for various occasions; like the blessing of a marriage, a new chief taking over power or going into battle.  During our performance we had a boy of around 12 participating with the group and a toddler in his own costume, who desperately wanted to join in.  We were the only tourists on the island, so they performed their custom dances just for us.

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This little guy was pretty keen to join in with the men dancing.

We were seated on logs around the performance area and waited for it to begin.  The dancing is accompanied by the beating of drums, (hollowed out logs) the stamping of feet to make the anklets rattle and some type of giro.

On the right are the drums made from hollowed out logs and on the right is a type of giro.

The first dance performed symbolised sailing to their island.  The sea and canoes are a major part of their life, as they provide a method of transportation and a way to fish.

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Next, they performed a little bit of magic, where they lifted a boy on leaves.  Max also had a go at being lifted too.  The leaves were quite prickly, and Dad thought the leaves stuck together a bit like Velcro and that’s probably why they could lift Max on them.

The next dance performed, was about a man who desperately wanted to dance, but because of his enlarged testicle he was unable.  I wonder which poor villager that story was based on.

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Yep, that sure is one big testicle

When we walked back to the dinghy there were some outrigger canoes on the beach, so we took a few photos.

Do you think Tristan and Max have noticed that they aren’t moving?

Loltong, Pentencost Island – 15/7/2011

Background Information on Loltong

Pentecost was first sighted during the 1606 Spanish expedition, led by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros.  It was also sighted by Captain James Cook during his voyage through the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) in 1774.  Although the island has Christian influences due to many visiting missionaries, it retains its strong traditional customs, in particular land diving.  Southern Pentecost is the birthplace of modern bungee jumping, stemming from Gol or land diving, that is carried out between April and June each year.  Land diving involves the construction of tall towers, 20 to 30 meters high, where young men with vines tied to their feet, dive from the platforms in a ritual to ensure both a good yam harvest and acceptance into manhood.

The island is home to around 17 000 people, with most of the population living in small rural villages on the west coast. There are four existing indigenous languages spoken on the island, including Raga, Apma, Ske and Sa. Most people on Pentecost also speak Bislama (pidgin English) and some speak French or English. Pentecost’s main exports are Kava, taro and Copra.

We anchored in Loltong Bay and went ashore and met some of the locals in the small village of Loltong.  We soon found ourselves on a guided walk, led by some of the local kids.

We stopped on our way up the mountain to look at the beautiful waterfall, which also provides water for the village.

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The kids showed us some of the young coconuts that they eat as a snack on their way home from school.  They eat the fluffy flesh on the inside, which tastes a bit like marshmallow. We finally reached the top of the mountain and were rewarded with a beautiful view over the bay.

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SS President Coolidge and Million Dollar Point Dive, Espiritu Santo – 9/7/2011

SS President Coolidge

Background Information

The President Coolidge was an American ocean liner whose construction was completed in 1931, at a cost of around $7 million.  A sister ship, the President Hoover was completed the year prior, in 1930.  At the time of their construction they were the largest ocean liners of that time. 

The Coolidge operated as a luxury vessel undertaking many round the world voyages.  The ship had two pools, one with its own sand beach, a theater, 2 dining rooms, shopping arcade and could accommodate 988 people plus a crew of close to 400.

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SS President Coolidge.  Photo courtesy of: www.facebook.com/pages/LINERS-DE-LUXE-The-Story-of-the-ss-Pres-Hoover-and-ss-Pres-Coolidge/160124657393776?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser

After WW2 broke out the Coolidge was used to firstly move US residents from Hong Kong and later from other parts of eastern Asia.  During WW2 the Coolidge was used to transfer the injured from Pearl harbour attack in December 1941 to San Francisco.  She was again used in 1942 as part of a convoy to carry troops, ammunition, supplies and planes and arrived in Australia on the 1st of February.  It was later that year that the ship was converted to a troopship, with many of the civilian fittings either removed or covered over for safe keeping.  The Coolidge was painted haze gray with mounted guns and had the capacity to hold 5000 troops. After her conversion, the Coolidge’s service incorporated Australia, New Zealand, Bora Bora and Fiji.  She was sent to Espiritu Santo with the intention of protecting the airfield.

Espiritu Santo had established a military base and harbour that was protected by land mines, however information on the safe entrance into the harbour was accidentally omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders.  The Coolidge was unaware of the mine fields and entered the harbour through the largest channel on the 26th of October 1942.  The ship hit two mines, one struck the engine room and moments later the stern.  Captain Henry Nelson knew he was going to lose the ship and so ran her aground and ordered the troops off and to leave their belongings behind, assuming a salvage operation would take place later.

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Photo of the SS President Coolidge as it is Sinking.  Photo: http://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5641/31068831881_c6b0fdcf64_o.jpg

Although the Captain’s efforts to beach the ship were thwarted by a coral reef, he did manage to get 5 340 men safely to shore in approximately 90 minutes.  There were two deaths, the first was Fireman Robert Reid who was killed in the engine room after the first mine blast.  The second was Captain Elwood Joseph Euart, who returned to the ship to help men escape that were in the infirmary.  While Euart managed to get the men to safety, he was unable to escape himself and went down with the ship. In February 2014, the remains of Captain Euart were discovered by a local dive guide and were later retrieved by an American recovery team.

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Photo of Captain Elwood Euart.  Photo by VIRIN: 160824-A-ZZ111-001.JPG

Interestingly, while the ship lost critical equipment, it also lost the US’s entire stock of quinine, approximately 268 kilos or 591 pounds. Quinine was used to treat malaria, which was prevalent in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea.

After Vanuatu gained independence it declared that there would be no salvage or recovery of artifacts from the Coolidge and it was designated a National Park site.  Over the years some parts of the ship like the sun deck, boat and promenade decks have collapsed due to natural deterioration and earthquakes. The ship is used for recreational diving and divers can swim through various holds and decks.  The size and depth the Coolidge makes it a relatively accessible site that attracts divers.  On the over 20 dives on the site you can see guns, cannons, jeeps, chandeliers and even a mosaic fountain.  It is considered one of the best dives in the world.

Our Dive

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Map of the SS President Coolidge.  Photo is the courtesy of: https://www.diveoclock.com/destinations/Oceania/Vanuatu/Coolidge/

Josh, Andrew and I booked a Coolidge/Million Dollar Point dive with the Aquamarine Dive Center (which has since closed down).  Our first dive was the Coolidge.  After trucking to the beach and assembling our gear, we walked into the water to begin our shore dive.  The wreck is on a gradual downward slope with the bow in about 20 meters and the stern at 70 meters.  The ship is massive, stretching nearly 200 meters long and 25 meters wide. Some of the deeper dives require nitrox and have fairly short bottom times.

While it took me a while to clear my ears, both Andrew and Josh had fairly quick descents. We opted for the shallow dive and reached a maximum of 90 feet or 27 meters during our dive.  Our dive took us down one side of the Coolidge and up and over the deck near the bow.  We ran out of time and didn’t go into the cargo hold.  Due to the depth of the water the dive only lasted 25 minutes.   It was an incredible experience to dive on the ship and I would go back and do it again.

Some of the positives of the dive site is that the water is warm, there is very little current and although the water generally has good visibility,y the day we divided it wasn’t great.  The disadvantage is the depth, most of the dives are deeper than what most recreational divers encounter and so your dive time is short, even when you are on the bow.

Million Dollar Point

Background Information

When America established a base on Espiritu Santo to enable them to launch attacks on the Japanese in the Pacific, they had to construct roads, airports and several runways at a minimal cost. They used coral that had washed up on the beach at Million Dollar Point, crushed it to the appropriate size and mixed with water and a hardening agent before it was graded and rolled to create a hard surface. In fact, the town of Luganville was created by the US Army who brought in machinery to clear the forests.  In creating the town, the Americans accumulated a lot of equipment including trucks, cranes, forklifts and earth moving equipment.  In addition to the town, they also built multiple hospitals that were later pulled down.

At the end of the war, as a gesture of goodwill to the people of Espiritu Santo, the US Army left the roads, buildings, power, water and other infrastructure in place.  However, they faced the dilemma of what to do with all the machinery, furniture, clothing, bottles and food when the troops left. As transport ships were in short supply it was decided to leave the equipment behind. The US Military offered the equipment to the joint British-French Government for a cheap price of 6 cents to a dollar.  The local government didn’t want to pay the money as they thought the Americans would leave it to them for free.

The equipment was moved to Million Dollar Point ready for the US departure.  The US again offered the equipment to the French/British Government, who again refused. Over a period of two days the US Military drove the machinery laden with food, clothing, drinks and other equipment along the concrete jetty and pushed it into the water.  The machinery that couldn’t be driven off was pushed by bulldozers into the water.  Then the bulldozers were put in gear and left to drive off the jetty.  But the final pièce de résistance was when the army engineers blew up the jetty. Obviously the English and French government were not very happy when the equipment was destroyed. The local Vanuatuan’s were left with water contaminated by fuel from the vehicles.

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The rusting remains at Million Dollar point.  Photo credit: www.airvanuatu.com

Salvage attempts were made in the years shortly after the scuttling of the equipment, most to no avail.  Apparently, a New Zealand man did manage to pull a bulldozer out and repair it and then use it to pull a few more from the water and do the same.  He later sold them to a mining company in Australia or so the rumor goes.

Today you can snorkel and dive on the site where millions of dollars’ worth of goods were destroyed over a period of two days and rendered useless.  The rusted remains of the equipment, ranging from construction equipment to military tanks, guns and jeeps, as well as two ship wrecks remain at the bottom of the ocean.

Our Dive

It should be noted that while it is a dive site it can also be snorkeled, particularly at low tide.  The water clarity was fantastic.  We saw boats, tanks, tires and other army supplies during the dive.  We also swam through schools of fish.  I would highly recommend the dive site, I enjoyed it more than the Coolidge.  There is a lot to see and you could easily do a few dives here.

During our dive we reached a maximum depth of 65 feet or 20 meters and spent about 40 minutes underwater.

Passage – Brisbane to Vanuatu – 26/6/2011

Written by Andrew

After 6.5 days & 6 nights of hard sailing we have arrived at Huon Reef, about 200 nm north of New Caledonia. Karen & I agree this passage has been the hardest thing we have ever done in our lives…to date, it was pure hell. I have to write this down now as I’m sure it won’t seem too bad in a few days. We have been told passage making is like child
birth, full of pain with joy at the end and a short memory of just how bad it really was.

At the farewell dinner the night before we set off on the Brisbane to Vanuatu rally, the rally co-ordinator said we have a great forecast of 10-15 kn, champagne cruising. I thought this a little strange as the 7 day forecast I downloaded was for 25 kn winds & up to 7m swells off New Cal, not something we’d normally head out into, but we have learnt rally’s run to deadlines.

We left Manly marina on Sat 14th & crossed the bay with a light SW breeze pushing us along. This was to be the champagne sailing bit. We passed Cape Moreton at sunset headed due east to cross the currents before heading more NE. About midnight the SE change came through at 35 kn. We then had 25-35 kn winds for the next 5 days. As the
winds continued the swells picked up to 7 m (this was estimated by other experienced cruisers, to us they just looked massive) and the tops of the waves were breaking, sometimes slamming into the side of the boat or rolling over the boat & we’d get covered with water in the cockpit.

The kids started puking around this time & didn’t stop for 3 days straight. We didn’t allow them in the cockpit for the whole 6 days due to the severity of the weather, so they were stuck downstairs in the puke arena. Ava is the proud record holder of 17 pukes in 8 hours, but probably had 50 or so in total. The other 3 came close to this. Lucky they could get to sleep so their puking stopped at night. We were very concerned about dehydration as they weren’t able to eat anything for 3 days so we kept up a sips of water regime & some re-hydration sachets. All the while we kept bashing along, close reaching with staysail (thank god we got this sail installed last year along with the cockpit reefing) & double reefed main. Karen & I felt a bit queasy & Karen had severe headaches for the first few days but then thankfully got over it.

By day 4, the kids had stopped puking & were hungry. Things were still bad weather wise but moral had reached a soon to be torn down new height. The clutches that are screwed into the cockpit deck for our new reefing system were nuts had almost come undone. If this had happened the entire reefing system would have pulled from the deck & slung forward, taking the dodger & anything else in its path with it. We re-bolted and kept an eye on it.

On day 5 Karen noticed a strange noise coming from the rudder. I had a look & the rudder seemed to have quite a lot of sideways movement in the cylinder it sits in. I then noticed the cylinder was cracked & flexing with the rudder movement & had a massive panic attack that we might loose the rudder. We have no contingency for rudder loss other than Mayday, so stress levels were very high. I called the rally organiser & described the problem. He thought it sounded like the rudder bearing had disintegrated & ensured me that we would’t loose the rudder but we needed to stop the crack from getting worse to maintain steerage. A clamp seemed to do the trick but then suddenly we lost auto pilot. I think the rudder was flexing so much it had either broken our autopilot or the pilot can’t work out the correct rudder position so it started taking us on 90 degree course turns every 30 seconds. My second greatest fear (to sinking) was about to be realised, no auto pilot which means hand steering at the exposed part of the cockpit 24
hrs a day!

So we gritted our teeth and took the wheel in 30kn winds with 7m waves, close reaching on a 30 degree heel & and dark about to set in. We stood in the cockpit taking turns steering & being covered in spray, rain & waves that broke over the boat. A couple of times I fell asleep standing up & my head slammed backwards onto the dinghy motor
behind me, which then kept me awake for the next hour in pain each time. Mixed in with a couple of trips up on deck in the dark for me to free some sails, fix some sheets & secure loose items. We did this for the next 46 hrs, trying to steer to our course line on the chart plotter at about 6 kn, slowly getting closer to our stop off destination at Huon
reef. During the extreme fatigue of hand steering in such conditions with no sleep & being constantly covered in salt water, I think our long term cruising plans got a little reshaped. We were not having fun.

Finally at 3 pm yesterday we entered the pass at Huon Reef & an hour later were at anchor in relative shelter off the island. After a nice hot shower, drink & meal we went to bed for sleeeeeeeeep!

Welcome Ceremony on Aore Island – 28/5/2011

Written by Tristan (age: 10)

The day after arriving in Vanuatu, we went to a welcoming celebration on Aore Island. As we walked down the wooden jetty, we noticed that the locals had made arches out of palm fonds and hibiscus flowers. We chatted to other crew members on the rally.  We were asked to line up on either side of the jetty and then everyone had a local Vanuatu person in front of them, who placed a Salu Salu or a flower necklace on us and gave everyone a coconut drink.

The local people on Aore Island sang two songs to us, both about god, Jesus and us coming to Vanuatu. 

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We were led up to Debbie and Alan’s house, the rally organisers.  Up there Alan, Sandy and Father Luke gave speeches and then called the skippers up and gave them each a tam tam (statue), a photo of their boat and a map.  Finally, some ladies came and wrapped a tie-died sarong around each captain.

I played soccer with some of the pikininis (local kids) and found out that here soccer included tripping and not many rules.  Ava hung out with the other local girls.

The rally members moved out to the large yard and sat in the shade.  We were entertained with dancing and music.  There were dancers from the Bank Islands, who performed dances using wooden weapons and occasionally pointed them at somebody, including mum.  Once dancer laid down in mum’s lap, she looked a little shocked.

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The female dancers from the Banks Islands also performed a dance.

The Banks Island male dancers.

Mum seemed to get a lot of attention.  Her shirt was a little dirty from all their body paint.

Next, we moved down to the water edge to watch some ladies from the Bank Islands, create some water music.  The ladies made different sounds by hitting the water in different ways with their hands.  Their music imitated different sounds found in Vanuatu, like a waterfall.

Finally, we had some Pentecost drummers perform by drumming on hollowed out logs.

When the performances were finished a big feast was set out for us to eat.  It was delicious.

We had a good time until it was time to leave.  Ava didn’t want to go, so mum carried her and stepped in a hole on the way downhill and fell.  By the time we got back to the boat, mum’s foot was turning black and she could barely walk.  Not a good end to the day.

Copsl Mill – 1/6/2011

Written by Max (age 7) Photos by Josh (age 12)

We visited the Coconut Oil Production Santo Limited Mill or COPSL for short.  The company uses coconuts to make different products.  All of the islands in Vanuatu grow coconuts.  For some islands the only money they make is through selling their coconuts.  They use the money to buy food like rice and to pay for school fees.  COPSL gets their coconuts from Santo and some of the islands nearby.

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The coconut meat is used to make coconut oil, which has become very popular lately.  The left over parts of the coconut is used to make feed for animals or fertiliser.  It can also be used to create a type of fuel which is important, because Vanuatu doesn’t have any oil.

We were taken on a tour of the factory to see how they make the oil. The first thing they do is get people to rip the coconut and leave it to dry.  It is then called copra.

Some of the dried coconut or copra

Then the coconut got crushed into smaller pieces and then crushed again into even smaller pieces.

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A machine crushing the copra even smaller.

Then the oil gets squeezed out of the copra. 

Then some people put the oil into bottles.

The oil ready for bottling.  Tristan has some of the oil in his hands.

That was the end of our tour.

Lusalava, St Maria Island – 8 – 10/6/2011

Written by Josh

Background Information on Gaua Island (Santa Maria Island)

Gaua Island was originally known as Santa Maria Island, after it was sighted and charted during a Spanish expedition by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in 1606.  Gaua is both the largest and most populated island of the Banks Group of islands.  The physical attributes of the island include the largest lake in Vanuatu, known as Lake Letas and Mount Gharat a 797-meter volcano, that last erupted in 2013.  Gaua has an annual rainfall of approximately 3500 mm and is frequently subjected to both earthquakes and cyclones.  Gaua’s population of approximately 2491 live in coastal villages on the western, southern and north-eastern sides of the island.  While the official language is Mwerlap, traditional languages; Lakon, Olrat, Koro, Dorig and Nume are also spoken in different villages.

Our Visit

We did an 8-hour sail from Port Orly on Santo Island to Lacona Bay on St Maria Island (Gaua Island).  When we arrived the chief and his family paddled their outrigger canoes out to meet us.  We spent a couple of days in the anchorage before continuing to Lusalava.

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One of the many outrigger canoes that came out to greet us.

We visited the Lusalava School with the rally. The rally was taking supplies and 250 backpacks to the school there.  The school is the largest in Vanuatu but also the most underdeveloped.  There are between 200 and 215 students and there are only 10 teachers, two for kindy and the other eight for the rest of the students.  It was a long walk up mountains and over streams to reach the school, because mum’s foot was still swollen she didn’t come.

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Walk to the Lusalava School

The school is constructed out of banana leaves and has dirt floors covered with woven mats on them.  When we visited they were building new school rooms out of concrete.  The school has no computers or TVs and only a few books.  There blackboard is a wall painted black.  There is no electricity, but they have a huge soccer field with soccer goals made from wooden posts.

The kids sang some songs, Dr Allan made a speech and we handed out a backpack to each of the kids.

Rah Island – 11/6/2011

Background on Rah and Mota Lava Islands (Banks Island Group)

Rah Island as it is known in English or Ra in bislamic, is part of the Banks group of islands in northern Vanuatu.  The coral islet has just one village, also called Rah.  The population of Rah is small, around 209 people.  Rah is situated just off the southern tip of Mota Lava Island.  Transportation to Mota Lava can be done either through walking at low tide across the straight or by outrigger canoe.

The Banks Island groups which includes Rah and Mota Lava, speak close to 15 different languages, but the official one is Mwotlap.  Each island has their own unique custom dances, specialty foods and culture.

Rah and Mota Lava Islands are still considered remote.  A ship visits once a month to bring supplies to the island and they are yet to have internet service.  However, if you like seafood you can certainly eat your fill of coconut crab, fish and lobster.  If you want alcohol, that is something you should consider bringing with you or perhaps try cava instead. Nerenijman on Mota Lava has three small shops and a bank which is open on Mondays, Wednesday and Friday.

Our Visit

We visited Rah Island as part of a yacht rally travelling from Brisbane to Espiritu Santo, the Banks and the Torres Islands.  An official visit on the 11th of June was organised on both Rah and Mota Lava Islands. We were collected from our boats by an island boat and brought to shore amid a waiting crowd of men, women and children, all eager to greet us with bright smiles upon their faces. Father Luke, who we had met several times, was leading the welcoming party.  The children eagerly grabbed a hand of all the rally participants to lead us to the village and the welcome dance.

The official dancers of the village were dressed in woven banana or panda-nus leaf costumes, women wore flower leis and some men were adorned with feathered headdresses.  We were all given a garland or lei to wear.  The beat of the drums increased in tempo as the dancing began.  We all eagerly watched before being encouraged to join in.  As the rally participants joined in, the dancing became more of a dis-organised shuffle around a circle, which the local kids found funny.

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When the dancing finished, the local pikininis or kids, the chief and Father Luke took us for a tour of the village.

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Our village tour included the church, a few of the homes, an outdoor kitchen and a restaurant.

Dr Allan Profke, the rally organiser arranges the rally boats to bring donated medication, medical and other supplies for the village each year, in return the Rah Islands puts on a celebration for all the boats in the rally.  Included in the celebration is lunch, which was served on a banana leaf and was delicious.  Tristan had his photo taken with the island’s chief during lunch.

The island had set up a stage, decorated with palm fonds and flowers for a presentation.  Dr Allan presented the chief with much needed supplies for the village and the Chief and Father Luke presented each boat captain with a statue, otherwise known as a tamtam.  The tamtam can only be carved by a male who has gained custom.  The tamtam can have up to six faces carved onto them, but you can only carve six heads if you have achieved a certain status.  Our tamtam had one face.

After the presentation we walked down the beach and sat overlooking the rocks of Rah and waited for the custom snake dance to commence.

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The dance is only performed by the men of the village.  The men paint themselves black and white to mimic the sea snake, which reside under the large rocks in the waters off the island.  Additionally, the men have a leaf in their mouth and carry sticks decorated with feathers and orange fruits. There are generally ten to twelve performers of varying ages involved in the dance which is accompanied by instruments.  We watched entranced as the men slowly made their way up the beach towards us.

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After the dance had been going awhile, the men started pulling up some of the women and men in the crowd to join in, I was first up.  Eventually most people joined in the dance.  But be warned, the black paint rubs off as I discovered and it doesn’t come off.

After the dance we all said farewell and were transported to Nerenijman, the main village on Mota Lava Island, which is just a short distance from Rah.

Tourist Information for Accommodation and Activities on Rah Island
Accommodation

Rah Paradise Island Bungalows:

Rah Paradise Island Bungalows and Restaurant was established in 1972 by Father Luke, who we met on several occasions during our stay.  It took 15 years before the Bungalows had their first tourists, a New Zealand group.  In recent years Rah has opened up to tourists who are seeking an idyllic paradise for their vacation. Since our visit, Father Luke has sadly passed away, but the accommodation and activities continue to be run by his children.

If you are looking for a place to stay on Rah Island, then consider Rah Paradise Island Bungalows.  For contact information for book see below:

Activities:
  • Snake Dance – Performed only by male Rah Islanders and lasts approximately 45 minutes. Cost is 2500 vt per person and a booking of a minimum of two people.  To organise the snake dance contact Noah: 5396125 or get your accommodation to book it for you
  • Kastom Village – A 2 hour trip to see the kastom village to learn Rah Island’s history, learn how they made fire and discover the type of currency used. The cost is 2500vt with a minimum of two people.
  • Weaving with Sara – Sara will share the different items that have been created through weaving before you have a go at weaving a bracelet. The class lasts about 2 hours and costs 1000 vt per person.
  • Hike to Sleeping Mountain – Local guide Ben, will share the history of Sleeping Mountain and his knowledge on the plants that grow on the way. From the top of the mountain you will have a fabulous view of Rah and other nearby islands.  On your return trip you will visit a village on Mota Lava.  The trip takes half day and costs 2500 vt per person.  To book the Sleeping Mountain tour phone Ben: Ph: 5344276 or get your accommodation to book it for you.
  • Turtle Sanctuary – A full day trip to the turtle sanctuary where you learn about these amazing creatures can be organised for you. The cost is 2000 vt and the boat transfer to reach it is 15 000 vt per person.
  • Snorkelling and Fishing – The island has a limited amount of snorkelling equipment which can be hired so you can explore the waters surrounding Rah. If you’re an angler than you can always try your hand at fishing during your stay on Rah.