Kava, Kustom, and Cannibals...
Well, we have been a bit off the grid for the last few days, so I will be covering our last four days in this post. We decided to get away from the tourists for a while, so we headed to the island of Malekula. Malekula is one of the largest islands in Vanuatu and has the provincial capital for the Malampa province. It is primarily a rural farming island and, as we found out, doesn't see many tourists.
We got to the airport in Santo and saw this small plane waiting outside the airport and thought "Man that's small".
It turns out that was the big plane headed to Vila. We were on an even smaller plane...
Air Vanuatu definitly works on island time. We took off about an hour late and headed to Malekula. The ride out of Santos was quite scenic.
25 minutes later we landed at the Norsup airport at the north end of Malekula. We quickly figured out that tourists were a bit of a novelty on Malekula. We were met at the airport by camera crews and interviews. Apparently an Australian NGO has been working with the people in Malekula to help them learn to promote the island for tourists. They had set up a new website and call center, and we were the first "real tourists" to use the website.
After the first of our "Real Tourist" interviews (the camera crew followed us around for the next two days...), we headed over to the Amel Toro Guesthouse where we would be staying for the next three days.
Amel Toro is owned by a wonderful woman named Rona Newman who grew up in Malekula and has been running this guest house for the last ten years. The accommodations are spartan (cold water showers), but adequate (connected to the grid for electricity and water).
The best part of staying with Rona though was the food. The northern part of Malekula was governed by the French, so Rona's cooking is amazing french cuisine made with the local produce. It was amazing!!
Right in front of our bungalow was a nice reef with great tidal pools to explore at low tide...
...and good snorkeling at high tide.
Amazing corals and fish.
That evening we went to the local nakamal (kava bar) with Rona's partner Joe. Kava is a local drink made from the root of the kava plant. It has mild sedative affects and is consumed by most of the population of Vanuatu every evening in small nakamals like this one. In small communities like Norsup, it is a big social event, bringing everyone in the region together to talk and catch up.
The next day we had arranged to visit one of the more remote villages to see some of the kustom dances. Our driver picked us up at Rona's and we headed north. Along the way we stopped to see how cocoa is produced in the region. Similar to copra, the cocoa is grown locally and harvested.
The fruit is then split and the seeds are removed. These will then be fermented for 7 days and dried for another seven before being exported.
We also stopped in to see how they make kava. Basically theses guys peel and chop the root. Its then run through a grinder and mixed with water. Pretty simple.
After another hour of rough roads, we arrived at the home of a group of Small Nambas. Here we meet up with our faithful camera crew, and a number of other journalists and tourists. There was even one other "Real Tourist". A German named Tomas who was spending a month in Malekula.
While the villagers were preparing for us, the chief's daughter and her son took us around to see the village.
Here we are seeing the kitchen where a portion of our lunch is being prepared.
Once everything was ready, a few of the local ladies came up to great us and give us some flowers.
Then we moved into the dance area where a few of the guys were playing the drums.
Then they started showing us some of the kustom dances. The first dance was a man's dance and told the story of how the Small Nambas went to a neighboring island and captured 30 men to eat. Did I mention that these guys used to be cannibals? Apparently there are still people alive who have eaten people...
The next dance was a woman's dance called the flower dance. The people seemed to be so happy to be singing and dancing.
The another men's dance. One of the things that was great about the kustom dances is that they younger boys are out there learning how to do the dances. They really use these demonstrations as a way to pass the kustom along to the next generation.
Following the dancing, they took us down to the beach to see some of the traditional activities. First we saw the ladies preparing Lap Lap. This is the staple food in Vanuatu and consists of yam, banana, tarrow or manioc which is ground into a past and then cooked. Here one of the ladies is grinding the yam roots.
Once it is ground up, the yams are placed into hollowed out pieces of bamboo for cooking.
Of course before you can cook, you need fire!
These guys were showing the traditional fire starting method.
While we were waiting for the Lap Lap to cook, the ladies showed us how they use palms to weave everything from roof thatch and mats...
...to toys and jewlery.
Then it was time to eat!
Dinning in the village is done family style...
...with every one reaching in to help themselves...
...and I do mean everyone!
After lunch, we joined the locals in the public dance and then posed for some photos.
All in all it was amazing to experience a culture so different from ours and see how it is still practiced today.