During a cruise from Sydney, Australia to Fiji we stopped at Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation comprised of about 80 volcanic islands. We had berthed at Port Villa and now we were off to visit a traditional tribal village in the jungle and a chance to explore the local cultures and traditions of the people.
Vanuatu (formerly known as the New Hebrides before gaining independence in 1980) is located in south Pacific, between Australia and Fiji and the archipelago is made of 80 islands. The islands were formed by the movement of tectonic plates and even today the movement of the tectonic plates triggers numerous earthquakes. At the joint of these plates there are 9 active volcanoes (Vanuatu is part of the famous Pacific Fire Ring).
The islands are covered by lush forests, dominated by banyans, a type of fig trees that form a huge treetop. There are over 150 species of orchids and 250 species of ferns in these forests. The beaches are neighbored by coral reefs and this is one of the few places where a type of sea cow, the dugong, lives. The people of Vanuatu belong to the Asian Black race, which entered the islands about 25,000-30,000 years ago coming from southeastern Asia. Geneticists have discovered that populations of Vanuatu and neighboring New Guinea and Solomon islands have one of the highest genetic diversity amongst human populations. In this part of the Pacific there are big differences between groups just from one island to the next – one might have to name five or six new races on this basis.
Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people. When the first Europeans stepped on Vanuatu in 1606, the islands were inhabited by tribes that commonly practiced cannibalism. It was Captain Cook who fully mapped and explored these islands when he arrived in 1774. He named the island the New Hebrides after the Scottish islands.
The forests where rich in sandalwood and the Europeans exploited heavily these resources. Later, they “recruited” work power from these islands for the sugarcane and cotton plantations from Samoa, Fiji and Australia. Theoretically, men signed a three-year contract but most of them were actually kidnapped. When this reached its peak, by the end of the 19th century, over half of the men of Vanuatu worked in other countries. Most of them never came back, killed by diseases.
On the outskirts of the Iarofa Cultural Village in Vanuatu we stopped at a large banyan tree. Banyan trees, which are a type of fig tree, are common on these islands and are highly regarded by the locals. This magnificent tree with its large green canopy and mass of branches provides a focal point for the village and can also provide a safe refuge from the frequent typhoons which can occur in this region.
We then walked through a small jungle path to arrive at the entrance to the village itself. At this entrance there was a large stick and branch blocking he way and apparently this historically served as a warning that anyone entering the village may be killed!
Suddenly from the undergrowth appeared many local tribesman, with painted marks on their bodies and carrying long pointed spears. The chief then appeared and invited us to visit his village.
The village was well organised with small well maintained paths and walled borders and multiple bamboo houses. The local tribe were all dressed in grass skirts and a variety of necklaces and wristlets made out of bamboo, wood or seashells. A variety of headgear could be seen made from the local leaves and plants.
One of the tribal leaders then spent some time explaining to us about the traditional way of life in the village and how they were self sustained from everything in the jungle and the nearby sea. He also told us of how they could preserve food for use during difficult times such as after major typhoons which usually wiped out all their normal food supplies.
A young boy then expertly demonstrated how to remove the husk from a local small coconut using his teeth.
The tribesman then explained how they could use a spider’s web as a unique “fishing net” to catch fish ….. as he explained this the large spider whose web he had used nonchalontly walk all over the tribesman’s body.
It was fascinating to walk around the village and see their way of life and the interesting costumes they made from all the local tree and plant life.
I just wonder what this tribesman is going to do with this all bird he is holding … is it a pet ….. or perhaps lunch!
The small children all dressed in their small grass skirts and headbands made for some great photo opportunities.
A young warrior practices his techniques using a small stick sword.
The younger children were so agile and climbed all around the area and up and down the large banyan trees that surrounded the village.
The chief than arranged for a display of dancing with some of the children joining in and trying to mimic the adults as they danced with large long spears and displaying some aggressive moves.
We were then shown the traditional fire walking at a large open pit of large stones which had been burning for many hours and was red hot.
Before walking over the red hot stones the walker’s feet were covered with a special paste of local plants which were spat onto the soles of his feet by one of the other tribesman.
Once his soles were covered in this protective paste he walked slowly over he stones a couple of times. Looked easy!
Before we left we had the chance to take some photos with the villagers. My wife got a real shock when she went forward to get her photo taken with the chief and the tribesman when they grabbed her hair and pulled a large wooden sword under her throat …. made for a great picture though.
Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia
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