Old Habits Die Hard

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This morning I headed out, with an Australian couple, to another little village where they do cultural demonstrations, around 20 minutes from Port Vila. The lady was terrified of spiders which became pretty problematic once they started playing about with their ‘toys’, as they like to call them. A man from the village, kitted out in traditional attire, talked us through a number of different aspects of their culture.

Firstly he explained to us about their methods of food preservation. In earlier times when banana and breadfruit were the staple parts of their diets, they had to work out methods of preserving them in case the crops were destroyed by cyclones. They’d grate bananas using a piece of coral then place in all in a large sack to let the water drip out over a period of time. They’d then place the dried mush in a hole in the ground lined with coconut leaves – larger waterproof leaves would be wrapped around the banana which they would replace everytime they went brown. To secure the ‘fridge’ they’d cover it in heavy rocks. Apparently this could then last over 5 years! This seems hard to believe! To make the dried brown mush palatable after such a long time in the ground they’d add coconut milk – covers a number of sins.

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He demonstrated the various traps they use to this day to catch chickens and pigs in the bush. Then similar contraptions for marine life.

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He showed us a weird looking staff with vine tied onto the end which apparently sucks the oxygen out of the water as it expands. In large quantities (50 men or so each with a staff) they can kill all of the fish in a rock pool through sucking out the oxygen.

The most fascinating was the spider web net – they spin the wooden structure around in spider webs like it’s candy floss until the web gets thick enough to act as a form of net for smaller fish!

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The various herbal remedies he was talking about, again, seem a little hard to believe. It seems such a strange concept that you’d go out into the jungle – pick a plant – then squeeze its juice into some water to get rid of a headache… He then told us a story about how he broke his leg a few years ago from falling out of a coconut tree. Instead of taking him to the modernised hospital on a different island his father had carted him, a similar distance, over to a traditional hospital where they ‘operated ‘ with their bare hands and, crucially, without anaesthetic. He says he cried for a week then was furious with his dad for a month. Thankfully, he recovered fully!

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The most fascinating area that he talked us through was the history of the spirituality of the country. In the past, ‘black magic’ was widespread, and still believed in to this day. The man explained to us, completely in earnest, how somebody practiced in black magic could strike down someone’s house with lightening or remove their intestines. He says some people do it now today but it’s difficult to tell who because ‘we’re all Christians – they pretend to be Christians too so we cannot tell’. He went on to describe ways in which the missionaries made ‘good changes’ to their culture. For example, until a hundred years ago or so women were made to mourn for 100 days after the death of a husband in which time they could not leave their house – which would be kept in complete darkness with no daylight. They were also not allowed to wash at all within this time!

Chiefs could have as many wives as they had tusks. By tusk, I mean a special kind of pigs tusk which curls right the way round to form a circular shape. The importance of this circular tusk is such that it is on the country’s flag! If a man had kept a pig long enough for it to grow a tusk like this, and then killed it – he would earn himself the right to one wife. One notable chief around 200 years ago had fifty circular tusks on each arm! All of those women were then buried alive with him, as was also tradition, when he passed. All of the people who have brought up the subject of marriage have stressed that they are thankful to the missionaries for changing this as ‘one wife is much better’ they keep saying, through giggles.

Another previous tradition which the missionaries fizzled out was the tactical manipulation of the blood line: a first born to a family HAD to be a son. Any unwanted daughter would have to be disposed of. He proudly explained that over the years their culture has changed for the better: any good suggestions, they take on board and any bad ones – they ignore. This is the main reason why they maintain this primitive way of life in this particular village – they want to show to tourists and their own youngsters how life used to be in the country in order to maintain a sense of their own culture.

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Their village's banyan tree, or 'cyclone shelter' as he called it!

Their village’s banyan tree, or ‘cyclone shelter’ as he called it!

After fish and chips in town and a stroll around the market to pick up a couple more lavalavas (sarongs) I went off to ‘survivor’s beach’, which apparently has something to do with the TV program ‘survivor’. Will let the photos speak for themselves, again! Armed with the underwater camera, I found a pretty massive giant clam – a very weird looking creature!

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P.B. a few fairly major spelling mistakes have been pointed out to me over the last few days (draw-dropping seemed right at the time, haha) so apologies for my lack of proof reading – am so relieved once everything finally uploads on this horrendous internet that I then promptly retire.

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