Respecting the Elders of Vanuatu
Respecting the Elders of Vanuatu
Port Havannah is a jewel of an anchorage. Moso and Lelépa Island form an outer edge of the narrow bay creating a deep pass to the south and a small pass mid-way up the western side. The seven-mile stretch of inland water is deep and unencumbered, with fringing shelves for small vessels to get a hook into.
It was originally the capital of what was then known as the New Hebrides. The population was driven out by disease, and the capital shifted to Port-Vila, where it remains today.
The American Navy made strategic use of the natural protection and location during World War II. The Americans are still very popular with the Ni-Vanuatu, especially the elderly, who still talk about the easy-going and generous nature of the Yanks, and the amazing fact that black Americans served in our military.
The modern western attitude of "That was then, this is now"- implies that only the now carries any importance. The Ni-Vanuatu are a people who almost worship the memories of their ancestors, and draw their strength and identity from the past.
And a little profit-today they do a brisk tourist trade in war relics. Nearby our anchorage lie a few pieces of aluminum worth their weight in gold. They are said to be the remains of a downed Allied F4U Corsair, but you must bring $15 and your imagination along to see the connection. One village boasts a collection of Coke bottles discarded by WWII servicemen, with labels from their cities of origin: Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, etc.
We anchored in the bight near the village of Ulei. It took us two days to launch the dinghy. We had been running on empty, physically and mentally. The frenetic exit from New Zealand, a good pasting of a storm, the two-month rush through New Caledonia, had all taken a toll.
I felt a little guilty; after all, I am the one that keeps telling Diana "this is not a vacation, this is an adventure." Still, we got a lot of paperwork done, did some research and planning, and ate some wonderful meals. I made a very comprehensive list of all the boat work, paper work, and writing work I have to do. It was a beautiful list, so orderly and officious. I didn't actually DO any of the work, but I felt so satisfied with my effort, I took a nap.
Also, through a night sky, unpolluted by smog or artificial light, we watched the most wonderful total eclipse of the full moon. However much we supposedly understand the phenomena, I still found it mysterious and moving. The blue, red, and lime hues were gorgeous, and because the glare was muted, through the binoculars we could see the finest details on the moon's surface.
I remembered the visceral thrill I once experience in the Arctic to see the sun return for the first time in almost four months. I howled in delight at something as simple and natural as a sunrise. Why? Because I understood, truly understood how we are tied soul and sinew to that distant star. I vowed I would never once again in my life take it for granted. Then, slowly, imperceptibly I let the white noise of the modern world blunt my senses.
Now, back onboard, we are gradually getting in touch with the natural world around us, to its rhythms of wind, tide, moon, planets and stars, solstice and equinox, a sail perfectly set to a favorable breeze. Our interests and joys, no less intense, are being simplified.
We shifted to the satellite settlement of Mele on the mainland. It is a small encampment of people from the village of Tassariki a mile across the bay on Moso. Much like the Kuna Indians of Panama, this tribe has traditionally favored the security of island life because enemies can't rush you from the dense bush; they have to approach by canoe and are easily spotted.
They still garden on the mainland because their island is over-run with wild pig and cattle that wreak havoc on their efforts. A flotilla of small proa-like canoes paddle over every morning, and return home in the evening. Some people pay the 100 vatu (1$) for passage in a motorboat, often so crowded that it seems the slightest ripple will take it down.
But Morris, a middle-aged imp who brings us fresh tomatoes, papaya, and bush cabbage daily, told me that he loves the paddle.
"Every night I paddle back next to my friend's canoe, and we sing all the way." He threw his head back and laughed in delight just at the thought of it.
Gardening, canoeing, and singing-simple interests and joys, but no less intense.