Vanuatu

 

 

 

We arrived to visit Vanuatu shortly after they were granted their independence. Very soon some very magnificent four or five star Hotels were built. The impact of these made a real contrast in this developing Nation, you could walk only a few hundred yards from your comfortable Hotel, leaving behind all modern day aids, all of your creature comforts, then stumble over some stone age tribesmen, dressed and behaving as they had been doing for the past thousand years. Their women folk cooking over an open fire. All armed to the teeth with spears and machetes. Naturally, with their new found independence, the smarter ones quickly grabbed all the top jobs, that the new opportunities had opened up. Freedom didn’t matter much to the average guy, or even who was in charge. As far as they were concerned, they just carried on living their lives as they had done before.

 

Father Walter Lini, an Anglican priest, and in my opinion an avowed Communist, immediately made some sweeping changes. He nationalised all property, suddenly you were renting your own home or business. This is not as unusual as it sounds, the Indigenous Natives already had a land policy, long before the white fellow turned up. Nobody in their eyes actually owned their land, but you could sell, or rent, the use of land for up to sixty years or so. They also had a problem with language. Through out their Islands, they had some hundred distinct languages. With the arrival of the missionaries they had another two, French and English. In fact until independence they had two of every thing. Two sets of schools, English French. Two sets of police, (Gendarme and Bobby). On top of all this they had their day to day local language Bislama, this had been cobbled together by the early traders who were inventive fellows, the necessity to communicate demanded something simple. Bislama was a amalgamation of many languages, but mainly English, as well some French, German, or anything else, if they found a word that fitted. I remember reading a notice giving information of how to call up the ferry to cross a lagoon.’ Supposum u fellow wantum ferry. Takum stick and killum a gong’ The gong was an old World War 2 shell casing. Killum, was to beat it. However it worked, as a translation wasn’t necessary, we did as instructed, and we were able to call up a punt, and go out for dinner. The most used words seemed to be Long, (big) and Blong (belong), when you think about it, not much different to today’s TXT language. I have below a few of the more colourful examples.

 

Helicopter     Mixmaster blong Jesus Christ

 

Seagull            Pigeon blong sel water

 

Saw                  Pulem I kam, Pushem I go, Wood I fall down

 

The staff in the Hotel didn’t entirely trust us, or it seemed that way, they checked on the hour, and every hour our Mini Bar Fridge. The fact the several of the bottled beverages contained in it were broken by a too cold a setting, where the glass bottles had even fallen away leaving only the frozen contents standing. This didn’t seem to bother them as these frozen drinks were counted, as all present and correct.

 

As was to be expected, a dozen or so local tribesmen were conscripted to come into the dinning room and entertain the diners with several of their traditional dances. To me all dances seemed to be the same, much grunting and loud foot stomping. Of course this was carried out in native costume. This meant appearing completely starkers. A bunch of ‘Arse Grass’ over their rear end, their penis hidden in a bamboo tube, a few feathers, a spear and they were dressed to kill. I had heard it said that Europeans have a distinctive odour, this could be true, possibly from the amount of milk products we consume. One time on my return from New Caledonia, I still stunk of garlic after a period of three weeks or so. My daughter told me after she caught me coming out of a shower, she declared the bathroom still stunk of garlic. Well with these guys, when they worked up a sweat, they had a body odour that would have killed an ox at ten paces. They just ponged. However the most interesting part of the display was the antics of a party of American Women who pushed their way forward to the ringside to touching distance. Their eagerness to examine these warriors close up was not in the least put off by their stink which was being exuded. It was akin to something that had been dead for a long time. Come hell or high water they were going to get as close as they could to these feral warriors.

 

We had a delightful meal at a small restaurant a short distance from Port Vila. Baked fish or Crayfish, a home grown salad, and Manioc. When you thought about it, these folk had everything growing, or it was available from the nearby reef. So there was no need to spend any money buying supplies. I really liked the local people and their friendliness.

 

In an earlier posting I spoke of our early days how we managed to keep in touch by the local call box phones and telegrams. Islanders have taken communications to a further dimension. They broadcast their telegrams over the public radio stations at fixed times, it beholds anyone listening to pass their messages on.

 

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