I’ve mostly given up wearing clothes recently. At least on board the boat. It’s just too hot and there’s no point in sweating into everything I own. It’s not quite a naked boat, I’m making very good use of my farewell present from my colleagues in Sydney, the inspired gift of a bikini for every day of the week. Thanks everyone!
This strategy doesn’t work on land. Since the missionaries convinced everyone to give up their custom ways, the villages are decidedly prudish in their dress, and covering up knees and shoulders is expected, no matter what the temperature. So its long skirt, sleeves and a big red face for our shore visits.
The traditional garb of a leaf wrapped around the penis seems a far better sartorial choice. But the Namba (the leaf) is now worn only in ceremonies and traditional dances.
We were in Banen Bay, a village of the Small Nambas on Malekula. The island is also home to the Big Nambas and understandably enough they’re not too fond of each other and have traditionally been at war, the Big Nambas pushing their smaller island neighbours out to the fringes or into remote mountain areas. Those differences have been put aside now, along with cannibalism (last recorded case in 1969). But the traditional dances still commemorate battles and the men will wrap up their manhood and ladies lose their mui muis or lady dresses in favour of grass skirts and bare breasts.
Alvei, a huge old-fashioned wooden ship was anchored alongside us in the bay.
Among the crew were volunteer doctors and the founders of the healthcare program. This was the final year of the program which had built a clinic for the villagers and implemented many health programs over the year and as a farewell the village staged custom dances and a feast of roast pig. It was an exuberant affair with lots of bouncing bottoms and jiggling bits and a very sweet little boy in a skirt made of a leaf who joined in with the men and then interrupted the women’s dance looking for his mum.
We feasted that night with a local family and their recently deceased pig. This time I happily declined the Kava and was in fine form for church the next morning. Unnecessarily, I had donned my most nunnish outfit, as Lucy insisted I wear one of her islander dresses and I blended in quite nicely.
It was a sweltering morning and the whole village were packed into the tiny church, men on one side, the women on the other and the children sitting on the floor up front. The service was in Bislama and mostly a singalong which everyone was expected to join in. For mostly small people, they have extraordinarily powerful voices, the sound bellowed around the room, much for the children who all had their fingers in their ears, so my tone deafness was drowned out.
Banen Bay has been a great stop, its by no means the prettiest anchorage and sadly the reef is mostly dead after a crown of thorns attack, but the people have been wonderful. We met a dutch single hander at the very start of the trip who said the South Pacific is just palm trees and churches. It’s so much more than that of course, but after a while one beach does look pretty much like any other and it’s those that you meet on shore who make all the difference.
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Location:Banan Bay, Malekula