Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Yam Festival in Lakilia

The New Yam Festival happens in villages across Vanuatu anywhere from January through April of every year. It celebrates the new yams growing and finally being ready to eat. It's celebrated with prayers, sometimes church services, and always feasting. Lavets on my island tend to involve getting together early in the morning to start cooking. As lunch gets ready, the men (and a few of the women) start day drinking kava. They take a nap for the rest of the afternoon, while everyone who's not drunk prepares dinner. Then it's a split again -- some people eat as soon as the dinner's done while other people wait and drink more kava before they eat. No matter how you do it, though, on Tongariki everyone basically stays at the nakamal until everything is done.

Here's a few photos from New Yam in Lakilia. This happened in ... late January, I think. 

This is Melissa. She's like 3 and permanently attached to her Papa's side. 

This is Rahel and Samuel. Samuel really, really, really dislikes me. I just love how you can see on his face that he is very perturbed at the idea of being so close to me. (Oh well.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Tongariki blackbirding story

Blackbirding was a form of slavery or forced indentured servitude that happened throughout the Pacific during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Vanuatu, blackbirding largely consisted of men, but sometimes women, being forcibly carted off to work in sugar plantations in Australia or in Fiji. Sometimes men did volunteer to do this work, but without understanding how many years they were signing away or how little money they would get in return for that work.

So here's the Tongariki blackbirding story.

Man Tongariki gets taken to work in Queensland, Australia. They work hard and eventually, they're on their way out. They're going back to the ships to go back to Vanuatu where they'll finally see their family again.

They're walking along and they come to a river. At the river, they see two Aboriginal children, a brother and a sister, who say their parents abandoned them, they're hungry, they don't have anything to eat, and they don't have anywhere to go.

What does Man Tongariki do?


That's right. That's right. They tell the kids, that's okay, you come with us, we have lots of food where we live, you'll like our little island.

The kids assent.

And yeah. I heard that the boy married and only had a few children before he died young, but that the girl had tons of kids. Half of Tavia village is part Australian and there are lots of people from other villages related to them. In fact, a few months ago, there was a big discussion on the island about whether or not certain people might be eligible for Australian citizenship, as in fact their grandmother or grandfather was an Australian.

There's the story.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


You know you wanna see what some boats look like ...

These are all from the Maritime Museum in Auckland.

(This boat is a three beam canoe from Anuta in the Solomon Islands. According to the plaque, Anuta is a Polynesian outlier in the southeastern Solomons. [In general, the Solomons are Melanesian, but not this area.] This particular form of canoe is very seaworthy even though it's quite small.)

(This is from Futuna in Vanuatu. Futuna is far, far, far south in Vanuatu. The people there are still Melanesian but there's a lot of Polynesian influence down there and their language is actually Polynesian, which is different. This is a traditional outrigger canoe. Previously, Ni-Vanuatu used to do inter-island sailing in canoes like this, although that hasn't been practiced for about 200 years now. Nowadays, you definitely see canoes like this all throughout Vanuatu, but they are primarily used for fishing or short travel. There are people in this country who use canoes daily to travel to their gardens, for example. I know of communities on Epi and Maewo who do this; there have got to be plenty of them. In my part of the country, the Shepherds, canoes are really only used for fishing.)

This picture is small, but I hope you can get the gist! So this boat is a Fijian drua. It's an asymmetrical double hulled canoe. It can be used for ocean traveling or warfare. This is an extremely tiny example of one. According to the plaque, "[t]he largest could be up to 30 m in length and carry as many as 200 warriors." Can you imagine? 

Another thing I found really interesting -- apparently it's thought that the ancestors of the Pacific islands peoples used double hulled canoes like this to travel from South east Asia all the way through the Pacific, navigating only by stars, clouds, birds, and the like. Whenever I hear people try to denigrate Pacific cultures by asking about what technological advances they created, historically speaking, I feel like it's obvious. The Pacific Islanders have the greatest tradition of maritime expertise in the world. They made it from Indonesia to Hawaii, New Zealand to Tahiti, Tonga to Tongoa to Tongariki to Niue to Guadalcanal, on canoes, with no maps, no compass, just their seafaring expertise. That is amazing. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to Make Tongs

In Vanuatu, you use tongs a lot in traditional cooking. Two popular dishes here for a crowd are laplap (the grated vegetable pudding) and buniya (meat and root veg). Both are wrapped in banana leaves and cooked indirectly by hot stones. 

First you make a big fire, then you put the stones on (with tongs). While you wait for the stones to get red hot, you can roast bananas, yam, or namambe (like chestnut) as a snack. You take them off (with tongs). When the stones are hot, you move them (usually with a big stick shaped like a giant croquet mallet). You place the pudding/buniya on the fire, and use the tongs to put the stones back on the banana leaf packets. Then you put lots of dead leaves and old dirty cloth on top off the fire. Wait for a few hours (maybe only one for laplap yam, up to five if you're cooking a huge amount of food and you're in no hurry). Then remove the leaves and cloth by hand, take the stones out with the tongs, cut up, eat.

I've done or seen this procedure about three hundred times by now. But one thing I'd never thought of ... How do you make the tongs???

You put strips of bamboo on a fire.

And then you bend them with your bare hands. (Hi, Mami Suzanne!)