That sums up a two-day festival in Lakona Bay on the island of Gaua in the Banks Island group of Vanuatu. On Thursday and Friday (and even a bit of Saturday), we, along with 12 other "yachties" enjoyed the hospitality of three villages. This was only the second year of this festival, but it was a truly remarkable event in both quantity of activities and the quality of them. The pictures that we'll post will tell a lot of the story (you just have to wait for us to have internet to post them).
The festival celebrates the area's "kastam". It's purpose is to pass on these traditions to their own youngsters as well as to help make a few vatus (dollars) for the villages. It takes place in a very traditional small village where there are no tin roofs nor non-traditional homes. The buildings are made of all natural products and it has a large "playground" in the center surrounded by large trees – perfect for the festivities. The villagers were all required to wear traditional clothes (though many had "western" shorts under their grass skirts) – and they were "fined" if they showed up into the area in other attire. Everything used during the festival was the traditional way of doing things...more on that later. The whole ambiance was indeed very unique and special.
We were told to all be at the beach at 8 am on Thursday morning. We then walked towards the area of the festival and were "attacked" by the warrior boys. These young men came out of the bush with spears and bows taught with arrows yelling and looking very threatening. Then a man with a "peace" frond came forward and stopped the attackers and greeted us and led us into the village. We were greeted with the entire group of approximately 150 people lined up singing and the "bamboo band" playing. We faced them and then were formally greeted with a welcome song and dance. Then every person, man, woman and child, came by and shook our hands and said hello. They also did a salusalu (hanging of flowers) around our necks. This was a wonderful way to start our day. They provided drinking coconuts and fresh popo (papaya) and bananas and the festivities continued.
The day was jam packed with several dances – men's kastam dances of different types meaning different things and in different outfits. A woman's dance, lots of bamboo band music and a demonstration of how they make their baskets (for vegetables or chickens), armbands and "bracelets/anklets" for kastam dress, roofs for houses and even some toys. We had a traditional lunch that was delicious and interesting (including some lobster salad!) and lots of opportunity to talk to the villagers about their traditions. The day was picture perfect with sun shining and a light breeze to keep the temperature perfect. The big trees surrounding the village made for comfortable viewing. Plus, they had put benches all along the perimeter of the area for seating as well as a covered hut for us to relax in.
There were two particularly unique events we watched. One was a traditional marriage ceremony. We were shown how the "bride" is carried in and the exchanging of gifts between the families (including live pigs). We also were shown how the various villages used to wage battles against each other and how the peace came following the fight. Our host, Father Levi spoke very good english and would explain these various events to us and then we would watch. The people were very good at demonstrating the traditions. One "fighter" deserved an Academy Award for his "wounded warrior" part!
The day ended with the battle of the canoes. Three canoes raced against each other – first with yachties as part of the crew and then the real race with the villagers alone. Michael took part in one race and his team came out in front!
We had a late afternoon break before we reconvened on the island for nigh time activities. This included a giant bonfire, kava making and tasting, and lots of music from the bamboo band and everyone danced – non-stop! The beat just makes you move. If you weren't dancing, someone would grab you and force you to get in gear! The kids in the villages (and there were loads of them) had a ball and laughter could be heard from all quarters. Then we were given yet another traditional meal and finally sent on our way.
It was a long first day and so filled with so many things it was hard to sleep.
At 8/23/2015 4:43 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E
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