About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard the two BRAVO's; the first boat a Kelly Peterson 46 with homeport in Seattle, Washington. The second is a new Boreal 52, launched in February 2020. We headed south in 2010, and have been voyaging in one form or another since. Cheers, Adam and Cindi

"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Deep in "smol namba" territory

Vanuatu is famous for its celebrations, and the Nivan people do love a good festival, as we saw on Epi for Independence Day (week).  So do we!!!  We got word of a "kastom" festival coming up at Lamap, on Malecula Island, the next island to the west.  Bidding sad goodbyes to Kenneth and Bennington, we weighed anchor for the 20 mile downwind run to the Maskelyne group, on the SE tip of Malecula.  The fishing was good, as we caught a couple of barracuda (released), hooked a huge mahi (broke off), and boated a tasty wahoo.

Our stop at Maskelyne lagoon was great.  Seems like not many yachts visit here, so there was lots of trading action, as a steady stream of villagers came out to greet us in their dugout canoes.  Fishing line and hooks, school supplies for the kids, fresh wahoo, chocolate bars, and home baked chocolate chip cookies yielded a mountain of fruits and veggies, and many invitations to come visit the village.
  The next day we saddled up the dinghy and headed in to the village for a bit of an exploration.  As we secured the dink, word got out among the kids that Cindi had a bag of fresh cookies.  She was like the pied piper, with a gaggle of kids of all ages scarfing down the treats as fast as she could deliver the goods, while the adults, including Adam, sat back to watch the horde of locusts.  All good fun!

During the feeding frenzy we ran into Philip, an outgoing local guy who had paddled out to us the day before.  He now took us under his wing, and proved to be a terrific tour guide, giving us a two hour tour around the island, visiting its three villages, and teaching us heaps about life in the remote area. 

Peeling and grating manioc for lap lap

Soap factory, where women of the village gather to make coconut soap and lotions for sale in Port Vila.

Red Cross outpost seemed a bit vulnerable in cyclones or tsunamis, when it would be most needed!


Planting yams

Philip asked if we'd like to watch "kastom" dancing performed by the men of his village later that day.  We'd heard of the dances of the "small namba" tribes, and we were good to go!!!  ("Namba" is a penis sheath that the men traditionally wear on these islands.  In the Maskelynes and south part of Malecula they are known as the "small nambas", while the studs up north are the "big nambas".   We were in the heart of small namba territory.)

After our round island hike, we met up with Rich and Cyndi from Legacy, and Philip let us into a clearing to watch the dancing.  We placed some vatu into a large clam shell, and the tam tam drums began their rthymic beat as the dancers came out, dressed in nambas and ankle rattles, plus a sneeze of various ochre body paints.  They did several dances for us, describing traditional myths and stories.....terrific!

Philip knew of the upcoming festival in Lamap, and asked if we could give him and another guy, Carlos, a ride.  He'd be happy to show us the best route through the islands, and the way to the festival from the anchorage.  Welcome aboard, mates, nothing like a little local knowledge!

After wending our way through the Maskelyne Island group, we anchored in Gaspard Bay, a sweet little bay tucked deep into mangrove lined bush.  We once again had the bay to ourselves, and here there were no villages on the shore.  With the protection from all winds, the little bay was completely quiet, save for the occasional crowing of a feral rooster.

With the tide fairly low, we needed to make a wide circle around and through the reef at the bay's entrance to find our way to the end of the road on shore which we could hike into the village.  Good thing we had Philip and Carlos to show us the path through the reef.  We tied up the dink among a bunch of cows and headed up the 45 minute walk through bush and farms to get to the festival in the village.  On the way, we passed locals working in their fields, all with a big wave and smile.  At one point we passed a group of 5 teenage boys on a hunting party with spears and homemade bows and arrows, looking for birds and hoping for a wild pig.

Finally we arrived at Dravail, the host village for the festival.  The entire village paraded down the road, then assembled to greet the 25 or so guests who had arrived. 

Pig exchange ceremony

We were given a small trussed up pig to give as an offering to the chief (how did they know we didn't bring our own pig???)  The chief accepted the offering, gave an opening greeting in Bislama, and "let the games begin!!!"

The kastom festivals are designed to highlight traditional local customs and rituals, foods, games, skills, and just give insight into life in the village.  The villages were extremely proud to share their culture with us, and we learned heaps about their daily lives.  It was a fantastic two day event.
First up was the mens kastom dancing.  Lamap is the heart of small namba country, so the dances and costumes were similar to what we saw in Maskelyne village, but on steroids.  The men wore beautiful carved sacred masks.  It is considered "tabu" for anyone who has not been through a "rank taking" initiation ceremony to touch a mask.....if it happens, the mask must be burned.  The clearing where the men dance is tabu for the village women to enter, and the dances and tam tam beats were much more elaborate than any we'd seen before.....fantastic!

The women of the village prepared a huge feed (called a "kaekae") of traditional dishes for lunch on both days.  Included various lap lap's, salads, fish and pork dishes, and lots of fruits, all beautifully served.  Afterward, we saw a women's kastom dance performance, very different from the men's.

After kaekae, it was time for the string band to fire up.  Typical Nivan string band, with guitars, ukes, and a tea chest bass, they rocked out, and with an average of 3 strings on each guitar.  (We brought extra guitar strings for them.....a much appreciated gift).

Women of all ages participated in the kastom women's dances.

We saw demonstrations throughout the festival on weaving, thatched roof building, preparing lap lap (usually grated manioc wrapped in banana leaves, and baked in a pit oven lined with rock, fire making with sticks, sand drawing, bow and arrow hunting, animal trapping in the jungle, copra harvesting and preparation, etc.  Wow, we learned heaps about the skills it takes to live this "simple" life in the village.

Making various types of lap lap

One of the highlights was just watching the local kids playing games.  The toys may be different, and the rules a bit hard to follow, but they're just playing like kids do everywhere.

All in all, it was a fantastic couple of days.  The folks of Dravail were so proud of their kastom and village, and eager to display it at the annual festival.  We felt honored to get a glimpse into traditional village life.

The day after the festival, we hosted a couple of the local guys George (the festival organizer), George's two young boys and Roberto, aboard Bravo.  They paddled out in their canoe, and we had a great day with them.  At the end of the day, Roberto told us he'd like us to be his "white parents", and offered us land on his family property to build our house.....There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd as we finally bid our farewells.