Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tanna Island, Vanautu 2014

Proud mom's

Building the mound of gifts



Laying on the sugar cane stalks

Newly circumcised boys

More offerings


It took us 7 hours to sail from Port Patrick, Anatom Island to Port Resolution on the island of Tanna. We arrived in the anchorage to find “Gypsy Heart”, who left the day before us, already at anchor.  Sandy and Rankin were about to leave for a tour of the nearby Mt. Yasur volcano which we enjoyed last year.  Jon and Heather went to shore for a walkabout and, when they came back, said we had all been invited to a post-circumcision celebration early the next morning.  Our host, a kind gentleman named Stanley, whom we'd met last year, asked if we would bring cakes.  So, even though I just wanted to relax after along day of sailing, I pulled out the bowls and pans and set to work.  I had a couple of gluten free mixes on board but the anchorage was so rolly that they wouldn’t rise and ended up looking like chocolate tortillas. After two unsuccessful attempts to bake a decent cake, I finally baked a cake from scratch and eventually got to bed at midnight.  Unfortunately, a breeze in the night kept us sideways to the swells that were wrapping around the point and coming into the bay.  Neither of us got much sleep with the constant rolling of the boat.  The next morning, bright and early (6:45 am), we got a call from Stanley telling us it was time to come in. 

We all walked to the village where we met Stanley and he explained what we were about to see.  Three boys, ages 7-8, from the village had been sequestered for a month after being circumcised.  During their seclusion, they were attended to only by a few men who delivered food that their mothers prepared.  Arriving at the site where the ceremony was about to take place we saw that most of the villagers had already arrived.  Young children scurried about while a number of men were heaping woven mats, different types of cloths and woven bags onto three large mounds in the center of a clearing.  Next to the mounds were piles of yams (up to 3’ in length) and taro root.  Across the clearing stood the boys’ mothers elaborately dressed in brightly-colored, wrapped skirts and headdresses.  Their faces were painted.  Around the clearing sat family members and villagers and a woven mat was produced for our group to sit on.  As we looked around in amazement, Stanley explained that the mounds contained gifts to the families of the boys and that the ceremony would really begin when they brought in the pigs. We sat there fat, dumb and happy appreciating that this was an authentic glimpse into their culture and not just something arranged to entertain tourists.  We half expected to see smiling pigs marching into the arena but, to our surprise, the next few minutes were going to be quite shocking and disturbing.  A large pig in the nearby bushes (whom we all thought was napping) was bound at the feet, put onto a pole, carried to the end of one of the mounds and deposited on the ground.  A smaller pig and a goat were also brought in the same way.  Still having no clue as to what was about to occur, we watched a man with a very huge club walk straight up to the larger pig and proceed to bludgeon it on it’s head.  We were horrified!  The poor thing was squealing.  They did the same thing to the other pig and then slit the throat of the goat.  All the village dogs (who normally survive on just coconuts) were lapping up the blood on the ground.  The part that bothered me the most was that the pigs didn’t die right away and, as the ceremony continued, the guy with the club had to return several times and deliver more blows to the poor animals.

The processional of the three newly-circumcised boys came next.  They were surrounded by a group of other men and boys carrying staffs of sugar cane stalks. The boys were then seated on a mat near their families and offerings of food were presented to them.  While the boys ate, village elders gave speeches in their native language of Bislama while others began disassembling the piles of gifts and  dividing them up among the families.  Despite Stanley's attempt to describe what we were seeing, we all found it a bit confusing.  As the ceremony appeared to be winding down, Sandy, Heather and I were introduced to the three boys and delivered the cakes that we had prepared.  Before leaving, we were touched by the fact that we were offered gifts of woven baskets, taro and yams as a thanks for what we had given. We felt very honored to have been invited and to have seen something few other outsiders have seen.  I can’t help but think that 50 years ago it may have been us getting clubbed and piled on the mound next to the other gifts.  We were invited to participate in the preparation of food and the feast later that day but politely declined as we were anxious to get to Port Vila ahead of some foul weather.  We decided to leave after the ceremony for the 130 mile overnight passage for the island of Efate.  It had been quite a day, one that made us feel like we had experienced something straight from the pages of National Geographic magazine.
Celebration finery


  1. What a great experience, minus the bludgeoning! Great to read your updates....plural! Nice job Anne. Sounds like a nice sail with easy wind just like ours and I agree that the rolling is exhausting! Keep posting! Hugs to Evergreen and Gypsea Heart!

  2. What an experience. Your photos are wonderful. We are so proud of you . Stay safe.
    We are still in Van. Hoping to get back to the boat the 8th of July. Love you guys.