After our visit to Roi Mata’s burial site we headed back to Efate Island but further north than we had started from. From the boat we could see a massive tree and it was beneath that tree that we sat and listened to more of the life of the great chief, standing now as it did - according to the locals - in the 1600’s shading the chief himself.
Bear stands by the very big, elderly tree
Roi Mata sent his fiercest looking warrior to the surrounding tribes, and in the name of the chief told them to attend a meeting. As is customary each village leader brought a gift, those from the hills brought coconuts, by the sea turtles, clams, octopus, from the lowlands yam, cassava, kava and so under this very tree Roi Mata told these leaders that the gift they had brought would now be their emblem. From that day on no intermarrying would be allowed. A coconut could marry an octopus and so on. The biggest tribe to this day are the coconuts and still hold the rules set down that day. There is a story in recent times of a coconut man on Lelepa Island who married a coconut lady and their three children are ‘abnormal’ thereby reinforcing ‘the word’.
Perhaps the greatest influence Roi Mata had at the time was bringing peace between the warring cannibalistic tribes. Some tell us he is honoured on the nations Coat of Arms which reads In God We Stand written in Bislama [95% of this language is based in English but when spoken fast, sounds gobbledygook, with the odd recognisable word].
We followed Topei along a thickly wooded path until we reached Roi Mata’s favourite banyan tree, here he would sit with his elders and discuss village matters. Every major storm that hits the area brings worry but the tree has always managed to stay upright.
We reached a sort of clearing, to our left a pile of stones, to our right a series of logs – as soon as we had passed we were in Roi Mata’s village. Eerily silent.
Topei stopped and pointed to the tree in the middle. “This is where Roi Mata’s only son and only child was buried. He is now the curled skeleton seen resting between his father’s legs at the burial site”. He went on to tell us that many from his village won’t walk through here as they think the spirits walk and they are too afraid.
The map showing Magaasi on the right, to this day no one lives here – not since Roi Mata’s death.
Magaasi (or Mangaasi) is the former residence of Roi Mata. It can be reached either by boat or by land from Mangaliliu. Nestled between the beach of M̃alakot and the steeply climbing ridge behind, the area is still divided by the remains of stone walls, which demarcated the ‘yards’ of individual family residences. A narrow corridor runs from M̃alakot, which was Roi Mata’s personal ‘passage’ through the reef to the beach, up to M̃alaseien, Roi Mata’s dance ground, where his tamtam slit drums were located, through his residential yard of M̃alafaum to his personal house at Sum̃antuk. Several ancient trees, including the tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum) trees at M̃alakot, a giant nambanga (banyan) tree at M̃alaseien, and a towering nangae (Canarium) tree at Sum̃antuk, are all said to date from the period of the last Roi Mata, the name died with him.
Several sacred stones, including Roi Mata’s personal stone, are still located in situ at Magaasi. Archaeological excavations in the Magaasi area have revealed an exceptionally long sequence of almost continuous use or occupation, from at least 2900 years before the present, until its abandonment in about 1600 or some say 1700 AD.
The tamtam – slit drums, whether decorated or not, have a significance to Vanuatu's traditional economy and society: they can be a sign of a man's wealth and social status within the political system of graded societies. The drums are sometimes found at ceremonial dance grounds and other gathering places. They have been used for dance rhythms, but also for signalling purposes. A tamtam is said to hold spirits, some good, some bad, and are often posted upright at the perimeter of a property or outside a house as protection. Topei pulled two sticks from the slit and demonstrated the rhythm used to call people to a dance and for someone who has died. The deep, booming noise was incredible and can be heard for miles. Like a lit beacon, as soon as one tribe hears a tamtam they hit theirs in the same beat and so a message can travel across the islands.
Sadly, Cyclone Pam toppled the matching tamtam.
We left the village through another exit marked with a stone on one side and a tree root on the other.
We followed Topei back to the beach where Captain was patiently waiting.
Looking left and looking right. Now back to Topei’s village for lunch.
ALL IN ALL REALLY INTERESTING TO WALK THROUGH
WEIRD THAT THE VILLAGE IS GONE