Our Visit to Etapu Village
From the moment we pulled into the neat village of Etapu, we felt excitement, anticipation and no sooner we had hopped out of Sam’s pick-up the tamtam began to beat. Sam told us this was to announce our arrival. The village of seventy people all knew we were here and as it turned out, thirty of them stopped their Saturday afternoon chores to rush for their grass skirts and face paint to ready themselves for what we hoped to be our National Geographic Moment. Everyone should have one, whether it be swimming with a shark, getting to the top of a mountain or a deeply cultural experience as we hoped to have. We had talked to Stanley, our trip organiser about our wish to fully immerse in the day. He rang Chief Jack and arranged things.
We stood for several minutes and watched a porker as he scruffed about, went to look at a fallen statue and admired the neat house with its flower garden.
Another message on the tamtam was a signal to Sam to ‘bring us down’. We followed a track down a slope and found ourselves walking across a ‘dance floor’ surrounded by trees on two sides, seating on another and a giant male banyan which had a doorway in its centre. Our first sneak peek of a warrior the other side of the tree did indeed make us gasp. This village puts on dances for groups arriving by plane for a cultural visit, groups en route to Mount Yasur but today – we were to have them to ourselves. They are related to the Nambas and once upon a time wore the pandanus grass penis sheath, but nowadays wear European clothes, it would take too long to whip off a pair of shorts and correctly attire their member so have devised a quick and dirty fashion of their own. They roll up a grass skirt, put it in front of their manhood and a belt hold it in place. Would this detract from the real thing was my only reservation.......... Would I regret not going to the island of Malekula and getting Bear to join the Small or Big Nambas.........
Sam told us it was time to walk through the tree. I left him my little camera and he sat himself down to be our audience. No sooner than we had walked to the other side of the amazing banyan tree than we were met by Chief Jack. The man with the greying temples oozed chiefliness and authority. After handshakes and welcomes, I was left with Linda and Bear was scooped off to prepare. I was ordered to strip, grass skirts were on in a second and a necklace of big seed draped around my breasticles by Mary. Linda then took to the task of painting my face, Tanna has very traditional patterns in bright colours. Vegetable dyes are dried and powdered and applied with a thin piece of bamboo. Ten minutes later I was ready. Chief Jack and Bear came over to ‘put me in my place’, I had been recognised as one of the village and settled at the back of the ladies line – being the newby..........
We were to process, singing through the tree. I had to cross my arms across my chest and little Rose checked that I had.
The first song and dance began. I was swept up in it. I had my first proper look at Bear and was quite wowed.
Bear was soon clapping and stamping.
Chief Jack announced the last song would be for us “Gudbye Yu”, it would send us off across the sea and we would take a piece of the village in our hearts and its good wishes for our safety. I felt myself filling up. The strong male voices, the shrill ladies pitch soon had me captivated, the only words we could understand were “Gudbye Yu” accompanied by sad waves. Much stamping from the men, high jumping from the ladies while the little ones running circles between the two. This performance will never be forgotten – ever. I videoed it and since then have watched it daily. Afterwards, we changed back into our civvies and spent time chatting to everyone – few spoke English so this was done by much gesturing and laughter . Some had to return to their chores and by late afternoon the ladies had to go to prepare laplap. Time for us to bade our profound thanks and farewells.
Mary and little Rose. I towered above her.
My warrior and some of the little ones.
Time for a short rest.
They have worked all morning and danced all afternoon, this sit down won’t be for long.
Chief Jack and one of the village men. Clearly, these people know how to pose.
This fantastic day will always be known to us as Banyans, Billows and Bottoms. But, did it fulfil our National Geographic Moment. Absolutely. Definitely. We hope these pictures give just a glimpse of our ‘Bucket List’ tick.
ALL IN ALL TRULY UNFORGETTABLE
A FABULOUS EXPERIENCE