Secret Garden

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Wed 30 Sep 2015 22:57
Our Visit to the Secret Garden
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After our busy morning sussing out ‘stuff’ in Port Vila town, we headed out of town to visit The Summit – a botanical garden, sadly, we passed a sign that told us the garden closed at three and we needed a few hours to do the place justice. Too late this afternoon, we turned-tail and went to the Secret Garden that we had passed along the way. We were met by Steve who would be our guide. When he had shown us around we were free to bimble on our own until closing at half past five. We started in the plant area showing traditional crops grown for food and those used for shelter.
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Next stop was to do some ‘petting’, first a coconut crab who was not too bothered about us feeling his ‘squadgy’ bits, between the leathery shield parts are really soft bits. This chap is about three years old so not too massive.
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The varied diet schedule made us smile, Steve said if the chaps here were destined for the table they would be fed for at least two weeks just on coconut for the unique coconutty taste. The chap we held had small claws compared to some giants like this one about to rob a dustbin for scraps.
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Vanuatu only has two types of snake, a small, dark, burrowing snake and the Pacific Boa. The genus candoia is truly a very different one indeed. These boas, in general, all look quite similar. They all have narrow, triangular, flat heads with an upturned rostral [beaky bit]. Their heads make them look venomous, and in some way prehistoric. All Pacific boas have thick keeled scales and strong prehensile tails. As with all boas, these snakes are nocturnal. Adult sizes range from twenty two inches to nine feet in length, the average being three to five feet. Candoia are only found in the South Pacific and occupy a range of habitat including dry woodlands to rain forests. They eat rats and mice and enjoy bathing in water. On some islands they are involved with customary magic. Many Ni-Vanuatu are frightened of these snakes despite the fact that they will only give a nasty nip, I don’t blame them at all. The big snakes have to handled very carefully, I could see Bear swallowing hard as he watched Steve catch this wild lady – she will only be kept for a couple of months, then she will be set free and another will be caught to show the likes of us.
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Of course he did, let it be stated - only for the blog readers. I thought this lady was incredibly compact, very heavy for her size, very raspy big scales and of course cold to the touch. I thought she flexed and tightened the second she got around my neck, noooooo. I was fascinated to watch her tail, it gently felt around my arm and then my glasses.
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Big Bear it could be worse, I could have asked you to do a snake dance as they do in the Banks Islands. OOWwwwwwww you’ve got to be kidding, I’m happy to pose with this tamtam and I’ll hold it very firmly as my manly appendage is trying to hide. The tamtam is a hollowed-out log, carefully carved and when hit with sticks makes a huge drum noise, used for sending messages within a village or to nearby villages. Big tamtams struck hard can be heard for miles.
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Oh mentioning manly bits takes me nicely into the namba or the penis sheath – worn by men in South Pentecost, Malekula, Ambryn and parts of the Banks Islands. They vary in size, shape and design. They are normally made from finely woven pandanus or banana leaves and are sometimes coloured with red dye. Sometimes it is looped over a belt that can be thick or thin. The famous Big Nambas tribe in the north and the Small Nambas in the central part of the southern area of Malekula, are named after the size of their respective penis sheaths. I’m strictly staying silent over which group Bear would be qualified to join........ Grrrrr, don’t you growl at me. Steve titters and you can stop your tittering too........anyhoooo... Traditionally men always cover their manhood except in the Banks Islands where they used to be naked. Nambas don’t usually cover the scrotum.
Felix Peiser advised in 1920, that when men stripped naked they would use their finger to cover the eye of the penis for fear of magic, to which the penis is susceptible. “The site of that of another man being considered most dangerous.” Again, I will stay extremely quiet.......... The third picture above is a photograph taken by Jean Guiart from the Musee de l’homme in Paris shows two men from Futuna in 1890. Futuna males had the largest nambas in Vanuatu – bigger than Big nambas, similar to those worn in Tanna. Oh we’re going there, I must get Bear in a National Geographic-type picture in a group of locals methinks. Steve piped up “do you want to have a sneak look at what Bear will look like”, that would be great. Excuse me you two. Oh hush, just go and pose..........
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Fantastic, Bear looks great. Wait until I snap the real thing, can I wait, yes, I can wait.............. I pose too. I think yours is a little more flattering than mine.........somehow. Role on getting Beez well and organising this in Tanna, in hindsight I saw this picture of a variation with the namba covered with a bit of grass skirt, perhaps this is a better look.......Huh......Just a suggestion. Huh and thrice Huh..
On to a bit of head modification. The ‘Long Headed People of Tomman Island’ in Malekula thought it was an attractive thing to lengthen their heads to make themselves fashionable and thus more beautiful – in their eyes. People grew up with their heads almost half as long again and sloped off to a rounded point. Babies had strange baskets put on their heads from the age of three days. First a cloth woven from human hair was fitted over the head. This was then soaked in coconut oil to soften the skull. Then after a few days the basket is put on and the soft skull is moulded into the elongated shape desired. The basket was woven from coconut fibre in such a way that the strands could be tightened day after day until the bones were too hard to be further compressed. When the child reached one year the basket was taken off as the head was sufficiently deformed. The practice died out prior to the war. This photograph of a Tomman woman with her baby wearing the basket was taken around 1920.
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A traditional house and the interior of one built on stilts.
Only Bear could get a pair of banded iguanas to pose like this..........
The banded iguana has featured on stamps.
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Traditional Money. Before the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu introduced modern currency, traditional custom money was used to barter or pay for things. Pigs, tusks, shells, fossilised stones, feathers and mats have been used as traditional money in the past.
In Vanuatu, the pig had and still has a high value. The pig is the standard value of money that all other traditional money is related to. In central and northern Vanuatu only tusked pigs were considered valuable. The value of the pig depended on the development and curvature of the tusks. If the tusks grew back into their own roots or emerged again on the inner side of the jaws, the value of the pig diminished because the tusks were prevented from growing properly but if the tusk had a normal curvature so they completed a circle a second or third time, the pig acquired a very great value.
Shell strings were worn as ornaments and were quite rare to be used as money in some islands such as Malekula but in the Banks Islands shell strings were commonly used for money to buy rank in the social structure of the community and to buy wives.
Stone money was used Erromango in the form of fossilised clam shells called navilah. They were quartzite and had the form of a ring or other shape of a crescent moon and came in all sizes, the value of which was related to the shape and size. They were used as amulets and were a common payment.
Feather money was used in the eighteenth century in Malo and the Banks Islands. It consisted of a string of bird feathers from parrots of different colours. Feather money was gradually replaced by shell money. Feathers were used to decorate bodies and as body adornment became more ritualised the value of certain types of feathers increased.
Mat money was and still is used as traditional money in Malekula, Pentecost, Ambae and Maevo. In these islands mats were only used as money. They were used to buy rank in the social structure of the community and to purchase wives. The red colour mats are the most valuable. Mats were produced in large quantities and are still used today.
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The pigs tusk is on the flag of Vanuatu
Credit System. In the New Hebrides there was a traditional type of credit system used and still is used in rural areas. The system involves borrowing a pig or pigs from a wealthier member of the community. The loan [pig] was usually borrowed for a certain period of time at a certain rate of interest, this interest rate was an agreement between the lender and the borrower but was not fixed. It was not unusual for the interst rate to be twice what had been borrowed, certainly the case in the Banks Islands.
Repayment of loans involving pigs was and is a complicated matter because the pigs have to be returned with a certain quality where the tusks had developed to the point that would have been reached plus interest had the pig not been borrowed – bigger tusks. As a result lengthy disputes often resulted...........
If pigs are to be given as payment it might include pigs with full circle tusks. Today political parties form alliances by exchanging or killing a pig. When Jimmy Stevens was released from prison he had to pay the Vanuatu government thirty pigs in compensation after serving fourteen years in jail..... The going rate for a wife is ten pigs. One each for her brain, eyes and nose, lips, shoulders and arms, feet and legs for dancing, stomach, heart, breasts, private parts and hands. .
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Steve bobbed down, dusted the floor smooth, drew a simple grid and with one single continuous line, swirled and curled producing the most gorgeous turtle. Sand drawing is something taught from an early age and in times past was an important way to learn the stories of the ancestors.
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We shook this chaps hand and he was happy to pose with Bear. He is deaf and dumb but works here at the Secret Garden, he dresses traditionally and welcomes tourists during the day and at the feasts put on in the evening, part of this wonderful extended family of happy people. Vanuatu has been voted as one of the happiest places on earth to live. Then Steve introduced us to his pet – a nawemba or Pacific imperial pigeon, considered a delicacy to eat amongst the least it’s not a person I suppose [the last recorded case of cannibalism, not the criminal sort but the traditional kind was in 1969.........]. This chap is bending down on Steve’s request for “make a noise”, a strange woooooo followed but a tapping duh-duh-duh-duh. Just chatting before we set off after our bimble to take pictures we happened to see a colossal spiders web, all fluffy and white. I said how I used to love spiders until I got my bite in New Zealand. “Stay right there” and off Steve went.
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Steve was back in a flash and put this spider in Bear’s paw. It played possum for a time, slowly unfurled and then scooted for the shelter of fur.
On me he just relaxed and settled, maybe my faith is restored – a bit. Sadly, it was time to go.