Mrs Chief Yapa

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Sun 21 Jul 2013 20:52
A ladies look at the walk to Ikunala Village, Tanna

We still not getting timing right in Vanuatu, this time being a little tardy regarding arrival time at the chiefs house in Lanakel, On this occasion we were rudely late for the promised walk up to Chief Yapa's village. We had no idea what we were getting involved in and certainly how esteemed Chief Yapa is on this island. His Village, remains Kustom but also isn't a tourist destination, the promised hour-ish walk was at least double, but it was fun. We had a good few of the chiefs youngest children with us and his niece, aged 12 and who unusually for many 'Kustom Kids' attends the local school, she acted as our translator with her good grounding in English, he always has someone with him who is able to translate.

As we finally neared the hill top the sky's opened and delivered what I suspect is the usual evening dousing of H2O. As we neared the top of the hill we were surrounded by beautiful and lush vegetation what can only be described as jungle. Underfoot the dark volcanic sand was fast turning in to mud. It quickly becomes obvious why no shoes are worn in these islands, we all soon ended up flip flop or croc-less, you get far more grip with your toes in these conditions. Our heads however remained dry as the chiefs wife swiftly followed by the children cut huge leaves to act as jungle umbrellas. Finally after about 2 hours we reached the end of the path, no vehicle could get up here. The villagers have fenced dug a 3 foot trench around their patch in order to keep there precious foraging pig in.

After clambering over the fence Colin and Cosmo were ushered to the men only Nakamal - of which you have read before. Z and I where directed to what looked like a dark rather dank cooking hut, In these conditions the whole village looked bedraggled and dismal. Once inside the family cooking hut we were greeted by some of Mrs Yapa's daughters-in-law, all bare chested, one baby suckerling and all sitting around various small charcoal floor fires in mid process of grating plantain or yam on a spiky stick to make Lap-lap for the family meal. It's a scene that takes a bit of getting used to. In reality it's an idyllic family kitchen seen, warm gossipy laughter and full of mothers and children. The news of our arrival generated a bit of interest so slowly and surely the roomy woven tent filled with giggles and chatter from more and more folk.

We're feeling our way a bit and it's tricky to know what the rules of etiquette are, I'm aware that exposing ones thighs is a no-no but that's the extent of my local knowledge. Usually we carry homemade cake to break the ice. But today it was the turn of vegetable seeds and children's games. The Ni-Vans above all else seem to love laughter and with a few exaggerated factual expressions while trying to explain the lives of folk back in Britain is a good start.

We discovered in Gambier that vegetable seed would have been a huge hit with folk, at this stage we came armed with rum and hideous plastic toys for the children, all a very bad idea on so many counts. What I don't think we've see to quite the degree before is that this Village and suspect many Kustom Villages are a very sharing community. When the gift of seeds was primarily given Mrs Yapa but I don't think her family kept one packet.

As soon as we entered the hut, someone was sent off to collect palms so we, the esteemed visitors wouldn't have to sit on the dirt floor. Then we were offered Lap-lap the cake/spanish omelet like consistency made with grated maniyoke tuber and island cabbage and then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on hot volcanic stones. It's consumed at most meal and for our uneducated palate it's rather bland, however on this occasion and slightly to my horror Z couldn't wait to get her chops into it, after a small nibble I fain being full and tried to encourage Z into quickly halting.

With very little English spoken and my Bishlama language currently non existent we stumbled upon a bit of playground hand clapping and singing. This was a bit of a hit so after a fast and furious session Z and I started to teach some of the older children. From then on time flew as we each played and taught each other games. I don't think I've ever been so proud of Zinnia it really showed that her years of being out in the world has enabled her to cope and enjoy so many very humbling experiences, her smile so warm and genuine she was sharing a very special moment with these incredibly happy folk.

A few hours later and the rain hadn't subsided and Colin nervously returned still up-right from his first Kava ceremony we had to make the journey home. It's ridiculous, for us it was a mammoth walk, but for these guys it's a daily or twice daily jaunt to school and back. We could hardly keep ourselves up right and frequently were needing the aid of the light from a defunct mobile phone. However all of the rest of the party children and 70yr old Yapa had either a baby or huge bunch of something to lug. All this produce turned out to be gifts for us. Once we'd parted company for the evening our main concern was how to clean ourselves before reaching the boat, minutes later we were all scrubbing hard and up to our knees in water off the beach, Cosmo of course needed to be full submerged. My goodness these folk are great fun, hardy and remarkable kind.