2019 Vanuautu Three Weddings and a Turtle at Loltong
Three Weddings and a Turtle at Loltong
One thing that has not changed since Nichola wrote her guide is the presence of turtles and dugong in the anchorages we visited, although their numbers are down but hopefully recovering. They are no longer caught for the eating we were told by Roger the young man who with his friends greeted us at the beach that fronts the first village we visited on the island of Pentecost, having sailed across the Patteson Strait under genoa instead of motor for a change.
The main government office has moved here from Ambae since the volcanic eruptions and can be seen nestling in the undergrowth half way up the hill, with a giant satellite dish on its roof.
To enter the anchorage we had to get two triangle topped marker poles in line with eachother and these were located next to the giant banyan tree. I hadn’t expected the further marker to be just behind the nearest one and located in a cave but we soon saw them and the reefs on either side of us between which we could safely pass.
Although the presence of the reefs broke up any swell such as had made life a little uncomfortable in other places here the wind rushing down the hill from the Pacific beyond and to the east caused strong gusts in the anchorage, but as the holding was heavy sand we felt secure enough.
Roger told us there were three weddings in progress this being the first day of the two day ceremony and we were welcome to visit and watch the proceedings. On this island, part of the same mountain chain as Maewo and just 6 miles across the strait separating the two islands the marriage tradition is quite different and here couples can choose eachother, if the woman does not like her suitor she can reject him. I wondered if Shirley knew this and whether the difference has happened since her marriage a few years ago and if it will spread to Maewo. How two different sets of customs could exist so close together seemed strange and suggested little connection between these two islands.
When we arrived there was much fun and joviality ashore with crocodiles of people weaving around the Nakamal (communal house) in and out of the doors, a party in full swing. Bron was loading two swim boards onto their dinghy, “We haven’t used these for ages and the children will love them.”
She was not wrong there, a little lad grabbed one, delighted he had beaten his mates to this prize and soon two of the lads were whizzing around on them in the shallow water of the bay.
Young Roger came to meet us on the beach just as a supply ship arrived lowering its front ramp as it approached the hard flat sand. Villages escaped the excitement of the wedding to help unload the fuel drums and building materials, sacks of dried food and boxes of breakfast crackers. Ken wondered why they ate so many breakfast crackers when their fresh bread is so good. We bought a loaf that was still warm and smelled of the wood burning pizza oven it was cooked in.
It was a lovely, busy day for a walk through the village where panga loads of family visitors from other parts of the island were arriving for the celebrations. On the waters edge chunks of meat hung red and dripping from trees ready for the hangi ovens the next morning. Situated inside the big Nakamal hut these huge pits are lined with hot stones and the meat (beef and pork, we heard their final squeals that morning) wrapped in banana leaves laid in them and covered with more fronds and cooked for at least three hours.
We shook hands with a couple about our age and they turned out to be Roger’s parents, Mary and Solomon) “You met our son Roger on the beach,” Solomon said. News travels faster than the internet on these islands!
He explained that today meetings were being held to decide the dowry of the brides and tomorrow would be the ceremony to which he invited us.
Back on the beach another ship had arrived and two yachts. We had been the first in to the anchorage with Nichola following and now a yacht I recognised, the Mirabella had anchored near us. She was the yacht we called up as we approached NZ last October after that amazing 1000 mile beam reach and we chatted with Andre, his wife and two daughters while clinging on to his tow rail on our way back to Zoonie. They had a wonderful time in Opua NZ with the girls in school for a few months.
In the afternoon Bron and I went for a snorkel with Rob taking a break in the dinghy to keep an eye on us. The reef we circled was the one on our left as we came in and was teeming with life as you can see from the photos. Bron and I stayed close together to share the experience and at one point I spotted a turtle close by. In my excitement to tell her and taking off my breathing tube I managed to gulp a mouthful of seawater, splutter and make such a racket the turtle was long gone by the time Bron had a look.
Next morning I was up early making mini scones in the cool early dawn. Rob inflated the old tender ready for Ken to view. I could see he was delighted to be getting rid of it at last and I was pleased it was going to someone who would be able to use it. Ken came over and had go at sealing up one seam leak, he had to be on the right track because one could re-seal all the seams and have a good tender at the end! What with that and the fishing gear gone Zoonie should be up on her waterline soon.
We perched on a low form next to Jacob to watch the proceedings having handed the plate of scones to one of the brides. He told us that one of the brides was a widow another was pregnant and the other just ready to give it a go. They were sitting on their pandanus mats with their families and all their wordly possessions in a heap behind them. The brides looked pretty in their white and blue dresses in a style very common on the islands and I wondered where the design came from. The pattern has a square neckline, puff sleeves with a cuff, pleated bodices and skirts and flaps over the hips that make them look broader. The length is mid-calf and sometimes whole families are dressed in similar styles and the same fabric. Where had the traditional grass skirts gone I wondered?
The grooms wore Tshirts and shorts and stood holding the pig pole at the end of their row of squealing porkies. If one could bring back ancestors from the past just for this occasion what would they think. Not that there was any lack of colour, just the concept of locally sourced and made traditional clothing being absent was noticeable.
These were three rows of ten various size, colour and shaped pigs all in different moods ranging from snoring to disgruntled fighting, along with finely woven and purple dyed pandanus mats, gifts for the new homes. Many of yesterdays celebrants were looking a little the worse for wear after a lengthy session on the kava and today the atmosphere had taken on an almost solemn tone compared to yesterdays excitement. The brides don’t look very happy do they?
The old chief died a while back so a representative gave the grooms their talking to infront of the gathered audience about how to behave and the expectations a wife deserved and how they could no longer rely on their parents as they were now a family themselves. Then all the guests wove around the three rows of pigs and mats giving their blessings to the couples by touching each bristly hide and fine weave. All while the smell of cooking meat and taro came from the big hut.
Jacob came from a traditional village two kilometres away, Labultamata and explained how he had chosen his wife after falling in love with her, I didn’t ask where she was, probably sitting with the other ladies. Disputes between couple were settled by the chief and his council and he inferred that in non- arranged marriages divorce was not allowed. Does this mean that in arranged marriages it is allowed, I will ask at the Port Vila Museum?
By the time this lengthy procedure was over we were feeling the need for some sustenance and the four of us decided to leave the proceedings to the people. All was quiet ashore that night as the four of us tucked in to our supper on Zoonie and there were few lights on the shore so we gathered the custom dancing Jacob referred to was the blessing of the pigs and mats.