2019 Vanuatu Homo Bay When the Cats Away and the men Remember Tamalie
Homo Bay – When the Cat’s Away and Where the Men remember Tamalie
Somewhere during the 19 miles to Homo Bay Bron called us up to tell us about the Naghol Tower where she and Ken had watched the ceremony of land-diving a few days before. It would be visible from the sea so we kept our eyes peeled and met with the sight of a tall tower built around a tree which had had its branches lopped off. The tower can be up to 35 metres tall and is built each year using wood and vines. This particular one stood on an open patch of steeply sloping ground so that if a diver touched the ground with more than his face he could roll to break the fall.
Young boys no more than three years old start to learn the courage needed for the jump by standing on their fathers’ shoulders and jumping off backwards with dad holding their ankles. Then they practice jumping backwards off rocks into the sea.
You may remember this all started when the young wife of tribesman Tamalie tried many times to escape his cruelty and finally coaxed him into a tree and saying they must jump together, if they survived they were meant to be united forever. She had tied vines to her ankles but poor old Tamalie realised this just a little too late. For a number of years the widow’s sisterhood re-enacted the ceremony but because the trees whistled with what the men decided was Tamalie’s unhappy spirit while the diving took place they then made the diving an all male preserve.
The island makes a lot of money out of these performances and they are dangerous. Bron was surprised at how far out from the tower the men leap and how close to the ground they get. During the Queen’s visit decades ago the season for Naghol was passed and the vines had hardened and become more brittle than when they are green and elastic earlier in the year. Consequently one land diver died on impact when his vine snapped while performing for Her Majesty.
Just a mile further on we entered Homo Bay and motored right across to the other side following Nichola in for a change as they had obviously been here before. In our Miz Mae guide that Nicola recommended anchoring near a little river mouth in mud and sand which looked do-able and where Ken was leading us was shown on Nicola’s chart to be foul ground with three reefs on it. So I was dubious about Ken’s route until I saw the water was a healthy mid-blue colour and the depth never less than 7 metres. So all was well.
Back in 1996 signs started to appear on the beach demanding a fee of 20,000vt per person (£143) must be paid to anchor, swim or dive on the reef. This was done by some young men of the village while their chief (the cat) was away. Two years later Miz Mae saw no improvement and plenty of conflict with cruising yachts including thefts and harassment. Hence the recommendation then that yachts stay away.
Bron and Ken had not come across any such issues and were treated with the usual kindness that typifies today’s Vanuatuans, so Ken went off happily to explore the beach and fill up with water.
The trades had by this time re-established themselves and gusts of 20 knots from nothing pushed us around waking us up at 2.00am with noise and motion. Rob was getting weary of the strong winds and they were affecting his enjoyment of the whole ‘V’ experience.
As we moved across the Selwyn Channel (through which we had passed on our way to clear in to Luganville) it was pleasant to be making progress under reefed genoa again, watching Nicola making strides ahead of us. The wind was gusting to 27 knots at times as it funnelled through the Strait, but it started to die down as we came into the lee of Ambrym Island at the beginning of a long day of testing out anchorages for comfort and secure holding.
Ken has had decades of severe back pain from sciatica and is hoping for an operation soon to put things right, so I wondered how he was faring pulling in his anchor chain by hand every time and on this particular day FOUR times.
We stopped first at Hot Water Bay that should have been a nice sheltered spot, but there was a big swell running, right along the north shore of the island as it turned out.
Despite that we trundled ashore for a lookie to try and find the hot spring where we could luxuriate for free. It must have been dry for the ‘dry season’ because it wasn’t where we were told it would be. Instead we met Millie and her daughters and their young lively bull on his many knotted rope. He is destined to be the main course at a wedding ceremony that is coming up soon.
I asked her why the children weren’t in school and she explained that a local child had died. A tragic irony as the banner that flew at the gate of the 300 pupil High School read Children’s Health Week. Millie asked if we had any rope and we could have provided some if it wasn’t for the fact Zoonie and Nichola were rolling about in the anchorage, keen to get on their way. She also offered to show us the carvings she had for sale but as we were almost skint we didn’t want to tease her, so we declined. An unfortunately negative visit.
We towed the dinghy behind to the next anchorage and it was in this passage it decided to shed its bung. Luckily a non-return valve prevented it from sinking! After yet another untrustworthy anchorage and the advancing hour we decided to try Craig Cove which one of our pilot books says is for daytime only, but then the author can be quite negative about places I have found. Nicola of Miz Mae was much more positive but her diagram was completely out and would have us anchor over a rock strewn bed with tiny patches of sand. It could have been altered in the last 20 years of course by cyclones and storms.
She was right about the black sand and Zoonie dug in well opposite the big market building, the bay was pretty, sheltered and very CALM!