ni-Van village life on Eramango

By | September 19, 2017

We are now at the island of Eramango, 50 miles from TannaPort Vila is next.

As we entered Dillons Bay after a brisk sail with following seas (with our kite getting a gig), we were greeted by local ni-Van villagers in their dug-out canoes. Children and adults. Before long soccer balls and dinghy oil were traded for crayfish, and a meeting with Chief Jason was arranged. A local entrepreneur, David, visited as well and suggested a meal at his ‘YC’. Earlier rally yachts had dropped by Eramango and had mentioned our imminent arrival, so we were very much welcomed.

Eramango doesn’t have a volcano, or a port, or any industry.  There are seven villages dotted around this wild and mountainous island but all are quite poor.  Dillons Bay does have visiting yachts because it has a bay protected from the SE trade winds.  Hence David’s yacht club. Cyclone Pam impacted on Dillon’s Bay like the rest of Vanuatu.  There are still rooves covered in plastic because families can’t afford the repairs. There are Aus Aid projects happening in the village. Village water is now being pumped down from the hills with simple black plastic agricultural pipe tied to trees, crossing the river, and in to the village.   A project Gladstone in Queensland has overseen. The villagers do value an education for their children like on Tanna, so there is a kindergarten (in fact two), as well as a primary and secondary school. Further education is available in Port Vila.

Donald, our guide, walked us through his village. It is Kastom to visit the local chief when arriving in a village. (This Kastom applied in New Caledonia too but perhaps due to the number of tourists and yachts visiting, we didn’t experience the need to ask for permission to visit.) So our first stop was the chief’s house.  The one with the new red cement mixer we were told. Chief Jason was in Port Vila so we were introduced to Chief Jason’s mother. It is also Kastom to give a gift to the chief. We gave some rope, fishing hooks and nails. It is also Kastom in these villages to trade.  So while we weren’t expecting anything in return from the chief, his mother met us on our return walk with freshly baked bread.  The bread on Tanna and again on Eramango is lovely.

Donald spoke excellent English, as do many of the people we met.  It’s so easy to communicate. We wonder if there’s a Donald in every village? We asked to visit the secondary school.  On the way Donald took us to his wife’s kindergarten. Such cute little kids. Their frizzy hair is amazing. We then visited the secondary school.  Leanne had been given some bags of reusable sanitary napkins by Women Who Sail Australia. These were to be donated to schools who had teenage girls in need.  The female teacher we were introduced to understood and was extremely grateful.

Walking through the village people always said ‘halo’ and always with a smile. Even the very poor.  Donald explained to us, some people had very little money even for food. With Donald’s advice and knowledge of the villagers, we gave some gifts to these struggling families.  Such basic things are needed, but you don’t realise this until you visit. Each of our three boats have helped albeit in a small way.

It has been such a humbling experience visiting Eramango.  The people are so welcoming and so appreciative of us visiting.  Australia has helped them with aid especially since Cyclone Pam and they do very much thank us for this.  The people are interested in where we come from and what we do.  They want to learn from us. But they also want to show us their Kastom too, they want to teach us.

We concluded our visit with a shared “pot luck” meal in Donald’s home, where is wife Lotti cooked for us.  We all took a contribution to the meal too. We have very much enjoyed the hospitality of the Eramango people, the feasts the women have prepared, and the conversation and insight these people have offered.  All in English!

Now, a 2 am departure for Port Vila!