Tiki Totems in Vanuatu
Wednesday 27th October 2010

Bislama word/phrase of the day:
Tolet i stap wea? – Where is the toilet?

Yesterday was our cultural Port Vila day. Having read up about Ni-Van history and discovering a ‘walking tour’ so kindly laid out for us in our guide book, we set off with a spring in our step. After managing to get lost a little we finally turn off out of the main drag of town and find ourselves in much more picturesque setting. Suddenly the cramped, dilapidated, dirty main street is left behind and the roads open out, flanked by large buildings, grass fields or palms. Just as the heavens begin to open yet again we ran…ok, jogged…ok, walked uncoordinatedly with purpose, into a a large thatched building.

We had found ourselves the little treasure that is the National Museum of Vanuatu. It was wonderful not just because the museum of Anthropology in Cambridge holds perhaps twenty times the number of artefacts, but also because the objects are displayed in that haphazard manner that so many smaller museums adopt because they are, in fact, just cabinets des curiosities. The colonial influence is evident here in that most morbid of arts that seemed to be necessary to European naturalists, taxidermy. No doubt the Huntarian Museum in the UK would love to get their mitts on some of these half chewed, contorted bags of feathers, fur and bones. I won’t bore you with lists of some of the oddities but just assume that they were plentiful. Other items filling the dusty cabinets were headdresses, shells, burial paraphernalia, pig killing implements, weaponry, canoe models and giant tiki totems.

Of course I appreciated all this and I poured over every artefact label no matter how uninformative, I inspected every object, squinted at the photographs of Presidents of the past and patiently watched as little of the random souvenir DVD as I could politely get away with, but my most favourite part of it all were the signs, labels & information sheets in Bislama. I have fallen in love whole heartedly with this language. I am not ashamed to say that I laughed out loud when looking at a cabinet containing some sombre objects of destruction from WWII, ‘Wol Wo Tu’. It doesn’t help that when I read Bislama, in my head a little ghetto rasta smurf is actually saying it.
Bislama
At this juncture I would like to inform you of the extreme will power it’s taking not to waffle on endlessly about the country’s history thus regurgitating guidebooks and unsubstantiated websites. Because I really do love history…that it, for the brief moment that it remains in my brain before it’s knocked out by something crucial, like how to hang up a variety of laundry in order to ensure optimum drying potential.

The first half of the walk was quite lovely, taking us past school after school, the sound of grumbling vehicles replaced by the wonderful playful sounds of children relieving their overloaded brains in courtyards and fields. We strolled further and further away from town and higher above it so that by the time we reached our third object d’amusement (a WWII memorial) we could see out over the tangled guts of the unloved buildings in town; to the harbour with it’s assortment of catamarans and small yachts, delicately glued to the stillness as if by the giant hand of some model maker; over the cloud covered sea to the point where the blues and greys of ocean and sky merge like paint on a water-colourist’s palette.

The rest of our ‘walking tour’ was a bit of frost, predominantly because our guide book is almost as old as the country and therefore basically useless. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our stroll to look at things that no longer exist. Mental note: write to Lonely Planet and tell them to update their guidebook and then hope they give me job so I can travel the world. Hmmm…

Chris has been suffering a little since we arrived and using my medical degree from the University of Webdiagnostics I have deduced that it’s one, or maybe more, of the common side affects from the Malaria pills we’re taking. He’s been in quite some discomfort and generally a little spaced out. Poor boy. Our jolly Aussie’s advice: ‘Don’t take ’em mate, those Doctors never been to the tropics, they don’t know anything’. Brilliant! I’m sure he’ll be fine, he invariably is. He’s been getting lots of rest so I hope that makes a difference. Good job he’s got a wife now to take care of him ;).

Time to get out of PV, next stop Espiritu Santo.
That’s over and out from us for the night. Or is it just over…or just out…I can’t remember. I was recently informed of the correct etiquette when it comes to ‘over and out’ and it’s clear gone out of my head. Damn you perfectly pegged laundry!

Tank yu tumas for reading. Xx