A Travellerspoint blog

From the top of the world to the bottom of the sea - Part 2

We hope you all enjoyed Wazza’s contribution to our travel blog….thanks Waz!

One of the highlights of our time with the boys was at the North Ambrym Arts Festival (July 20 and July 21). This is the second time this annual event has taken place and we had been looking forward to it all year. We assisted the locals by heavily promoting the Festival in National newspapers, In-flight magazines, e-mails, yacht clubs and posted flyers in Pt Vila. We were happy with the turn out with 24 tourists from around the world coming to be part of the festivities.

The event took place in the old custom village called Fanla – tucked away in the mountains of North Ambrym (about 45 minute walk from our village). This village oozes with character and mystery.

The program on the first day included grade taking ceremonies (namanghe). Namanghe on Ambrym has 8 steps and men can choose to ‘take grades’ by performing a number of rituals including dances, killing pigs or standing on a stage and being pelted by stones. We were lucky to see Chief Bong perform the final grade taking step by dancing high up on a platform, followed by a payment of money and ceremonial killing of a pig.

Local men performing a namanghe dance in the nasara (ceremonial ground)

The grade achieved by Chief Bong means that he is Tabu fire and can no longer share food that is prepared by other people. He cannot even except food from others and must grow his own food and pick fruit from special trees that are marked with his sign. This achievement is regarded as special by the people of Ambrym because the culture is so communal. Normal people rely heavily on sharing food to get through tough times. However those that are Tabu Fire are independent and separate from the rest of the community.

The dancing and singing was a real treat, and the fact that the ceremony was the real thing, not just something for the tourists, was really special.

After the ceremony there was a village tour, a yummy lunch of Island food, and a magic show. The magic you see on Ambrym is not the black magic that Ambrym is famous for, what we saw was more like magic in the western sense, i.e. tricks and illusions.

There was also a dance to unveil the newly made Rom masks that would star in the next days Rom dance. The first day was a real treat but after the unveiling of the Rom masks we were all excited about day two of the festival.

On the second day we were not disappointed, with the men putting on the most amazing Rom we have seen since being on Ambrym. More than 20 masks were involved in the dance and several high chiefs, including Woorawoorayafu (all decked out in pig tusks and Nambas), led the performance.

(Woorawoorayafu leading the Rom dances towards the nasara)

The Rom dance is so difficult to describe, but so spectacular to see. The costumes worn by the dancers are so ‘out of this world’, that you forget there are men underneath. You become lost in the dance as you are hypnotised by the beats of the giant TamTam (slit gongs), the chanting singers and the gliding motion of the Rom dancers across the Nasara (ceremony ground).

(The beautiful Rom masks made out of natural materials found in the bush)

After the Rom dance had finished, we soon heard the squealing of pigs being dragged into the Nasara from the surrounding bush. It was payment time. The leader of the Rom must always pay with the biggest pig and largest amount of money. Each of the other dancers must also kill a pig and pay money for the right to learn the secrets of mask making and to perform this custom dance. The pig killing is not our favourite part of the ceremony but it is very important part of local custom.

(Payment time!)

After the Rom we all tucked into Laplap, but during lunch Warren and Matt had to sneak off for a clandestine meeting with chief Woorawoora yafu (the big man of Fanla), who wanted Warren to value a gold sovereign coin that he had shown Pippa and I earlier in the year. Waz and Matt were a bit nervous….as the chief one of the highest chiefs of black magic in Ambrym. Waz offered quite a generous price for his coins….however they were both quite relieved when the chief decided to keep hold of his coin for a few more years.

After lunch there was a presentation of intricate sand drawing and the haunting sounds of the bamboo flute marked the end of the festival.

We were both relieved that the event went so well, and the feedback from all who attended was overwhelmingly positive.

The dates for the 2007 festival have already been announced (July 19th and 20th) and if you get the chance to go we highly recommend it – phone + 678 48687 for bookings.

The locals were really happy with our efforts to promote their event and thanked us by presenting us with a small live pig to eat with Wil, Ben and Waz. The pig was cooked slowly in a bread oven and was the most delicious, moist and tender pork we have ever tasted!

From the heights of the North Ambrym Arts festival, Wil and Ben’s visit and the Volcano treck our time here on the Santo has been a little more sedate although not without it’s adventures.

A highlight has been to dive on one of the most famous wreck dives in the world, the SS President Coolidge. This Steam Liner was converted to a troop carrier during WWII, and it sunk after running into friendly mines.

These dives are the deepest we have ever done (and probably the deepest we will ever do), but an experience to remember. The deepest dive was 40m.

(Matt, Waz and Pip at the bow canon of the SS President Coolidge)

(Entering the cargo holds of the Coolidge)

We have also been joining in with the celebrations of the 26th anniversary of Independence in Vanuatu. Just across the road from our accommodation is the main stage with string bands, dancers, singers, pikinini performances, speeches and religious preaching.

Our final bit of news is that Pippa’s work mate Kathryn has popped over to spend some time with us on Santo and will also come with us to Ambrym to share a few days of Island life.


(Kathryn, Pippa and Waz at Million Dollar Point on Santo, which is a famous dumping ground of old WWII equipment…and a nice place to swim!)

Posted by pippamatt 02:24

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