Paradise Tours – Culture
MILLENNIUM CAVE TREK TOUR
Individuals seeking real adventure in the jungles of Vanuatu love the millennium cave trek tour. The cave lies in the South Central region of Santo and approximately 45 minutes from Luganville. Local transportation takes guests to the first village where community children always provide a warm welcome. A 15 minute trek ensues through the bush, which includes a coconut plantation. After crossing a bamboo bridge, visitors arrive at the village known as Funaspef and meet the tour guide. Everyone venturing on the journey receives a life jacket and torch during the trek. The guide then explains the tour and indicates the route on a map.
The spectacular scenery encountered makes the adventure worthwhile. The journey begins with a walk along a narrow jungle pathway, which eventually requires crossing a shallow creek or two. Once at the cave, visitors cannot help but feel impressed at the scene resembles something from a movie. Cascading vines and greenery curtain the rocky exterior. The guide paints a symbol on everyone’s face as a blessing for safe passage through the structure. Leaving packs behind and with a torch in hand, the cave trek begins.
Millennium cave spans 400 metres in length, 20 metres wide and 50 metres in height. While using the torches for navigation when following the guide in the river bed, examine the cave walls and roof. Small swallows, bats and various insects reside here. The journey stops for lunch after exiting the cave. After donning life vests, the adventure continues along the river. Continuing on the path often requires climbing under and over large boulders along the way. The beautiful scenery continues with the variety of jungle greenery, rocky walls and waterfalls. Stand under the cascading water or take a refreshing dip in the river. Getting back to Funaspef requires climbing a steep path to the top of the ridge. Villagers eagerly wait with a tropical feast.
The entire day journey requires a moderate to high degree of physical fitness. Wear clothing appropriate for hot, humid climates. Choose comfortable shoes having somewhat of a gripping sole because the rocks are usually quite slippery. The amount of rainfall received here also makes pathways muddy. Guides also recommend bringing drinking water, insect repellent and dry clothing. Hotels generally provide sack lunches upon advanced request.
VIL VIL CUSTOM VILLAGE TOUR
Visiting a Vil Vil Village provides an opportunity for seeing how native cultures enjoy a simple way of life practiced by centuries of generations. While travelling along the countryside, evidence of European occupation during WWII becomes apparent from the remnants of planes and vehicles. Grazing cattle and coconut plantations take their place amongst the natural vegetation of the island. Livestock and coconuts provide the mainstay of the modern island economy. Villagers often raise chickens and pigs. The people of the island determine wealth by the amount of surplus families may share with others.
Upon arriving at the village, local children immediately gather to welcome visitors. The village chief and community members commemorate guests with traditional music and dance. Men usually wear nothing more than a loincloth and a headdress fashioned from native plants. Around their ankles are bracelet type rattles known as vivangs that contribute to the rhythmic beat. The many instruments played during the dance include drums of varied shapes and sizes in addition to slit gongs. Following the dance, Vil Vil residents happily explain and share the traditions that comprise their daily life.
Basic huts provide housing and consist of bamboo frames covered with leafy branches and grass thatch. Each village contains a sizable structure called a nakamal. Men meet here for making the native Kava drink, make decisions and guide adolescent male members of the village through maturation ceremonies and rituals. The building also serves as the socializing centre for the village men. The women enjoy the privacy of a special hut where they stay during monthly menstruation. Unlike western cultures, the roles of men and women in the village differ vastly.
Men build the homes and other structures, maintain gardens, tend any livestock and supplement diets with hunting and fishing. Using the roots of the kava plant, the men create the intoxicating, narcotic and muddy appearing beverage known as kava. Kava serves as a recreational drink after a long day of work. Villagers often offer the drink as a welcome to guests. Women create baskets, mats and the meagre clothing that the family wears. The branches of the bandana plant serve as the basis for crafts. After stripping the leaves from the branches, women cut the branches and stems into thin strips. For dyes, the women boil the strips with various coloured vegetables and plant life. The final step in preparing the strips for weaving entails sun drying.
FANAFO TRADITIONAL VILLAGE TOUR
Native rebel Jimmy Stevens led a revolt against occupying British and French governments during the 70s.
After 11 years of imprisonment and in failing heath, Stevens established the community for residents desiring the rudimentary lifestyle enjoyed by their ancestors. He lived in the Fanafo community with his family until his death. A tour of the village begins with a visit to Stevens’ home and final resting place along with the story of his fight for independence. The village consists of a number of small communities each governed by a separate chief. Each subset community may harbour 10 to 15 huts.
The largest structures belong to the chief or comprise the nakamal. This building serves as the traditional meeting place for the men of the village. Men use the nakamal for socializing, decision making and performing numerous rituals that include inducting boys into manhood. Men and women each have their own duties that serve individual families and the community. Young children play while older children assist their parents with daily activities.
Villagers live in huts without electricity and wear traditional clothing. Visitors find that the village survives with very little evidence of modern western culture. Women prepare meals over traditional stone fire stoves by boiling or steaming. Diets consist of chickens, pigs and fish accompanied by local fruits and garden grown vegetables. Dishes often contain coconuts, mangoes, plantains and yams. Cream or coconut milk provides seasoning.
Not having telephones or any form of written language, villagers verbally spread news from one community to the next. Cultural traditions pass from one generation to the next through demonstration, songs and stories. Villagers often create art in the form of body decorations, elaborate headdresses and masks or carvings. Occasionally a young villager has the opportunity for obtaining a western education. However, the majority of cultural beliefs remain filled with primitive legends and myths. Villagers use these stories for explaining everything from the origins of creation to the many natural disasters that may occur.