“Next morning, we went into the interior of the little island. There we took pictures of the villages, the huts, the boo-boos. We ran across a minor feast; the birth of a boy. Because every event of birth, marriage or death is celebrated with a feast, pigs play an extremely important part in their lives. Pigs are wealth with which a man may buy a wife. The number of pigs he has killed on the hunt is the measure of his prowess, and pigs’ tusks are the New Hebrides money.”
—From I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson, 1940
Frederick arranged for us to visit a village this morning of native Pentecost who live inland on Espiritu Sancto in the rain shadow of Mount Tabwemasana. His only concern was that we get an early start since the weather report has it that another tropical storm is due to hit in the afternoon. The plan was to leave Ratua by eight since the trip involved a 30-minute boat ride followed by an arduous trek up a muddy, rutted road that might take as long as three hours. But, of course, when you’re doing something like this with five or six other people there is always going to be someone who sleeps in or just can’t be counted on to be on time, which is why it was after nine before we pushed off.
For most of the trip we bumped along at five or ten miles per hour, the young driver maneuvering the rusted van, its shocks and suspension long gone, between pot holes the size of bathtubs, most filled with rain water so you didn’t know how deep they were unless you hit them, and boulders growing out of the ground like pumpkins. Some of the land had been cleared of trees and cattle roamed freely, munching on thick green grass, but mostly it was jungle. Banyan trees, with ancient roots reaching down for the ground from limbs thirty-feet high, rose like skyscrapers above the palms and other tropical trees, some with pale yellow orchids growing on them. Everywhere were breadfruit and pawpaw and Tahitian chestnuts; we also passed by soursop, avocado, and guava trees, all with fruit so thick it littered the ground and gave off a sweet, rotting smell as we passed. There is so much food growing wild on this island—from jungle cabbage to bananas—that it seems it would be almost impossible to starve. Indeed, I’d read that, at most, a village might cultivate a few pawpaw trees or maybe breadfruit a short distance from the village but for the most part children playing would, at the end of the day, casually grab a handful of coconuts or jungle cabbage or whatever they came across and bring it home for supper.
Perhaps that explains their love for laplap, Vanuatu’s national dish, which is any sort of mixture of manioc or taro roots or yams or pumpkin or anything else that is available that is then grated and turned into a doughy paste. It’s like chili—everyone puts something different into it and everyone thinks their version is the best. But in Vanuatu, the trick is that you just make it from whatever is at hand, as this video shows.
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