24.05.2015 - 08.05.2015 28 °C
One wet, boring Sunday afternoon, when I was about 10 years old, as I was idly flicking through a Sunday newspaper colour supplement, I came across two photos that soon made me perk up. The first was of an elderly black couple dressed in old fashioned clothes that reminded me of slaves from the Deep South or some Caribbean Island in the last century. The man had his arms round his wife and a bible in his hand. The caption told me it was The Reverend John ….. (I’ve forgotten his surname) and his wife Mary. I remembered the first names as they were so surprisingly English. That certainly appealed to my liking of the unusual. However it was the second photo that really made me take notice as it was another elderly couple; this time the woman was just wearing a grass skirt and the man, nothing but a penis gourd. But it was what they were holding that made me so amazed – a photograph of Prince Phillip! The article told me that these people worshiped him as a “Cargo Cult” god and were from Tanna Island in the New Hebrides. Cargo cults can emerge in isolated island societies after an encounter with people from a technologically advanced society, where magical thinking and the desire to have this wealth or “cargo” becomes a religion or cult . These seem especially common in the Pacific.
Strangely enough, for a 10 year old, I already knew about these islands. My big brother had a book, which he didn’t read much but had “Susan cannot read this” written in large letters on the inside page. Of course I read it whenever he wasn’t there. The book told of strange world customs and had a page about the land diving (original bungee jumping) on Pentecost Island in the New Hebrides. The highlight of this book, for me, was an illustration of a man jumping head first off a rickety bamboo platform with nothing to break his fall but a vine, complete with leaves round his ankle!
That clinched it for me! Someday, I knew, I must visit this place. I kept this article for some years, but then lost it in one of the numerous moves I made, but it always remained in the back of my mind. It came to the fore, briefly, when I saw a TV documentary about this same tribe, some of whom came to England and visited Prince Phillip. Several years later as I was planning my first trip south of the Equator, there was no doubt in my mind I had to go and go to the New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu.
I was planning to go there some time in May 2015, however in March there was some terrible news that brought Vanuatu more into world awareness. Cyclone Pam, one of the worst disasters to hit the Pacific area, it devastated the Island group and Tanna was one of the worst affected. Images came in of buildings being destroyed and as the islands are spread out with little infrastructure, if any, there was little known of the extent of the damage, especially in the more islands. I kept up with the news as best as I could, which wasn’t much really and by the time I was able to go in late May, the word was that things were improving and Vanuatu would benefit by having visitors to help with the economy. So that the trip was still on.