On trading and generosity – Melanesian style
Throughout our travels in the islands, we have been overwhelmed and humbled yet again by our encounters with the ni-Vans. Almost without exception they are friendly, courteous and welcoming to those like us who turn up in their village. Our last anchorage at Lisburne Bay, Espirito Santo, before heading out into the big blue yonder again stands out as true example of their generosity.
Approached at anchor by a dugout canoe and offered limes, we asked the villager if we could ‘get’ more fruit and vegetables from the village – it’s a long way to the next open market in Indonesia! Affirmative! So in Lop To’s dinghy, three of us went ashore and were welcomed with a handshake from everyone in the village that consists of one big family – from great grandfather to babes in arms. The small collection of traditional buildings was well kept with its own communal well (spring water from the hills), tap, supply room and earthen oven. Hens and chicks darted around freely. Elaine distributed a few gifts – lollipops for the children, a few clothes pegs, reels of cotton, a couple of old T-shirts were gratefully received as trading items. In return fresh produce just kept appearing – pamplemousses, papaya, kumara, spring onions, bananas and other exotics. While waiting we were invited to sit down on a small wooden bench, a rare privilege, and to chat.
While we have traded and not bought from villagers in the islands, today was special because we were leaving and still had a modest amount of Vatu currency. What better than to gift it to the village elder, which Elaine did with the wish that he distributes it to his family for the children’s education. In Vanuatu, every child receives State primary education, free of charge. There were two schools in the area here, within easy walking distance (under an hour away). After the age of twelve, schooling has to be paid for, and is expensive – even by European standards – out of reach for most of the population. One young man Elaine met had had the privilege of being sponsored by his family to attend a high school where he learnt to be a motor mechanic. Other schools provide different skills.
Shortly afterwards we left for Huon Reef, north of New Caledonia, 270 nm to the west.