TANNA - Port Resolution, Vanuatu  

Tanna was our favorite island in Vanuatu. It was like going back in time and gave us an insight as to what the South Pacific was like a hundred years ago.

The night glow from Tanna's active volcano Yasur, acting as a lighthouse beacon, drew the first Europeans to Tanna's shores in 1774, when Captain James Cook appeared with his sailing vessel the HMS Resolution. Cook landed at the Southeastern corner of Tanna and promptly named the bay Port Resolution. The following one hundred years brought Traders, Missionaries and other foreign influences.

Tanna is home to about 20,000 inhabitants, predominately Melanesian.  Although protestant missionaries put a stop to traditional practices such as cannibalism (we hope) the islanders have retained many of their original customs and culture (kustom).

Sept 8, 2005
Port Resolution

We were so happy to finally drop the hook in Port Resolution as the last day of the passage turned into a real ordeal, with 30 knot headwinds and steep seas. The water poured into the boat through our hatch and we had to remove the computer because it was getting soaked with salt water. Hence we didn't have our electronic navigation and even the Yoman was getting soaked with every wave. It was all I could do to keep the water soaked up with towels and waves broke full force over the deck and into the cockpit.

In the midst of the turmoil, the bungee on our fishing line stretched to inform us that we had snagged a fish. It was a beautiful Maui Maui and quite an ordeal to land in the rough conditions. It was forced to "sleep" covered up in the cockpit until we were anchored and could deal with having to clean it then.

No sooner had we settled the hook when Eric paddled out to our boat in his dugout canoe to greet us. We gave him the head and bones of our Maui Maui as well as a good chunk of flesh.

Since Freefall did not catch any fish, we invited them to Ascension for dinner. They brought some rum punch and after a bottle of wine and a great fish dinner, we had a really BIG sleep!


Sept 9 - Traversing the Island by Truck

The locals were already waiting to take us to Lenakel by truck.
A trip from Port Resolution, over the mountain pass and across the island to Lenakel, a custom entry point on the West coast of Tanna, gave an excellent sampling of the wonders of Tanna. The mode of transportation common to Tanna seems to be the 'truk-taxi'. The ride cost $2000 Vatu each for the return trip. We thought it rather expensive but the days adventure was well worth the money!

Early in the morn, we picked up Endless who had just arrived in Port Resolution at 6am, and landed the dinghy on shore, being swamped repeatedly by the waves breaking on the beach. Our long pants, shoes and socks, worn to discourage the malaria/dengue carrying skeeters, were soaked but we climbed into the back of the pick-up truck for our bone-crushing ride to Lenakel, our mission being to check in to Vanuatu.

We had a terrific time laughing, joking and learning the Pigeon English language from the locals who rode with us and new cruising friends Emma & Axel from Freefall and Kelly & Richard from Amazing Grace.

The truck bounced down the dirt track, often dodging huge holes and crossing skimpy bridges made from 2 skinny pieces of bamboo. You had to hold on tight to keep from being bounced out of the truck!


We also managed to jam in a number of villagers that we picked up along the way.

The road bypassed numerous grass-roofed villages at break-neck speed and the parade of local women along the road, wearing colourful Mother Hubbard dresses and headgear made of feathers or flowers, were constantly waving

The numerous villages we passed were traditional and primitive. No electricity here! The children of Vanuatu are really beautiful and it was a challenge to resist taking an abundance of photos of them wherever we went.
Along the way 'bush markets' appear at infrequent villages supplying vegetables and basics of life to those living close enough to access them.

Once past the villages, the road climbed to an altitude that afforded us a terrific view of Tanna. Here's the whole group of us in the truck.



The White Plains

The road eventually emerged from the dense jungle and sped onto the White Plains, which is the foot of Mt Yasur. The topography suddenly transformed to a stark moonscape-like scene barren except for huge gray powdery ash dunes.
Our driver immediately took this sandy flatland to be a racetrack and put the pedal to the medal only forced to slow down to traverse a creek and slither up the bank on the opposite side.

Mount Yasur

As we traveled through this ash desert, we were treated to a "burp" from the volcano as it spewed smoke into the sky.

2 hours later, after bouncing down the rugged road, we reached the village of Lenakel, which was bustling with activity and energy as thousands of people congregated in the streets. Our first stop was the bank. It was obviously payday because the tiny building was filled to capacity and spilling out the door with people waiting. We took our position in the queue and it took about an hour to finally reach the teller to exchange our money.

Next stop...Immigration. I checked in behind Amazing Grace, entering the room to the sound of the Immigration Officer belting out the words, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.....Not what you would ever expect from a government official, especially not in Canada.
Next on the list - Quarantine. As with Immigration, everything went smoothly. Our last duty was to check in with Customs but the office was closed for lunch, so we all went to the market.

The Market was an event not to be missed. All kinds of fruit and vegetables, interspersed with live chickens, packets of meat lying in the sun, woven tobacco, and baskets were offered by women who lazily relaxed under the shade of the Banyan Tree. The prices were unbelievable! With the change I had in my pocket, I was able to buy a huge stalk of bananas, broccoli, cabbage, and a long string of oranges, pamplemouse (grapefruit) and pawpaw (papaya).

All sorts of produce

All these oranges for $2.00 vatu!

At the appointed time, we lined up at the Customs building but the doors remained locked after an hour of waiting. So it was decided that we get some lunch in the meantime. Back into the truck which took us to a restaurant but alas, the restaurant was out of food. So we tried the OTHER restaurant. It had also stopped serving. So everyone settled for peanuts and a beer from the store which everyone drank while sitting outside the door of Customs. When they eventually appeared, no one was concerned in the least that we were consuming alcohol on the government steps. Gotta love this country!!


After formalities were completed, we hopped back in the truck for our long dusty journey back to Port Resolution and back to the boats. Looking like we just emerged from a coal mine, we had just enough time to wash all the sand, soot and volcanic ash off our faces before returning to the beach with Endless and Freefall and climbing back into the truck. This time our destination was the Jon Frum village where followers of the strange "cargo cult" live. The history of this village is a story within itself.

Jon Frum Village

The Jon Frum village in Sulphur Bay, Tanna, is home to one of the last remaining instances of cargoism, a "widespread religious movement among natives of the islands of Melanesia in the South Pacific." As its name suggests, cargoism is based on the worship of cargo.

History: The Jon Frum movement appeared for the first time in the 1940s in Vanuatu. At that time some 300,000 American troops established themselves in the New Hebrides. The islanders were impressed both by the egalitarianism of the Americans and their obvious wealth and power. This led them to conflate perceived benefactors such as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and John the Baptist into a mythic figure called Jon Frum, who would empower the island peoples by giving them cargo wealth. The power of Jon Frum appeared to be confirmed by the post-war influx of tourists to the region, who brought with them a degree of material prosperity to the islands. The movement was involved in the quest for independence in 1980 and continues today. Since the War, the people have been awaiting Jon Frum's return along with a magnificent bounty of supplies from the US military.

The followers of Jon Frum have over the years built warehouses, landing strips and bamboo radio towers in preparation of the arrival of air cargo from Jon Frum. The belief is that if the rituals and beliefs are adhered to tightly, that someday Jon Frum will return and bless the loyal followers with wealth in the form of various cargo items.

In its current manifestation, the cult believes that Jon Frum is "living in the crater of the Yasur volcano with five to twenty thousand men, waiting to return to the villages with gifts and supplies." Jon Frum supporters gather every Friday evening to dance and support the movement.

We arrived about 8 pm and the village was already engrossed in their ceremonies. After a brief intro with the chief, we were seated under a thatched roof which was actually the church, where a group of men sat in a circle playing guitars and singing, accompanied by some women sitting behind them. The music was very upbeat, although repetitive, we did not understand the words they were singing.

Outside the building, women in grass skirts were dancing in small groups amongst themselves. Men were dancing in a separate group but everyone was full of energy and really getting into the rhythm and beat of the music.

Then the guitar players went outside the building and resumed playing in a group at which time everyone stopped dancing. It was puzzling to us until it was explained that, when inside the church, the men were praying with song and the other villagers were praying with dance. We all got into the ritual and danced along with the locals. The song and dance actually continued on throughout the entire night until about 6am but we left around 10:30pm and headed back to the boats. 

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