Beautiful Banks – Unforgettable Festive Celebrations. Island Spirit magazine.

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Beautiful Banks. Unforgettable Festive Celebrations.

By Simon Humphries

Christmas to New Year 2006 offered tourists and guests to Rah Island and Mota Lava a unique, culturally rich and extraordinary time in the beautiful Banks region of north Vanuatu. It was an opportunity to experience the season’s celebrations and festivities in a special local way. Christmas Eve 2006 was filled with anticipation as carol singers visited homes at all hours of the day and night and busy preparations were made for the days and nights of activities to follow.

A Christmas Day church service on Mota Lava powerfully combines elements of Melanesian and Western custom, dance and ritual. This is something the people of Mota Lava are unique in doing and have demonstrated by request on other islands in the past. It is also one of the special highlights for tourists and guests who come during a festival. A gospel choir also sang and danced. After the church service a large birthday cake was cut, accompanied by fun songs and dances performed especially for the day by a number of excellent local string bands.

Christmas afternoon was filled with custom dancing. Highlights included the Banks magic hat dance. Some of the hats were adorned with objects such as an airplane, an island, a watermelon or other food, a variety of large fish, and a ginger cat standing tall on one dancer’s head. The locals were very excited to see a special dance by the chiefs not performed for 30 years which involved the senior representative of the chiefs with vine wrapped around his torso being hit with sticks during the dance. The women also performed. Many people often joined in the dancing. The children performed a range of dances, from custom dance to an hilarious demonstration of the ill effects of adults drinking kava. Included in the day’s program was a demonstration of Western hip hop dancing by locals boys. Christmas day on Mota Lava has a strong local flavour and is a culturally rich and very fun experience for all.

The nights from Xmas to New Year were filled with parties, disco dances and DVD movies in the villages. Boxing Day was family day when people share a relaxing time with their relatives. On Dec 28 and 29 there were 6 weddings in the local villages which a large number of guests from Port Vila came for. One wedding combined Western and Melanesian cultures and was followed by custom dancing, the paying of the bride price ritual, a large feast, more dancing and then the villagers presenting their gifts as the bride was shown to her new home and her parents said farewell to their daughter. The locals showed excellent hospitality and assisted tourists and guests to be as informed and involved as they wished.

Warm days drifted by filled with volleyball (the locals are excellent players), soccer and children’s games while the adults rested or made preparations. New Year’s Eve was full of parties, dancing, DVD movies, singing and string bands. At midnight the gas cylinder bells were rung and rung and rung so the whole island knew it was now New Year’s Day and a time to celebrate.

Between all of these festivities tourists dived for lobsters at night, caught fish during the day, had a tour of the rock of Rah (a custom reserve bank for shell money), climbed to the top for panoramic views, and shared fun times and entertaining stories with locals. There are excellent corals with an array of fish to snorkel around near the marine conservation area on Rah Island. At night meals were often fresh fish, lobster or coconut crab plus some local treats only found on Mota Lava or in the Banks.

“Tourism is everybody’s business.”

The Rah Island community of chiefs, bungalow owners and their wives, women’s group, church leaders, local government representative and citizens met to discuss tourism development for their island in 2007. They have been led by Father Luke Dini over the past few months in working with Simon Humphries from Vanuatu Custom Travel to improve standards, knowledge and understanding and to lift sustainable tourism on their island to a new level. They have been developing innovative opportunities with strong local support and healthy rewards through some exciting tourism initiatives facilitated and managed by Vanuatu Custom Travel. The new direction was declared a ‘golden opportunity’ by Patron Wosei, the new Rah Island chief for 2007. He encouraged the community to work together as one for the benefit of all. Through discussion and demonstration the Rah Island community understood that tourism is everybody’s business as the responsibilities and rewards are shared and spread across the whole community.

2007 is looking like a very exciting year for Mota Lava and Rah Island tourism. They are developing initiatives for new festivals, eco-tourism and cultural tourism. They have opened their islands up to cultural sharing and exchange for the benefit of visitors and locals. Vanuatu Custom Travel, an Australian based organisation working closely with rural island communities in Vanuatu, has assisted them and is offering tourists and guests the opportunity to share in this very beautiful culture, people and place in Vanuatu’s paradise. If you would like to be involved in establishing some exciting new community building tourism initiatives or want to visit and see for yourself this and other beautiful parts of Vanuatu ‘off the beaten track’ then see and email .They will be very pleased to offer their specialist assistance, unique village access and custom crafted tour programs to help you discover hidden magical parts of paradise.

Festivals for 2007

See the islands at their best during festivals. Major Festivals for 2007 are on January 25 (St Paul’s Day), June 11 (St Barnabas Day), August 24 (St Bartholomew’s Day), September (date to be confirmed) Mota Lava Arts Festival, September 29 (‘new’ Round Rah Island Canoe Race), November 30 (St Andrew’s Day), December 25 (Christmas Day) and December 31 (New Year’s Eve). The festivals have unique cross cultural church services, dancing, feasts and local customs such as traditional reef fishing with coconut palms, bows and arrows. These are very rare and rich experiences with beautiful people in an idyllic location.

From the experiences of 2006, tourists and guests can look forward to their time on Rah Island and Mota Lava to be fun, authentic and unforgettable. Go and you will know.