Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"They will Poison You!"

"You will be eaten by Cannibals!" A word of warning desperately pleaded over 100 years ago to John G. Patton in Scotland. John G. Patton was one of the first missionaries to step foot on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu. In fact Man Tanna did eat people. In Patton’s auto biography he testified that they did attempt to eat his deceased wife and infant son who both died with in the first four months of landing on the island of Tanna presumably of Malaria.

Above is the first thing i thought of when i heard, "They will poison you!" A statement made by two of my language helpers, Loui who is from Epi an island just south of Ambrym and Joe who is from Malekula an island renown for being the last hold out for Cannibalism. Interestingly Monique, Loui's wife, is from the island of Tanna. An island who's inhabitants are currently and historically recognized for having irreconcilable differences with everything that breathes or doesn't breath but we can get into that later (Animism). They are thought of as trouble makers and "strong heads" of Vanuatu. Always ready to fight. Gretchen and Laura recently witnessed a knife fight between two Woman Tanna in the park of Port Vila. Believe it or not she, Monique, had words of warning and concern for me during my planning for a survey trip to North Ambrym as well.

The words of warning may have been because just a year ago in the capital city of Port Vila, Vanuatu one Man Ambrym was rumored to have poisoned a Man Tanna. The event that occurred after was a multi day knife, Machete, brawl throughout the streets of Port Vila. At times literally 50 yrds from my front door! A number of people were maimed, and killed due to the conflict. We heard first and second hand accounts of it from Man Ambrym during our trip.

Its funny. As we are “safe” and “comfortable” with them in their villages when they tell us stories of black magic and knife fights. It is quite surreal and almost fiction. Then when I begin to retell the story I become a bit more concerned. Please pray that our acclamation and acculturation doesn’t numb our sensitivity to serious and potentially fatal situations but as is already predestined by “The Master”.

Man Ambrym are notorious for black magic and abilities to poison others. And I have to admit I came down with such an explosive case of Diarrhea while in North Ambrym that the thought did cross my mind :). Warnings and stories, shared to back up the warnings and stories we heard in Port Vila, were often reported during my planning for Ambrym while in Port Vila and continued to be reported during my 23 hour camp out while aboard the Brisk.

The Brisk is a 20 to 30 meter barge who's main function and money maker is carrying cargo throughout the northern islands. They also carry passengers to the outer islands. It is the number one mode of travel for the Ni Vanuatu. If you read my (Houghton) last post about my trip to Santo / Malekula you know that I don't fare well on the high seas. So this was definitely something that concerned my belly. We tried to catch a plane but the flights were booked for two weeks in advance. As God would have it we then decided to find another way, any way, to get there. We priced a helicopter, talked to a very "colorful" sailor from New Zeland, and we walked down the water front of Port Vila hoping to hear the local gossip in regards to the ships. To be savvy in regards to the coming and going of the ships of Vanuatu is a comical and at times a heart wrenching game in this least developed country. You must be at the top of your game and constantly have you ear to the ground. Once savvy it is a very strategic game that must be played without emotions and full of patience. Easier said than done I assure you. We have dear SIL, Summer Institute of Linguistics, friends who have been playing the “game” for three months now and were just informed it may be a few more. They are literally stuck in Port Vila hoping to make it to Tanna to resume their work. Please pray for them.

Not having an authoritative handle of Bislama, the local trade language, and not even having a clue as to the names of the ships or where they go we were subject, no dependant, on the fullness of His Grace and Mercy and just when we couldn’t do it our selves HE DID IT! While walking we came across a couple of Ni Vans who told us that the Brisk was in port that very moment. So we did what any adventurous missionaries would have done. We caught the nearest bus (van), for a dollar a piece, to the warf where the Brisk was loading. Sure enough it was there and preparing to ship out at 1800 that night! We had planed on flying out the following day and that is what our wives and backpacks we prepared for. Needless to say we had a lot of work to do to ship out by 1800. By Gods and Gretchen's Grace :) We shipped out at approximately 2000 that night. Though we boarded at 1800.

As you can see below while on board you just kinda have to find a place to fit. There is next to no accommodations for passengers except for the crew. My teammate, Jim Kenner, and I slept on top of a couple of deep freezers that were loaded on the top level. Our heads were flush with the upper edge of the boat and only about 1 meter away from it. Every time a good size wave came aboard throughout the night we felt the moisture. The impact alone would at times move me at least 6 inches closer to the edge and thus to the sea. I didn't sleep very well that night:). I would love to go on more about the ship but this story must go on . To conclude in regards to the Brisk God was good. He even set it up in such a way that Loui my language helper from Epi traveled with us as far as Epi. He was on his holiday and traveling to visit his twin sons who school there. He was a huge help and blessing. Even though he wouldn’t even let us even breathe for ourselves.

When we woke up while aboard the brisk we had tea and breakfast biscuits (crackers) or "tack", of which I’ve grown very fond of. About 12 hours later and after a couple of stops on Epi and West Ambrym we arrived at Ranon, Ambrym. During my trip to Santo in August I had met a Man Ambrym, Philip at Telua College. (Yes the same college that Laura just blogged about). To see that go to I had gone there with Steve Gibb a team mate here in Vanuatu to check out the college and meet an American who is teaching there. Philip is currently preparing to enter into a BD, Bachelor of Divinity, Program at the college. He is also heavily involved in producing a Bislama commentary for the Bislama Bible with a small group at the college. The commentary will be a huge contribution to the theological development and education for the country, pastors and people. There is a huge void in Vanuatu for Theological resources and education especially and most importantly theological material available in the trade language (Bislama) and local vernaculars of which there are approximately 109 varying languages.

While visiting with Philip at Telua he mentioned his Village on North Ambrym and stressed a particular interest they have in attaining a Bible for their local language. He said that they have approximately 4000 who speak his language. We are still uncertain as to how many speak his language but we do know that it is a very strong language used by the masses and especially the children of which is a huge indicator as to how healthy and preferred it is. Every conversation that went on around us was in the local language and I don’t believe that it was to keep us out of there conversation though I’m sure a lot of that went on .

Before I left Telua, Philip said that December would be a great time to show me his village. Though through the coconut communication here I heard that he would not be around in December and that I would have to wait an entire year or more to visit his village. Well I didn’t like that answer and so I was smitten to find a better one. My team mates and I were trying to figure out what island to survey first anyways so I just decided to throw a few phone calls out and see where God would lead. As the Lord would have it when I called Andrew, the American professor at Telua, he told me that Philip was at his village that very moment and thought that he would remain there until the first week of November. I thought, “Are you kidding me? This is the kind of stuff you can’t make up.” So I told my team mates and the decision was made, “Ambrym it is!” There were just a few problems. I didn’t know exactly where he lived, how to get a hold of him or even if he was really there. My information was given to me with a disclaimer, “this is a rumor and I'll try to find out if it is true or not.” I never heard back, but we went, on a boat (yuck), by faith and faith alone. I’m still not sure what we would have done if he wouldn't have been there .

When we arrived it was quite the snap shot. Can you think of those snap shots that you have in your mind like the first time you met your future wife or newborn baby? OK, I wont go that far, but it was gorgeous! As pathetically shown below as it is. Human hands nor clever inventions will ever be able to capture or reproduce the beauty of the creation of God. But we can try so please use your imagination . The ship literally drove right up to the side of the island surgically dodging all of the coral reefs and then it dropped its lid right on the black sand beach. The colors were so vivid and contrasted with each other between the black skin, luscious green canopy, black sand beach, deep purple water, I could go on forever and I haven’t even mentioned that brilliant rainbow. It was the first rainbow I had ever seen where you could see where it started and stopped all in one look. It literally came down right in front of where the boat dropped its lid. Each color popped individually so brilliantly yet accented the other it was just breath taking. Hard to take the eyes off of anyways.

We weren’t mesmerized for too long before the Ni Vans insisted, “Whiteman Bae yu go nao!” or, “hey white guys its time to go. This is your stop.” So off we went. Below is a picture of the boat from the beach.

I will end on this for now. Please check back again. I will have more in the near future. Thanks!

1 comment:

Laura Thulesen said...

Wow, awesome post you guys!