31 Oct 2019

Ancient Traditions on Vanikoro

Te Puke, Vanikoro, Secrets, N.Nightingale

This morning found us anchored in Dillon's Passage, between the two lushly forested islands of Vanikoro. In the morning we visited the village of Usily on the larger island of Banie. Here we found an ocean-going outrigger sailing canoe called a Te Puke, complete with a small thatched house on its deck to protect the crew. It was an amazing feat of traditional engineering, constructed entirely of natural materials, the various elements all bound together with fibre cords. Sailing from Taumako a year ago, on its way to Vanuatu, bad weather had forced it to land here. The plan was to resume the voyage in a few months.

Later we explored a beautiful reef at the mouth of Dillon's Passage. It had a wealth of hard corals of numerous shapes and colours, teeming with fish, in just a metre or two of water - so perfect for an easy snorkel. Meanwhile, the birders had spotted some species unique to these islands: the Vanikoro Monarch, Vanikoro Flycatcher and an endemic subspecies of the Rufous Fantail.

This afternoon we enjoyed a Zodiac cruise through a tall forest of mangroves. It was an atmospheric location, with diffuse sunlight filtering down from the canopy and bird calls echoing through the trees. Next, on a small mangrove islet, we discovered a monument to a double shipwreck, when a French expedition led by Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de La Pérouse came to a disastrous end during a violent cyclone in 1788. As we drifted by, flocks of Whimbrel and Grey-tailed and Wandering Tattlers swirled overhead.

The climax to our day came with a visit to Buma, on the smaller island of Tevai. Here we were treated to a spectacular Temate spirit dance, unique to Vanikoro. The dancers performed in huge costumes of grass, topped by bright red and white masks with long spikes. Completely swathed and barely able to see, they rushed back and forth across the sandy village square, narrowly missing each other. A smaller figure in a tightly bound costume of natural fibre performed the humorous role of a clown. It was an extraordinary finale to our wonderful voyage through the Solomon Islands. Tonight we head for Vanuatu.

Image (c) N.Nightingale, Heritage Expeditions

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