03 Nov 2019
Magic and Mystery in Ambrym
We anchored close to the volcanic island of Ambrym for our final landing on 'Secrets of Melanesia'. As we set out for shore a low mist clothed the green hills, giving the place an air of mystery. This island is renowned for its magic and sorcery and we were promised a glimpse of a very special ceremony.
After landing on a beach of black volcanic sand some of us walked up through the forest to Ranon Village, while others were given a lift in a couple of trucks. Once there, we had strict instructions about how and where we could view the ceremony. First, we were greeted with chants from the participants, who we could observe only from behind some bushes. Finally, we were allowed into the ceremonial area. There a group of chiefs stood in traditional dress of waist band and penis sheath, with feathers or flowers in their hair. They were flanked by huge figures, swathed completely in coats of dried banana leaves, topped by remarkable-looking, multi-coloured conical masks. Together they performed the Rom Dance.
The dance is a complex set of rituals and magic, which celebrate the time when a man moves up a 'grade' in society. It's a striking performance, the masked figures swaying dramatically back and forth, while the chiefs set the rhythm with a drum and by stomping their feet on the hard earth. The sequence of moves was repeated over and over again. It was one of the most splendid and unusual performance of the entire voyage.
But we had one more surprise in store, on our final snorkel. This one was different to any we'd experienced before because the coral outcrops were growing on black volcanic sand. The vibrant colours of the reef stood out in dramatic contrast against the dark background, a striking underwater scene. This was the just the last of many unique experiences we'd enjoyed on 'Secrets of Melanesia', experiences often so dramatically different to anything in our own lives.
Image (c) N.Nightingale, Heritage Expeditions
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