The Servant Chief

17 July 2009, 9:14 PM (Losolava, Gaua Island))

Up again this morning early – slept in till 5:20am, sheer luxury – and away from this beautiful Lakona Bay, (Tolap et al villages) around 7:00am.

Richard and Jessy found accommodation in the village so it was a simple matter of picking them up in the dinghy, lifting the boat aboard and tidying up before heading out.

There was little to no wind and the sea was flat calm. The sky was clear and the warming rays of the sun soon popped their way over the lush green mountains rising into the distance.

Just prior to us leaving we had a collection of canoes gather around Chimere.  The first was the delivery of another passenger – this time Paramount Chief John Star.  A quiet man possibly around 60.  The title sounds grand, and in a way it is, but in chatting with John and asking him many questions, it is clear that for a chief to be a good chief, they must be “quiet”, in the “background”, “not forcing change”, “for the people”, “not fighting”..

“So how do you become a chief”, I asked.  “You kill a hundred pigs.” said John.  “That’s a lot of pigs”, I inquired.  “Yes, a lot of pigs .. 100 pigs in one day” he continued.

“You mean, you kill 100 pigs in one day?”  I inquired even further, trying not to misunderstand what he was saying.

“Yes, big ceremony, big feast” John said quietly, “everybody eat”

Then Jo asked, “was your father a chief?”  “Yes”, replied John “and my grand father and great grand father.  They were all chiefs”.

“I kill only 25 pigs”, said John “First 5 pigs.  Then 10 pigs.  Then more later.  My grandfather killed more than 100 pigs”

I first met John Star yesterday at the clinic and then again on the beach when he asked me, “Are you captain of boat”,  “Yes I am.  Can I do anything” I said, because a question like that is generally leading somewhere.

“Could I come with you to Vureas Bay on Vanua Lava.  I need to get there – for family?”

“Yeh, sure, I don’t see a problem with that, but I’ll need to chat with Richard to make sure it fits in with his schedule.” I said.  At this stage I had no idea who he was.  Then I recognised him as the man in the canoe who first met us when we came in and told us where we could anchor – he called up the dolphins by tapping the side of his canoe with the paddle.  “Thank you for helping us anchor earlier on”  I said.  He had a cap on, which said “manager”.  I jokingly said, “So, you are the manager around here” pointing to his cap.  He laughed and said “yes the manager”

It’s now a bit after 9:00am and we are approaching Losolava.  I heard someone say, “he’s going to a meeting of chiefs”,

“You mean John?  I thought it was a family thing?”

I asked John about his reason for going to Vureas Bay in the course of our conversation while having breakfast down the back of the boat, as we glided through the still waters, and he quietly said,

“Yes, I am paramount chief of this region and I will meet with all other chiefs.  We talk about what we are doing in our villages and how we can improve things.  Then I go to other islands, Mota Lava, then I go to Santo in September.  Sometimes I go to Vila for big meeting of chiefs.”

It was a fascinating discussion.  This morning he was delivered to the boat by canoe by the oldest of 4 sons,  right on 6:00am, as agreed the night before.  John’s son will be the next paramount chief – but so far he has only killed 5 pigs.

So the prime character traits of a chief can be summarised as – humility, servanthood, listening, hard work and patience – Maybe I’ll get John Star to give a few talks in Australia.

John will stay tonight with family in Losolava, and will come aboard tomorrow morning at 6:00 when we take everyone to Vureas Bay, north west about 20 miles on the island of Vanua Lava.  (do you notice there’s a lot of lava about – it’s no coincidence that there’s also a lot of volcanos about!)

The other canoe that came around upon our departure was the man and his very cute little one year old girl.  They wanted to give Jo some vegies.  Jo gave the little girl two pink hair clips which she attached to the few curls the little girl had.  It was very sweet.

The final canoe was a man selling lobster.  “How much?” I enquired.  “1000 vatu for the big one, 500  vatu for the small one”,  he said quietly.  “When did you catch them” I asked, “Yesterday” came the reply.

“I’ll check with the cook”  I said.

After a few short minutes I returned with the 1500 vatu, which Mike later said, after talking to Richard that it was a good price.  In Vila they are 4000 vatu each and on Ambrym they are supposed to be 50 vatu – free market forces of supply and demand at work!

Later on, Jo asked Richard about cooking them and he said, “They’re already cooked, just heat them up, or eat them”

Rest assured, space was made in the fridge for our new purchases!!

We’re nearly at the coral entrance to Losolava, must go.

It is now evening time and we have finished the clinic here in Losolava.  We’ve had a wonderful dinner of lobster, fish, local vegies and rice (complements of Jo and Mike)- oh, yes, Chris caught two wonderful fish on the way back from Tolap this morning (one of which was followed by a shark to the surface)- all jokes about wasting time and inadequacy are silenced.  The catching of the fish, for the benefit of Mikes work colleagues, was an efficient operation, using quality materials, for the service of others – there, got the three words in.

The first patient at the clinic was Jessy, who came down with a bout of malaria – high temperature, (40 degrees,) shivering (she wanted a sleeping bag), severe headache and fever.  She chose her moment – onshore, at the clinic and with a doctor at hand – she’s a very considerate patient.

There were few patients, so Simon and I set about building a set of steps for the front of the clinic. The concrete steps which made up step one and two, were OK, but steps three and four were non existent.  As it turned out, there were a few lengths of timber under a nearby building and with a broad selection of materials and equipment on board it was a straightforward job – apart from the heat and humidity.

We caught up with the Aussie volunteers late today after their arrival by plane and they were all excited.  They will be delivered to the boat around 7:00am by local boat (who we had to give 5 litres of fuel because he had none).  The medical volunteers are staying in bungalows close to the airport and because the one vehicle on the island is still dead, it seemed better to come through the reef by small boat, rather than by one hour walk – with bags.

So much is going on, the early mornings, late nights, clinics in different places each day and tomorrow we take on a further 9 people for the trip north to VanuaLava. The weather forecast looks good – the biggest risk will be sun burn.  Chris is already talking about the fish, the recipes and filling the freezer!!

Smooth sea, fair breeze and start collecting pigs now if you want to become chief.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.