Wedding Drums

Tuesday 15 June 2010 (South West Bay)

Five wet and bedraggled sailors have come in from the dark and rainy night. Its only rained twice in the last 2 days. Once all day yesterday and today, all afternoon. This afternoon the rain was heavy. All the lane ways in the village turned to raging torrents of water. Cooking huts were washed through and the chooks and other animals in the village were very sad and sorry. But the day started on a better note.
Today was the wedding day of Chedwa and Jane. Chedwa’s grandmother, Mary Grace used to live at South West Bay and the couple decided that the best place to have their wedding was here in the village of Wintua on the bay.  We all got up early. Chris made bread and the men set about having the first shave since leaving Port Villa. We all put on our best shorts and t-shirts. Many people remarked how smart we looked. The medical team expressed similar sentiments with a tint of relief that we had sharpened up our act.
Richard radioed us at half seven; “Chimere, Chimere this is Richard, over”; “This is Chimere, go ahead Richard”; “Can you bring your cameras and video cameras so you can film the kustom ceremony, over”; “Richard, this is Chimere, will do and we are on our way”; “Numbawan, Richard out”. So the day had started. Sun was starting to shine through the cloud cover, painting the coastal country in a golden relief. The weather looked promising.
When we got ashore Tim, from the medical team was assigned to the bride’s party to film the preparations while I was assigned to the groom. The 2 parties separated and the groom was taken to a partly completed concrete block building which had walls and roof. The groom stripped off and was dressed and decorated by a team of NiVans. Arm bands into which decorations were interlaced were first. Then a waist band and head band. Chetwa’s chest was painted in black lines in a V shape. He was handed a ceremonial pig killing club and bow and arrows.
When the groom’s dressing was complete three men with conch shells, each with a different pitch, sounded a rhythmic fanfare. The groom then led the way to the village square where the ceremony was to be held. On the way he stopped to assemble the “bride price”. The bride price included a midsized pig, tapa cloth, money, yams, kava, banana and cassava. The bride also had some gifts including a cockerel which she gave to the father of the groom. The payment of the bride price was made in the village square in front of the gathered villagers. The bride and groom were at each end of the square together with their relatives. Once the bride price was paid the groom was allowed to “get what he paid for”. With great dignity he walked across the square and tapped his bride on the head with the bow and she went to him. From then on they were together. In Kustom law they were now married. However, these days the marriage must be a civil or church wedding in accordance with Vanuatu law. The bride and groom adjourned to prepare for the church wedding later in the morning.
We are expecting a wind change soon so at the end of the kustom ceremony we took the short walk to the top of the cliff to look down on Chimere in the bay and be sure all was well. We then went directly to the church to await the wedding service where the church drums had been beaten to announce the service. Our gallant crew all sat at the back but it wasn’t long before an old man in the front row beckoned us to sit with him. I went to the front which effectively got the others off the hook. They remained where they were. Gradually people filled the church, ladies on one side and men on the other. Mothers with young children sat on mats at the back of the church with their babies on their laps. About 200 people filled the church. Outside the occasional light shower glistened in the sun and didn’t worry any one. A choir led by a man playing an electronic organ (the only electricity available was a small generator to run the PA system) sang beautiful songs while we waited for the bride. In keeping with tradition everywhere, the bride was late. It didn’t matter because she was in good company. The groom and the pastor were also late. We gathered at 10am and the service started at 11am. Eventually the sounds of men singing to the strumming of a guitar were heard and they led the bride and groom to the church from the nearby guest house where they dressed. The bride and groom walked together under an arch of palm fronds bedecked with flowers and carried by two young girls. Aunt Rosie carried the train. Nearly everyone wore bare feet and sloshed through the water-logged grass to get to the church. The bride wore a beautiful traditional white wedding dress. A more technical description of the dress for the benefit of our lady readers I am not equipped to provide. I can only say she looked radiantly beautiful.
Once inside the church the family sat on the right hand side facing the side and opposite the choir. Pastor Peter led the service which was recognizable from services back home. At the end, an elder of the church made a moving speech about the importance of maintaining the relationship with the Whyte family who had brought Christianity to them in the first place. All the gathered people in the church were charged with helping the young couple keep their vows and the elder reciprocated the Rev Whyte’s example by presenting a Bible in Bislama to the couple.
Chedwa and Jane made very good responding speeches then left the church after shaking hand with everyone as they left.
The men who sang the heralding song returned and led the newlyweds and the congregation through the village to the village square where a magnificent feast was waiting. The school children were given time off school and watched on very excitedly. The wedding party tent, we discovered, included us, so we sat behind the couple. After cutting the enormous wedding cake (big enough to feed a village) the newlyweds adjourned to change.
Pastor Peter acted as MC from the stage at the other end of the square. Towards the end he announced that there was to be an eye clinic this afternoon and also a mud brick stove building demonstration. Something not to be missed; if my translation of Bislama is correct. Martin and I looked at each other with mild alarm. We had promised to show the mud brick making process that Rob had spoken of so frequently during Tour 1 this year. However, that was yesterday and we got interrupted by the mercy dash of sterile water. Now it was number 3 billing on the day’s activities. We hadn’t had time to make up the brick molds so we left the lunch and hurried back to the boat to get our materials ready. So much for a quiet first go at it so we knew what we were doing. We set up the drill and other tools on the saloon table as it had started to rain. Half way through construction of the molds from the precut pieces of wood we had with us, the drill snapped off. We gave the job away, gathered up the sample mold we had plus the materials for 2 more and went back to the village square. It was now pouring down and we were saturated. A PA announcement told people that there would now be a mud brick demonstration. We were led to a wide veranda with a concrete floor and ask to show the gathered crowd about mud brick making. “Ah yes but we need to find clay and dig it up.” I said, shouting to be heard of the rain. “It’s OK we have clay in this bag.” In that bag was beautiful potter’s clay. Too good for the mud bricks, but we ran with it. We were now on show and there was a big crowd to please. Perfect rainy day entertainment. “OK that’s good. Should we move it outside?” I asked. “No, no, no do it here” the man implored. Right oh then. “well what we need to do is mix this clay with some sand” I went on. Almost before the words were said the man instructed the young men to go to the beach and come back with sand “Go, go sand sand”. Those guys really moved and sand was back in front of before we had time to miss a beat. I had thought a little introduction would have been good. You know, explain about low smoke stoves, and the health benefits etc. But we couldn’t be heard over the rain and the people wanted a demonstration. They would figure out what it was about later. Martin started shoveling the sand into the clay and mixing it. I mouthed the words “we’ll need water soon” to Martin and the man called the lads to get water. They just held the bucket out into the rain and it filled up that quickly. The mixing reached a point where we felt hands were needed. How are we doing so far Rob?. The sticky red clay was well mixed and when nearly ready we asked for dry pandanas. That was a bit funny language wise because wet, dried pandanas would do. At that moment everything was wet. The man was struggling to think of where he could source dry dried pandanas. Eventually, I said “Not green pandanas” and everyone was smiles and we finished the mix. Then with a bit of theatre we slopped the sticky red goo into the mold, pushed it well in and struck it off. Then, again with a bit of theatre, the mold was lifted up leaving the finished brick behind. Martin remained in the centre of the circle talking to the group while I skirted around the edges where the women stood shyly. I showed them the pictures in the “how to” booklet and emphasized  that the bricks are for stoves and use less wood and have less smoke. They were very interested and found others to talk to and discuss it with. One man remained with me the rest of the afternoon. He wanted to use it to build a house. Once the crowd appeared to be managing the show by themselves Martin and I cleaned up the tools and walked to the guest house to see what the wedding family were doing. Our own crew were back on board using the rain to solve a shortage of water in the tanks problem. To get to the guest house we walked over the lane ways that we trod earlier in the day. Now they were torrents of water and everything was a sodden and I even started feeling a bit cold from being wet to the skin.
With the day nearly over Martin and I splashed away to the clinic at the other end of the village and helped them pack up. All their boxes were carried down to the shore via the slippery cliff. The ocean water was warm. Eventually we got the equipment aboard with the help of Paul, Grant and Carl who were all ready standing in the rain at the ships edge to get things aboard. And that is were this log entry started. Five wet crew bundling down below to dry off and change and have a big dinner prepared by Chris. Now its time for sleep. We have a half six appointment on the beach to pick up the medical team and sail them north.
Fair winds, Smooth seas  and wedding drums.

5 thoughts on “Wedding Drums”

  1. Welcome to the Exclusive Order of Mud Brickery. It sounds like SW Bay will become the first Malekula chapter of the soon-to-be-established Mud Brick Institute of Vanuatu?! Way to go. Such pressure, a true performance. Well done.
    Rob Latimer

  2. Hey Andrew
    Fabulous journalism & story-telling.
    I thought Rob was good but you give him ‘a run for his money’!

  3. Michael ( Chedwa’s Uncle ) and his wife Catriona ( Kate ) would like to congratulate the happy couple, Jane and Chedwa, on their spectacular wedding in Wintua Village — just sorry we could not attend ( it’s a LONG WAY from WALES )

  4. Spectacular set of pics for us to pass on to others in the family here in U.K. THANK YOU

  5. hey dad, just thought id drop u a message to let u know im thinking about u and missing u heaps, hope ur having a great time, looks to me like u are, its cold here now .. mum n ellie are all good, stacey and ben too .. take care n see u very soon love n miss u xxxx p.s ur birthday next week what better place to b spending it then in vanuatu

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