Sunday, November 4, 2012

9-23 Following a Deadman

Funeral procession, the flowers are covering the coffin
After our last trip to Vila, we came back to Pentecost at the same time as Eric, the PCV in the southeast corner of the island. I've been wanting to get down to visit him more or less since we got to Pentecost. The idea of going to the east side of Pentecost is fascinating and I've heard a lot of wonderful things about his village.

The truck driver he called to take him to Ranwas was the same driver we usually use. The driver lives about an hour's walk south of Vansemakul. Since the driver was taking Eric down to Ranwas and then going back to Waterfall village, we thought we'd tag along for the ride. We all agreed on this plan in the Vila airport.

Remember how well planning transport has gone for us in the past? Yep, still works that well.

We got to Pentecost and found out that Eric's uncle in the village had died. He'd been in the hospital in Vila so the body was coming back on the plane behind us. We had to wait for the body, or the people with the body, or something. I chatted with a group of women and got the post office opened up to get our mail. We waited for a few hours.

The body came with seven people and a truck's worth of Chinese bags, suitcases, mats and other such things. We danced around trying to figure out how to get a coffin, seven crying people, three PCVs and all the stuff up to Ranwas. Jason and I volunteered to walk to Vansemakul and not go to Ranwas. In fact, we started walking. We got about three minutes down the road when the truck came and got us. They'd called a second truck and now there was plenty of room. Sort of.

We ended up on the same truck as the coffin. Not my favorite place to be, less because of the coffin and more because of the intense grief and grieving process here. I mean, I can't say that I'm a fan of dead bodies, but they don't squick me out too much and this one was firmly covered in a coffin, so there really was nothing to squick out about. The wailing, screaming grief on the other hand, I haven't learned to handle.

The truck went slowly, as befits a funeral procession. It was not the usual pace for the driver who seems to believe in two speeds- “crossing the river” and “try to toss everyone out of the back of the truck.” We arrived in the first village twenty minutes later. The truck stopped next to a gathering of women. I saw the wailing coming and jumped out of the truck. I had a nice sit down on a tree root while everyone cried over the body. Then I got back in the truck and on we went.

After the third village, I switched to the second truck in the caravan, the one that was full of all the things. That was much more my speed. I like inanimate objects when my other options is a coffin full of deadman. Not that that was animate, either. That would be a zombie.

The football team carried the body from the truck up to the
house.  I don't know if they were in uniform anyway
or if they kitted up  to be pall bearers.
We continued that way for another few villages until we got to the last one before the ascent to the east. There, we stopped and took the body off the truck and brought it into someone house to cry properly. The people not busy crying were busy cooking so we had some rice in a leaf while we waited.

They brought the body back out and onto the truck. The truck in the back, the one I'd been riding in, turned around to go back to the airport. We took out all the stuff and stood around in confusion. Another truck came, which no one else was surprised about. I guess the usual ni-Van telepathy kicked in and I missed the memo. Still, we jumped on that truck and off we went.

The drive up was very, very pretty. Stunning views out over the ocean or across jungle-covered valleys. We saw a few people from Bunlap, the kastom village in the south. They are recognizable as being from Bunlap because they don't wear clothes. As we arrived in Ranwas, they started the funeral. We continued on the truck until it stopped, then we left the funeral party and the falling-down grief.

Ranwas is a tidy village with about three times the population of Vansemakul. They have their own Aid Post and primary school up to year 6. There is a main nakamal and several smaller ones, which seems to be the normal layout in the south. The other villages I've been to there have a similar system. I got told that being a vegetarian is the best option because it means I don't eat whiteman food. I don't think the person telling me that noticed the irony of me being white.

We went to the internment part of the funeral and then hung around for awhile longer and chatted with people. We got given some more rice in a leaf. That is the standard at funerals. After about two hours, it was dusk and the driver was impatient. We jumped in and waited another half an hour for the rest of the people following the truck down.

Sunset over the mountain.  Yep, still beautiful here.
The drive down the mountain was more beautiful than the drive up had been. We were driving into the sunset which cast crimson and sapphire shadows through the valleys and created silhouettes of the black palms. The sun set completely before we got back to the shore.

We didn't make it back to our house until well past dark. I think it took about two hours from when we reached the shore to when we arrived in Vansemakul. The day was full of travel, but it was worth it to take that detour. A bit of kastom and a bit of sightseeing always make a good day.




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