8-12 Farewell Feast

Wrapping up the work with the soldiers
On Wednesday (July 25th), the community did a goodbye feast for the French army. For as disorganized as everything here is, they put on a good farewell when they want to.
It started with the military doing their own internal thing where they did a bunch of thank you presents and marched in lines. Of course the kiwis made the marching look formal and natural. The ni-Vans looked like they’d learned it yesterday, but they did march so I’ll give them that.
Then they came two-by-two down to the school. The students had set up enough chairs for all of them, broken up by regiment. There were 6 kiwis, 6 ni-Vans and 2 regiments for a total of 82 French soldiers. Before they went to their seats, the year ten girls hung salusalus on every one of them.
That is a lot of salusalus. It takes about half an hour to make one, so the man hours are impressive.
Hanging salusalus. There were a lot.
They took their seats and then there was speeches in French. The midwife gave a thank you speech on behalf of the Health Center, one of the teachers who is the son of the high chief of Melsisi gave the thank you speech on behalf of the community and another teacher spoke for the school. There were a few more along the way. Finally, they got to the gift giving.
The hung a basket on each soldier. Again, that is a LOT of man hours. The baskets weren’t simple ones either. Some were white with patterns of holes or raised texture woven in, some were colorful with woven flowers or geometric designs, some were woven to make the Vanuatu flag and some had the word Vanuatu woven around the top. I know I’ve been here for awhile when I can appreciate the subtle differences in ranks of basket weaving. It took awhile to hang a basket on every one of the soldiers.

A REALLY flas chief staff.

There is something uniquely and wonderfully Vanuatu about a bunch of soldiers sitting in plastic lawn chairs wearing rings of flowers and colorful baskets. It was a perfect Vanuatu moment. Culture clash in the best way possible.
After they gave the ‘generic’ gifts they got into the big stuff. They gave the commander of the operation a chief’s staff with two pig’s tusks. That is a serious gift. A pig’s tusk is worth between $100 USD and $500 USD, depending on how far it curls around. The ones of the staff were in the $100-200 range. They gave the second in command a red mat, which value around $50 USD. I’m giving the monetary equivalent of these items but it doesn’t quite line up that way. Red mats are used for every kastom exchange from bride prices and funerals to fines and rank taking ceremonies. The chief staffs are rare items only used for ceremony. The chiefs don’t bring them out unless there is kastom happening and then only for big kastom like court or major meetings. They don’t come out at a wedding, those are too common.
This is a skull crusher.
The French regiment got a skull crusher replicated from the oral traditions. The original disappeared when Christianity came to the area, which was also the end of the inter-tribal wars. (Mostly, anyway.) The nakamals would almost count coup with it, as far as I can tell. The nakamal with the skull crusher was the dominant nakamal and stealing it was part of taking away that dominance. The skull crusher also had 2 pig’s tusks on it, those ones on the higher end of the $200 USD equivalent.
Then the kids sang. They did the French anthem to start with. They are getting almost good at that one. Then they did the Vanuatu anthem, which they all know pretty well. The finished with Auld Lang Syne with the lyrics changed slightly to talk about Melsisi. I don’t know what they were actually saying since that was in French.
The army gave lots of presents as well. They gave a New Caledonian sculpture to the Health Center, which is now hanging on the wall there, they gave some other New Caledonian art to the priest and to the high chief of the area. Then they gave all the soccer balls and volley balls they could buy in Melsisi to the school. Perfect timing since we have the provincial inter-varsity tournament in a few weeks.
Traditional new caledonian carving
You can’t have a ceremony on Pentecost without kava. So, they came in with a pubell or garbage can full of kava. They started the kava with the top brass and worked their way down. They did representatives from the kiwis and the ni-Vans, though the highest officer in the ni-Van group didn’t drink kava, so he passed his shell on to someone else. That is the proper way of doing things here, if you can’t drink a shell that has been given to you, you pass it on to some one else. Then they went into the rank and file. All but two of the soldiers took a shell. Even the ones who were a bit frightened of it did it.
Kava ceremony
The community put out a whole lot of food. There were all three kinds of meat and at least 2 different laplaps. It was up to the individuals if they wanted to drink more kava or dance to the music playing or eat. Some of the soldiers did some break dancing, which got quite a crowd. The students loved it. The older students were about the same age as the younger soldiers, so they had sort of become friends over the three weeks.
I chatted with my two buddies, the radio guy and the mechanic. We got them to drink more kava than either of them had ever had before, despite being stationed in New Caledonia. It was fun to sit and BS with people who I don’t see every day, or nearly every day and to talk to men who I don’t have to worry are trying to get in my pants or will assume I’m trying to get in their pants. (The gender divide is that strong, even talking implies sexual interest.)
Dance time!
The cook and the camp sergeant had choreographed a dance with the boarder girls. The girls went and changed into their ‘costumes’ and they did the dance. It was fun to watch the girls get up and do the dance and it was more fun to watch the chef do it. He looks like Mr. Miyagi. The girls also did a small thank you gift to the two of them and then they repeated their dance.
We wound down the evening late by ni-Van standards but early by French standards. I think it was about 10 pm when we all went to bed. I was sorry to see the night end.  

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