Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Going to Vanuatu

I've booked a cheap (<$400NZD) ticket to visit Vanuatu from Dec. 19 to Dec. 26. I'm really looking forward to the visit, although a bit uncomfortable about the fact that there is malaria, dengue, typhoid, and a variety of other exotic diseases (including leprosy!) there, and supposedly no real modern healthcare facilities. Oh well, I suppose I'll just have to take some extra precautions.

I plan on staying a few days on Efate, as my flight will be landing there in Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital. I plan on spending most of my time on Tanna, where I will visit Mount Yasur, an active volcano that has been erupting constantly since the first European explorers arrived on the island (in fact, it was the glow of the volcano that apparently attracted the first explorers there). I am kind of scared about this volcano trip - although it is not too common, once in a while, with an unpredictable larger eruption, it apparently hurls a shower of lava bombs at the visitors, and people have been killed there before. Apparently everyone is told to watch the lava bombs, and if one comes for you, don't run, but step out of its way. I suppose I'll just be extremely cautious there and hope that no explosions are big enough to hurl lava bombs at me while I am on the volcano. Other than that, I'm looking forward to seeing some of the traditional "kastom" villages there, as well as the cargo cult villages - the most famous of which is the John Frum cult. Although different sources seem to report different beliefs, from what I gather, it is a cult that believes a god manifesting as a white man in western-style clothing will return one February 15th, celebrated annually as John Frum Day, and bring the villagers great riches. It is believed that this will only happen if the villagers return to a very traditional way of life, shunning western technology, missionaries, not attending school, and ridding themselves of money. Some believe John Frum to be a manifestation of a spirit that lives in the volcano, some believe that he is a vision, and some even believe that John Frum and Jesus are the same being after interacting with Christian missionaries. The cult seems to recognise that John Frum is from the USA and is associated with the US army, and they even have a ritualistic "Tanna Army" organisation, who puts on mock military parades. Many speculate the origins of this cult are from anonymous military men from the US army who introduced themselves as "John from the US" during World War II. Interestingly, this beliefs stills seems to be quite strong in the area, strong enough to obtain a seat in parliament for the John Frum political party. I'll report more about it when I learn more from the locals!

In any case, I will definitely take the utmost precautions, but this should be a very interesting trip if the weather cooperates and things go smoothly!