Black Magic

◊ Black Magic ◊

Part II
26/12/2015 - 10:34

The next day I sit in the grass of the nearby village Namasari and reread what I wrote the day before. I wonder if I am not too harsh with Bill and the other men leading the ceremony. Many feelings of the past few months have materialised into thought yesterday.

Realising I haven’t really eaten anything yet I grab one of the many nearby Mangos, peel it and take a bite. Oh, how I love you Mango season! In my paradise it’s always this time of the year.

James, my newly won young friend and me walk over to the village centre. It’s busy on this day, and the people stand separated by gender, preparing the food for the festivities. A ded man seremoni, a funeral, for a well-known and apparently well-liked, young man. He died of a liver problem that no doctor here could heal. And because he was young and there seems to be no apparent, understandable explanation for his death many people believe he was killed with Black Magic.

It is a widespread, ancient belief, fuelled by a high child mortality rate and barely available western medicine and surgery. The idea is that certain shamans, especially on spiritually strong islands like Ambrym and Tanna have the power to kill people through kastom rituals involving the killing of pigs with their bare feet. On some islands you hear of poisoning through plants. It reminds me of Voodoo and other shamanic beliefs.

A funeral in the Banks islands stretches all together over a year. After the death everybody who knew the “ded man” gathers with the family and buries the corpse. A feast is prepared. The next days the family stays together and griefs and many people, especially relatives, take the role of the preparation of feasts.

These happen 5, 10, 50, 100 and 365 days after the death. Each one includes the killing of pigs or bulluks (cows) and masses of vegetables like Taro, Manioc and Yam cooked in hot stones. For these feasts the village and everybody who knew the ded, as they casually relate to him, comes and contributes food and work in the form of meat, rice, vegetables or Kava.

It is a joyful, lively occasion which celebrates the late person rather than mourning for them. Into this festive atmosphere I enter Namasari and the first person I encounter is, of course, Bill the pastor. He wears a black T-shirt with a more decent, golden, cross-hanged chain around his neck. He remembers me and takes me around. There seems to be someone looking after me at all times, I am just switching hosts.

As I listen to him talk I start to like something about him. He has a very calm and thoughtful way of talking and is meditative in his movements. He seems to rest within himself. An attitude that in the church might have seemed mystical or dramatic, but now shows it’s authenticity.

We sit, eat Mangos with the other guys and watch always someone else come and stir pots of rice and Manioc on the fire. Bill starts to tell me about himself. After our history together that he doesn’t even know of, I am curious:

6 years ago he filled out a form to join the Anglican church as a missionary. Soon after his 3-year training started. Ever since he has been doing missionary work, helping, preaching and teaching all around Vanuatu. He tells me about the church community he lives with and of Canadian and English clerics in the church. A good, happy community it is, he tells me with a smile. After all my thoughts and prejudices I look straight into his eyes and I believe him. He means it, he has found something. Something precious, rare, that not many people find.  I feel happy for him.

A week ago he came back here for the Christmas holidays, to Namasari, the village he grew up in. I can see he is in his natural environment. Still, something about the way he talks, the way he is dressed, with his clean black shirt and the golden necklace, sets him apart, shows him as also part of another world. His new world he now lives in, a world full of faith, brotherhood and duty to god.

I like him. We talk about the bush and he tells me how they make fire up in the bush without matches. I had heard of it before, of making fire with two sticks, so I ask him to show me how to do it. He laughs, looks at me again and when he realises I’m serious he thinks for a moment, then James and me follow him to a house up the hill. On the way he grabs two pieces of wood. He examines them, splits them and starts to rub the smaller piece onto the cut surface of the bigger one. He tries and tries, more men join, they discuss about whether the wood is too strong or not right for it to work.

30 minutes later Bill sets out for his last try. He rubs as hard as he can, all the pressure his muscular arms can produce presses onto the wood. First he moves slow, then faster. Slowly the little pile of sawdust that collected at the end starts to smoke.

And on his sweat dripping face I can see the proud bushman he is deep within, under all the clean black shirts and the golden necklaces.

He smiles like a boy and tells me proudly this is how they make fire when they go hunting for wild pigs and cows in the bush and forget their matches.

Right here in front of me is the beautiful practicality and endurance of the true nature of the island people. Even if they take on Christianity and go to church, deep within themselves they are still children of the islands that play in the trees and go fishing on wooden Kanoes. They still drink their Kava and eat their Island Kaikai; and they know of their Kastoms as their local and national identity.

No matter in how many fine western clothes and golden necklaces you put an island boy or girl, deep within their heart they will always be from the bush.

No matter in how many fine western clothes and golden necklaces you put an island boy or girl, deep within their heart they will always be from the bush.

On this christmas night I hang in my hammock with my head full of streams of thoughts about the disappearing island life and cultural genocides. I slowly fade into a deep, dreamful sleep. Responsibility and powerlessness fight their endless game. My consciousness floats through images of today and of tomorrow, of here and of there, of what was four thousand years ago and what will be in four thousand years.

I let go.

Continue to "Aver"

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