June 21

Today is our first full day in Tanna and it is completely overcast and raining. Yesterday we arrived at about 8am and it was beautiful, hot and sunny. We are hoping the cold front passes soon. We slept when we first arrived and then in the afternoon put the dinghy in the water and went ashore. We quickly found the village which was very cute and filled with friendly, smiling people. We were introduced to the "temporary" chief (I later learned the previous chief was deceased and that his son, the "young chief", could not take his rightful place until he marries - he appears to be in his early thirties so he will probably not remain a bachelor for long) and the school master and then went with another fellow to locate Stanley or Willie, the two guides who conduct people to the volcano.

We found Stanley and we spoke with him as we walked to the windward side of the peninsula (Port Resolution is a bay separated from the ocean by a small peninsula, the village sits on this peninsula) where we found a beautiful beach and overlying coral reef. There were many local people playing in the water as well as several from some of the other yachts at the anchorage. Huge waves crashed against the outer reef only yards away.

Stanley described the trip to Mt. Yasur and we agreed we would go either this afternoon or Monday depending on weather, and sure enough, it won't be today. We will leave at about 4:30pm for a half hour ride by pickup truck to a spot about 500ft below the rim which we have to scramble up to reach. We should arrive at the rim at about 5:30pm, just before sunset, and will stay until after dark when the real fun is.

Stanley also took us to see the "Yacht Club" and the we went back to the boat. The Yacht Club is simply a hut with a few long tables and a bar. There is a kitchen and an office, all in a rectangular structure built with local materials (i.e. wood, palm fronds, etc.). The fridge and freezer were broken he reported. I forgot to ask where they get the electricity when it is working! I did see some solar panels in the village and was told it provided for a pump which moves water up the road to the Yacht Club. Other solar panels were mounted on a rack in front of a big tower which I assume provides satellite phone contact with the gov't officers in Lenekal and in Port Vila, the countries capital. They had one like it on Maewo when we visited last year (Maewo is an island in Vanuatu about 250nm North of here).

Yesterday we also me the local preacher and walked past his (very small and modest) church, also built of local materials, and he reported he was Presbyterian, which I understand all of the early missionaries to these islands were. The chief (or temporary acting chief) reported that the village followed "John Frum", a cult-like philosophy which began in the early days of WWII and whose main tenants are a belief that "white" Europeans are wealthy and have material goods because they act in certain ways and do certain things. This they learned from observing American servicemen during the war. They seem to have especially settled on the Red Cross as a symbol of wealth. One author I read attributed this to their experience of getting medicines and health care from Red Cross workers during the war.

As a consequence they have developed some very unusual habits and customs. For one, each village has one or more red crosses prominently displayed. The chief pointed out two red crosses in the village green which looked like a short cross planted in the ground. The red paint was clear only upon close inspection as it was very faded. Both were in a small garden circle with lovely plants around them. Another I have read about is that they build airplanes of wood and leave them in the field where they can be seen from the sky in the belief that this will attract other planes which will land bringing them material goods for the islanders. The term used casually in regards to this type of cult is "cargo cult" as the adherents refer to these material goods they will receive as "cargo".

The name "John Frum" represents an American whom they believe will return, as savior I guess, bringing with him material wealth, ahem, the aforementioned cargo. Some people have said the name was derived from an early experience with an American serviceman named John who said he came from America, hence John Frum. Some villages are said to be "a John Frum Village". Others are Christian and still others are "Kastum" meaning that they still follow the old customs and ways and do not regard themselves as Christians. I am wondering if it might not be so clear as all that. Though I have heard the Kastum villages do not tolerate Christianity, I have also heard they have mixed some cargo worship with they original customs and apparently so has this "Christian" village found a combination of beliefs to be to their liking.

Yesterday I was also told that the women would be holding an impromptu market this morning at 7am. I went at around 8:15 and it just started to rain as I left in the dinghy. When I got to shore and walked up to the village it had stopped raining and when I got to the town green there was no market. I sat under a tree and gave away little toys to some kids who wandered by (we are always getting rid of old toys of Jonah's this way). Soon a woman came and spread out a palm mat with some baskets and things and then the Chief came and we chatted. I said I wanted to buy vegetables and he said wait, they would come. I walked around and soon came back and several women were setting up mats. Almost completely fruits though, no vegetables I could recognize except some greens which looked a bit like collard greens. I bought some bananas (40 cents a hand) and 10 lemons (25 cents). They also had some papaya, but Stanley gave us one yesterday which we haven't eaten yet (papayas seem especially abundant on this island as are all the tropical fruits).