Passage Hawaii to Vancouver - Day 17
27 July 2013
It's early Saturday morning. Beth is napping after her long night watch. She woke me a couple of hours ago with an excited call, "Dolphins - our dolphins - the ones we see at home!" When I sleepily climbed up the companionway, there they were; a pod of beautiful pacific white sided dolphins, jet black in color with brilliant white sides and tummies. They looked a lot like miniature killer whales. The water was flat and slate grey with a slippery reflective sheen, like mercury spilled across an immense plate. The playful dolphins skimmed across the smooth surface, usually in pairs, racing ahead of Sarah Jean and then looping back to do it all over again, perhaps to make sure they had been seen. It was the second dolphin greeting of our long journey from New Zealand, similar to the one we experienced as we approached the Big Island of Hawaii, except these dolphins this morning were very special; they were OUR dolphins welcoming us the Pacific Northwest; welcoming us to our home shores, now just 500 miles away!
In Vanuatu, Joanna is about to meet a very angry chief who accuses her of breaking many sacred taboos. My gosh, she just keeps having one problem after another!
VISION OF JOANNA - A Continuing Blog Adventure Set in Vanuatu
CHAPTER 8 - Little Tusker
Hungry and chilled, her clothes still damp from sleeping on the small beach by the river's edge, Joanna rose slowly and stretched. She brushed away the sand that clung to her tattered T shirt and shorts. Joanna knew she needed to find some food and make a small fire to warm up and dry her clothes. On Joanna's side of the river, beyond the mouth of the cavern, there appeared to be only a steep rocky embankment. But the far side seemed green and lush with many tall trees that probably held coconuts. Joanna checked that her knife and tusk necklace were still secure and then, holding her one flip flop in her hand, she reluctantly stepped back into the river and swam to the other side.
It was an easy swim across with very little current. The river was no longer rain-swollen like yesterday. As she walked away from the shore Joanna came across a large clearing, the dirt pounded flat and hard by many feet over the years. A village must be nearby, she thought hopefully. At the center of the clearing was an immense rock, the top completely flat, like a table top. To Joanna it looked like an ideal spot to make breakfast, once she found some fat coconuts. But walking past the rock she noticed the shadowy outline of a man had been drawn there, as if by chalk, but it was carved deeply into the stone itself. The little hairs on the back of Joanna's neck stood up. She shivered, wondering what kind of place this was. Joanna, filled with a deep sense of foreboding, looked over her shoulder several times as she left the clearing and went into the bush in search of breakfast.
A short while later Joanna returned to the clearing, her arms filled with coconuts, wood and dry moss that she would use to start her fire. Suddenly she heard the insistent beat of jungle drums. There was singing too, but it was not really singing, it was more like rhythmic chanting. There were voices too. It sounded like a large group of men. They were obviously headed her way! The drums and chanting were getting louder! Unsure whether she should stay there to greet them or run away, Joanna chose the latter, fearful because she found the place very spooky. She dropped her bundle of coconuts and firewood and ran towards the mouth of the cave to hide!
Peeking out from behind a rock, Joanna watched as a fuzzy image of chanting men appeared in the clearing. Many were nearly naked. Others looked very strange, completely clad in dried pandanus leaves, carrying scepters and wearing on their heads what looked like colorful masks adorned with plumes of feathers. The procession was led by one immense man, his chest bare, his face covered with stripes of black paint. He carried a long, sharply pointed spear. It was clear he was a man of importance; he was the chief.
Suddenly he halted! Holding up his arm, the chief signaled to those behind him. The drums and chanting stopped immediately. The clearing became eerily silent except for the distant chatter of birds in the jungle canopy. Joanna's pile of coconuts and firewood lay at the chief's feet. He looked about slowly, scanning the perimeter of the clearing for the obvious intruder, and then began walking steadily towards the cave, a scowl darkening his face. As Joanna backed fearfully into the shadows, her foot caught on something lying on the ground. She stumbled, falling backward with a clatter onto a pile of white sticks! These were the strange ones, glowing softly in the setting sun, that she had spotted yesterday from across the river. Joanna tried to muffle her cry of surprise and pain as the sticks dug into her back. But then, as she turned her head to sit up, staring into her face, its eye sockets black and empty and its jaw hanging open as if still uttering its final words, was a human skull! Joanna screamed! It was not just any scream! It was a piercing, blood curdling cry of shock and horror that echoed out of the cave into the clearing and the surrounding jungle, silencing even the chatter of the birds. Joanna shut her eyes to block out the frightening sight of the skull and the large pile of human bones upon which she was now lying.
When Joanna opened them again the angry chief was there, towering over her. He reached down and scooped her up, placing her under his arm like a sack of yams, and then stormed out of the cave into the clearing. He dropped Joanna on top of the rock table and glared at her. The other men gathered around, forming a circular wall surrounding Joanna and the chief.
Staring down at Joanna he thundered, "You have broken the taboo of our land; violated our traditions, broken our rules!" Joanna looked up meekly, trying to pull herself away across the rock table. The chief pulled her back and continued his rant. "Little girl, this is a sacred place! No women are permitted here! No children are permitted here! And you are both! How dare you come here! How dare you ignore our taboo! You have shown us all great disrespect!" The chief stepped back from Joanna, looking around at the other men, some still wearing the pandanus cloaks and the strange masks with feather plumes.
He leaned forward again. "Little girl, you have done great harm to your father and your family. Those who break our taboo must pay a fine to my village. It is our law. I am Chief Watson, the paramount chief of East Ambrym. It is my duty to enforce our law."
Chief Watson continued, still scowling at Joanna. "You have entered the sacred Cave of Stars. The fine is one pig. You have touched the sacred bones of the warriors that my ancestors defeated and feasted upon here at this very table. The fine is another pig. And you have gazed upon the sacred masks of the ROM dance that can be seen only be the dance participants. The fine is a third pig. Little girl, your father now owes my village the sum of three pigs. This fine must be paid immediately! Now, tell me your name, and your father's name. And tell me which village you are from and how you got here!"
At first, when they had put Joanna on the rock table, she thought they were going to eat her. Then she remembered that cannibals did not eat women or children, only other men. But Chief Watson still scared her. He looked like he might eat her at any minute! But Papa had no pigs! Her family was very poor. There was no money for her school or glasses or shoes. Papa could never pay a fine of three pigs. She decided Chief Watson must never know who she was or what village she was from.
Joanna stammered a reply, "Chief Watson, I am sorry I broke the taboos but I did not know this was a sacred place. You see, I was lost in the jungle and I fell into the river and I couldn't get out. It carried me along into a canyon and then I went fell over a waterfall into a big hole. Then it was dark. I was inside a cave. The river carried me out of the cave to this place. I don't even know where I am!"
There was a murmuring from the men. Chief Watson's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Little girl," he said. No one has ever fallen into the black hole, traveled through the cave and survived. Prove to me you are telling the truth. Tell me what you saw there."
Without hesitation Joanna replied, "There was a huge lake inside the cave. The ceiling was covered with tiny pale green stars. It was very beautiful."
Chief Watson and the men were astonished. The chief stepped forward again, as if seeing Joanna again in a different light. "Who are you, girl?" he asked again. Joanna remained stubbornly silent.
The chief called to a young man standing by his side, "Michael, look closely at her. What does she have around her neck?" Joanna was surprised. She thought to herself; the big chief is very powerful but he has bad eyes just like me - except he can't see things that are close to his face. Joanna thought this information might prove useful some day.
Michael stepped forward and carefully examined the tusk hanging around Joanna's neck. "Chief Uncle Watson," he exclaimed, "It is a very large tusk from a wild boar, almost a complete circle, like the ones you wear!"
"What!" Chief Watson roared, "This girl is wearing a boar's tusk? That is the privilege of a chief and only a chief!" He leaned forward onto the table, his massive face pressed close to Joanna's tusk necklace, as if to see it better when really he could not. "Little girl," he said sternly, "Where did you get this tusk and why do think you can where it? Do you think you are a great chief?" The men chuckled, awaiting her response.
But now Joanna had a story to tell. She described in great detail chasing the boys along the trail, hearing the wild boar coming after her and then running to find shelter in the vines of the banyan tree. The men and the chief all gathered more closely around the table, around Joanna, hanging on each word of her story. "And then the boar charged!" exclaimed Joanna. "He hooked his tusk around the last vine blocking his way and began to pull on it. So I picked up a big rock and smashed it down on his snout and broke off his tusk at the same time! After that he ran away!"
The men looked at each other, at Chief Watson wondering what he thought about the incredible story. He spoke to Joanna in a quiet voice. "Describe this wild boar to me, little girl. What did he look like? Was there anything special about him?"
The image and the awful smell of the rampaging boar were burned into Joanna's memory. She quickly replied, "He was huge and very angry . . . his head was hairy and brown and his body was black. He was also very stinky - I could smell him coming for me."
Chief Watson smiled for the first time, a look of surprise and respect on his face, "Little girl, whoever you are, you have taken a tusk from Matago - the Angry Beast of the Forest! I can't believe it but the proof is here around your neck!" He touched her tusk and then the two similar tusks he was wearing. Reaching into a pouch on his belt Chief Watson wetted the tips of his fingers with black mud. He ran his fingers across each cheek and her forehead leaving thick streaks of war paint like men wore.
"I don't know your name yet, little girl, but for now I will call you Little Tusker. I now see you are clever and brave, especially for a girl so young. But this does not change the fact you broke many of our taboos. Your father still owes my village a fine of three pigs. This is our law. The fine must be paid. Until that time you must remain in our village. My nephew, Michael, will be your guard. Do not even think about trying to run away. Michael is very strong and like me, has a bad temper."
Joanna hung her head, feeling quite defeated and ashamed. What would Papa say?
Chief Watson then picked up one of Joanna's coconuts from the ground. He placed it on the rock table beside Joanna's hand and then sliced it in two with a mighty chop of his machete. Joanna cringed at the sound of the steel blade hitting the rock.
Draining the fluid from the coconut, the chief said "Little Tusker, I am going to send this coconut shell on a trip around the entire island of Ambrym, visiting each village it passes, asking if a little girl is missing; and if so, asking her name and her father's name. In the morning the shell will be back on the beach in front of my hut, waiting for me with the information I seek." With that he placed the coconut shell in the river. All eyes were watching it as it floated downstream towards the ocean.
Joanna trembled. She was not sure if Chief Watson had the powerful magic required for a coconut message. She hoped not. She had to keep her identity a secret. She had to escape!
TO BE CONTINUED . . .