**We’re now publishing full feature articles from WildJunket Magazine! Here is a photographic essay by Lia Barret with stunning pictures from Vanuatu both under and above water.
A below-the-surface look at village life in the archipelago of Vanuatu.
Staring down at the ship for the first time, I feel miniscule, like an insignificant dot in the vast Pacific Ocean. The resting vessel beckons my curiosity, and I am lured in to wander through its ghostly past. The SS President Coolidge was a military vessel during World War II, but after striking a mine, it sank peacefully to the seabed beneath Vanuatu.
Today, scuba divers venture from all over the world to dive the famous wreck. Exploring the Coolidge is only an introduction
to my Vanuatu adventure. I spend my first week on Espiritu Santo, the largest of Vanuatu’s 83 islands.
With the nation’s location over one of the most volatile fault lines in the world, it’s little surprise that new islets are constantly created and added to the Vanuatu family.
Sailing out to the islands of Ambae and Maewo, I encounter various tribal cultures rich in colorful history and tradition including cannibalism. At each anchorage, my sailing mates and I are greeted by small flotillas of canoes !lled with inquisitive
youths. With shy yet warm demeanours, they invite us into their villages for a visit and to trade clothing for fresh fruit and vegetables. We join in their kava drinking sessions, mingling with local folks and making lifelong friends.
On Pentecost Island, we come across a nakamal or communal hut, where women are weaving baskets as part of a hundred-day long mourningritual for their recently deceased village chief. Almost everything else is put on hold, mourning the chief trumps all concepts of priority. The vast majority of Vanuatu’s 230,000 inhabitants are Melanesians, whose descendants
first settled here centuries ago. Over 120 indigenous languages are spoken throughout Vanuatu, the common language being Bislama, which originates from the 1800s. Some tribes in the outer islands still live a primitive existence untouched by modern civilization.
Sailing away for the last time, the islands beckon me to stay longer. I don’t feel like a tourist here; I feel like a guest, a student, and most of all, a new friend.