Wednesday 4 November 2015

Secrets of Melanesia: Mystical Ambrym and the Rom Stomp

From editor, Roderick Eime, aboard Heritage Expeditions 'Spirit of Enderby' in Vanuatu

Monday 2 October 2015. Ambrym, Vanuatu. Village of Ranon.

Another bright, but dry morning greeted us on our early morning arrival at the mystical island of Ambrym, a derivation of the word 'Yam' from the days of James Cook's visit in the 1770s.

Renown for magic and sorcery, the island maintains the 'kastom' dances of the men who are the keepers of magic here. Our first demonstration is the unexplained disappearance of the truck that was to transport us up the steep hill to the village, leaving many of us including this writer, with the task of trudging up the rough track. Yes, many of you will agree the exercise is a much-needed tonic in my case.

After a bit of preamble, the dancers took to the arena, another rough circular space surrounded by eerie totems and rough-hewn seating for our tired bottoms.

The so-called 'Rom' dancing is a rhythmic stomp that sends the scantily clad chaps into a bit of a state. Their feathers and penis wraps bobbing along to the percussive beats. Surrounding the men are characters dressed a bit like raffia Christmas trees with large stylised headpieces representing the spirits surrounding us even now.

The dusty performance wraps up with a bit of ritual retail and some lovely carved pieces are picked up for transport to distant lands. Just hope they are magic-free idols. Some look a bit scary.

This landing is our last before arrival in Port Vila, so we head back to Spirit of Enderby with a bit of extra spring in our wobbly knees and begin the task of packing for the big journey home.

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In conclusion, my thanks to the team at Heritage Expeditions for the invitation and great experience as well as the tourist boards of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and their respective airlines, Fly Solomons and Air Vanuatu.

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