I have always believed that anything’s possible but really – a chief’s wife on Tanna Island? * The more I have traveled the more I have recognized that there is so much potential out there that is waiting, untapped. You see people living their lives in a thousand different ways and when the cruise ship MS Paul Gauguin was approaching Tanna Island, I never expected that later that day, I would be a chief’s wife!!
I was truly surprised that we were going to be anchoring off the shores of Tanna Island especially since Mount Yasur was erupting more than usual. Even up to an hour prior to dropping anchor, Captain Toni was not sure that any of our passengers would be going ashore for any longer than a few hours. A lot of the passengers declined the shore excursion due to the excessive amount of ash that was falling from the eruption.
I decide to brave the ash and when our captain received the go ahead, I boarded the tender. Drawing on my curiosity, I climbed ashore and made my way into the recently re-built village square to await the welcome that was being prepared for us. Young women from villages as far away as 14 kilometres from this main square, ran to escort us to the square and take care of us. Smiling and speaking their best broken English they told us of the typhoon from a few months ago that leveled this side of the island with water levels up to 30 feet up the shore line. Everyone from all neighbouring areas came together over the last 3 weeks to clear out the square where we were headed.
A delious sweet smell filled the air as I made my way up to an assigned area. Local fesh fruit was presented to all the guests as we waited for the village dancers to assemble and start their performance. Men and women dancers performed separately but the most intriguing were the children. The delicate movements of the littlest of dancers were delightful to watch, especially as they imitated the adults in the drop.
I focused on one little girl at the head of the group of children dancing. Her movements were tentative, yet she was dancing from her heart! With my camera focused on her, I was mesmerized at how in tune she was with the music and how her movements flowed. Once the music had finished, she ran off to join a group of women and one man. The man lifted her up beaming with pride. As I continued to take photos of her with this man, I saw that their bond that was something special that set him apart from all the other males in the gathering. He wore a headdress, woven from pandanus leaves decorated with beautiful feathers.
The master of ceremonies announced that the chief would like to welcome us to the village of Tanna and to show his and his villages’ appreciation to all of us. I looked towards the centre of the plaza and saw the man with the headdress step forward to address us – it was the Chief!! The little girl that I had been taking photos of stood near him tentatively looking towards all of us.
The master of ceremonies explained to the crowd that the chief would like to show his appreciation by giving one deserving guest a gift from his people – his headdress. The little girl looked straight towards me, smiled and ran to where I was sitting. What now? It seems though the young girl had picked me to accept this gift. I reluctantly took her hand as she led me to the Chief to accept my gift. I bowed down as the Chief put the headdress on my head and thanked him for his generous gift. The little girl wrapped her arms around my waist and didn’t want to let go.
As I took her hand, and started to walk away from the chief, the Master of Ceremonies spoke to our group and asked me to stop walking away..
He explained that I couldn’t leave Tanna Island because in accepting the headdress from the Chief, I had just become his WIFE!!
Panicking, I looked around to my fellow guests hoping that someone would say something, help me out, anything!! A few seconds passed and the Master of Ceremonies laughed out loud and told everyone, that it was a tradition to pick a woman from the guests to accept the headdress and it didn’t mean that I was a Chief’s wife!!
Sighing with relief, I gladly cherished the gift and the memories of nearly becoming a wife of a Tanna Island’s Chief !!