National Geographic : 1972 Jan
Startling climax to the funeral, a grotesque figure emerges from the jungle with bow and arrows in hand (above). Fern leaves cover the body. Matted spider webs sheathe the head. Believing that the "spirit" possesses power to do harm, the villagers spend hours in a ritualistic preparation of laplap, a kind of pudding made of yams or taro, to be offered at the ceremony as appeasement. Bizarre female costume disguises a male dancer at a Small Namba rite (opposite). He beats on a coconut while cradling a pig killing stick in his arm. Flowers and feathers radiate on bamboo slivers from the spike atop his mask. A scarab bracelet, probably acquired in trade, adorns his wrist. the edge of the ceremonial ground, waiting under a brilliant sun for the grand finale. For two hours, while I grew increasingly im patient and warm, nothing happened. Ex asperated, I asked Metak, "All same what em? Close up you fella make em one someting?" "Wait," he replied. "By and by time sun ee catch em on top." So there was nothing to do but wait until noon. Periodically, the shrill sound of a bam boo flute floated across the grounds, but nothing else happened. Finally, the flute whistled with intensity and something dark emerged from the distant bush, then turned and vanished back into the jungle. The dark figure reappeared a minute later, and this time came closer. Metak whispered, "Now here you look one spirit." The "spirit" consisted of a mass of smoke darkened fern leaves atop two bare feet (left). Smoked and matted spider webbing covered the head, and sticks protruded here and there from the costume, each one impal ing a bit of coconut meat which tribesmen would eat during the ceremony to achieve rapport with the spirit world. Spectators Welcome a Whipping Three similar figures followed from the bush, then two men who were painted like harlequins, half red and half white. Turning and swaying, the six performers circled the ceremonial ground in single file. The painted men, leaving the others, began whipping spectators across their backs with long stems. This reassured the people that the spirits wouldn't harm them, Metak explained. A few minutes later the performers received yams from a pile in front of the funerary effi gy, to appease the spirits, and left. Then Metak killed a pig with a spear, the tip of which was an old bayonet. The pig was cut up, its parts distributed among spectators and participants, and the ceremony ended. Small Namba customs fascinate not only outsiders such as myself, but also other New Hebrides tribes. One day I escorted Bong, the chief of Bunlap on the nearby island of Pentecost, on a visit to Lendombwey.* It was Bong's first trip to a Small Namba village and his first meeting with Metak. Speaking pidgin, since neither man under stood the other's language, Bong and Metak spent an enjoyable evening exchanging *The author told of his experiences with Bong's people in "Land Diving With the Pentecost Islanders," NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December 1970.