We left our guesthouse with high expectations that morning, even though we did not really know what to expect. A 4WD steered by a capable driver took us north from Norsup on the island of Malekula over muddy and slippery roads, until we met our guide: a well dressed lady with a handbag was waiting at the roadside with a guy who jumped into the back of our pickup truck. We took a track into the interior of Malekula island, and had no choice but to surrender to what was coming. When we reached the end of the track, we got off; it now turned out that the guide was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, while the guy actually belonged to the Lawor tribe that once upon a time had been cannibals.
The guide reassuringly told us that in the cannibal times, women were never eaten, but only men - my travel companion was relieved to hear that she had nothing to fear. Neither did I, of course: cannibals do not exist anymore nowadays. In fact, the guide told us that women were regarded as peacemakers, and where the men of the tribes of Malekula (primarily the Small and Big Namba's) would fight each other once upon a time, the women were theoretically able to end the fighting when they had enough of it. In fact, cannibalism was practiced whenever warriors of the nemesis were captured; they were tied to a pole at the nasala, the communal area of the village, while the people had a feast. At the end of it, the prisoners were killed, and while the normal villagers ate the slaughtered wild pigs, the chief and his relatives had the human flesh. Contrary to what we had imagined, they did not end up in a big pot of boiling water, but were rather barbecued over a fire and then eaten.
After walking through plantations where vegetables are still grown (which made us wonder if the erstwhile cannibals had turned into vegetarians), we reached the nasala, an open space in the forest, with tam-tams, family stones, and space to dance. From here, we continued, and came across wooden sticks once used to club pigs to death in preparation for one of the feasts of the village. Right next to it: a flat stone on which we could clearly see remains of human bones and skulls; the leftovers of the cannibal meals once eaten by the chiefs. A little further on, we stumbled upon the small cemetery of Lawor, where the skulls of the chiefs were kept inside open-sided stone tombs. We were of course still curious about the cannibalism: where our guide first claimed that it had stopped upon the arrival of the missionaries, when confronted with a story we had read where someone had been eaten as recent as 1969, she suddenly told us that someone had by accident walked into a remote village in the interior of Malekula in 1984, and had been eaten whole - only his shoes had been spared. The vagueness of some statements, combined with the material evidence of cannibal times, and the feeling of tranquillity that the place somehow oozed, gave us a pleasantly mysterious feeling. Perhaps it was better not to know all the facts, and just treasure the feeling it gave us.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Lawor cannibal site (Vanuatu). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Lawor cannibal site.
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