Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Walked the crater rim of an active volcano

We really should have better sense!

But this was such a unique experience that we just had to do it. Mt. Yasur on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu is an active volcano. Sometimes it spews boulders the size of vans or pick-up trucks, but during the week we visited Mt. Yasur "he was asleep" as the locals said. Asleep is not really asleep. The volcano was constantly belching and roaring and spewing red-hot rocks about the size of basketballs on the evening that we visited.

It was a steep drive up the side of Mt. Yasur, again bouncing on the wooden bench seats in the back of a small pick-up truck. They take you up there while it is still daylight and you stay well after dark so that you get to see the volcano under both aspects. On the ride up we could see steam venting along the sides of the dirt road. Really cool. There was a somewhat level area where the trucks could park fairly close to the top. It was an uphill walk from there. The tour operators had marked off several paths and wise people stayed on those paths. More adventuresome people walked off into unmarked areas, but I overheard another guide saying that it was dangerous to go over to the right side of the crater so we opted to stay with our group. I was not able to make it up the final 20 feet to the pinnacle because it was too slippery in the loose volcanic ash on the steep grade, plus my heart was beating ninety-to-nothing and I couldn't breathe well. But Bill took the camera and had no problems getting to the pinnacle. I decided the view was just fine on the lower rim level, so I headed back down there and watched the volcano for a long time. Really a unique experience.

On Friday night we were supposed to attend a "religious" ceremony of the Jon Frum Movement but it rained so we canceled. The Jon Frum Movement (a/k/a John From Movement) is also known as the Cargo Cult. In 1936 it was claimed that the brother of the god of local Mt. Tukosmera came from the sea and announced himself to some kava drinkers. His name was Jon Frum. He told them that there would be an abundance of wealth and no more epidemics - so long as all Europeans left Tanna. Remember the pandemonium of the Condominium governance of France and England over Vanuatu. Also remember that kava in Vanuatu is a really strong drink.

I mentioned in an earlier blog how the primitive tribal society of Vanuatu was catapulted into the 20th century during World War II when the American troops moved in for several years to repel the Japanese. During WWII a large number of men from Tanna were rounded up and taken to the major islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo to help build numerous buildings and air strips, etc. that were needed for military use. The men from Tanna were astounded to see black servicemen and were convinced that these men must also have come from Tanna. Guess they had never seen black people other than their own tribe members. The Tannese men saw huge quantities of transport equipment, refrigerators and radios and endless supplies of Coca-Cola and cigarettes.

Keen to hear the message of Jon Frum, some supporters made imitation radio aerials out of tin cans and wire. Others built an airfield in the bush and constructed wooden aircraft to entice his cargo planes to land. Others erected wharves where his ships could berth. At that time The Red Cross sign meant free medical treatment. Small red crosses were erected all over Tanna and remain a feature in Jon Frum villages. This movement has at times been vigorously opposed by missionaries and officials. Even now, some cult villages refuse to pay taxes or use government schools.

So, will Jon Frum, the brother of the god of Mt. Tukosmera, ever come? The cargo cult members say "How long have Christians waited - nearly 2000 years. Yet we've waited only 65 so far."

The only thing I was interested in seeing at this weekly "religious" ceremony was the dancing. Sorry we missed that. And those are the 2 tourist attractions at Tanna - the active volcano and the cargo cult. We've finished everything we came to Tanna to see. Really glad we visited here.

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