A Vanuatu Wedding
By Jenny Cowles
My first thought when I hopped off the plane was one of disbelief, it looked like I had arrived at a little outback Australian airstrip. Hard to believe it was the International Airport. It was 11pm and as we walked into Customs, where there was a 5 piece string band playing us a welcoming song, I even managed a laugh and a smile from the lady in customs who wished me a good holiday.
I thought right, this is a good place, I am going to have a good time and was feeling totally relaxed already.
The following morning I was awake before 6am, ready and eager to start exploring this fascinating place. Ian and I started with coffee at the Rossi, which by the time I left Vanuatu was my favourite eating and meeting place. I met many of the expats who congregate there for breakfast almost 7 days a week. So when in town, if you are after the best local information on what to see and do, or you just want a gossip, head to the ‘table of knowledge’ and you will find somebody waiting to have a chat.
Vanuatu is really rewarding if you’re not afraid of the unknown, and get out there with the Ni-Vanuatu people. Forget a lot of the organised tours, hire a car and explore it for yourself. They really are the friendliest people I have ever met, from the kids to the adults. They will do anything for you and they aren’t looking to exploit you. They love their way of life, and only want to share it with you. So go on and share it with them.
My very favourite experience while I was here, not including Mele Cascades or Hideaway Island for snorkelling (which the kids absolutely loved) was being asked to be a witness to a wedding. Let me tell you that story.
Daniella and Colin, from Australia, arrived in Vanuatu on their holiday. It was meant to be their honeymoon but, because of a few family interferences, the wedding never went ahead. After arriving in Vanuatu they decided they would get married anyway. Our very dear friend Connie, achieved the seemingly impossible, considering the country pretty much works on ‘island time’. She co-ordinated their wedding in two days – the dress (stunning but simple), the shoes, the rings, the celebrant, the legal formalities – the works! The happy couple expected to be met in a park by a celebrant and say ‘I do’ to some simple vows. They were in for a big surprise…
On the morning of the wedding, Christine Hamilton set Daniella’s hair while Colin waited nervously in the bar at Iririki resort. Connie greeted them at the wharf in her white station wagon covered in yellow flowers and took them to her own beautiful property at Rainbows End for a traditional Vanuatu wedding. She’d asked us to be there waiting, which we were, along with a warrior welcoming them on a conch shell, a gorgeous pikinini who presented them with leis (home made by Connie and her house girl) and another unobtrusive warrior who captured the event on video.
We were all led through a rainforest where more warriors were seen peering through the trees, and out to clearing where the bride and groom followed a path of beautiful purple flowers and to another place amongst the forest with a gorgeous natural arch covered in more exotic flowers. While we were waiting for the celebrant, Patrick Crowby, the Lord Mayor of Port Vila to arrive, the warriors performed traditional dances and songs.
It was a beautiful service, both Ian and I had a tear in our eye. After the vows, we signed the registry (on the stump of a tree bedecked with flowers) while French champagne was poured. Daniella and Colin drank from wooden ‘flutes’ made of timber crafted in the Banks Islands. I couldn’t believe we were the only other people here to witness this very special occasion and I felt privileged to have been asked to be part of it.
Connie, who is also a guru when it comes to taking the wedding photos, had the couple in the lagoon on top of a fallen tree branch, under a huge banyan tree and lots of other different and unusual places. You just have to see this place to believe it. The high point of the day was when the groom, giving his little speech, said into the video camera that this was the most special way he could ever have been married and not for a thousand years or all the trouble it may cause back home would he regret marrying this beautiful woman. More tears from me, and I think I may come back and do this for my 10-year wedding anniversary as a renewal of vows with my husband.
And it didn’t end there. Icy cold water in Connie’s place before being taken to Vila Chaumières where Connie booked them the most romantic table for two over the water for the following night and then to The Rossi for lunch. Connie rushed inside and told Mary Lou (the owner) that she had newlyweds needing a table for two. By the time Daniella and Colin entered the restaurant, a table had been set on the terrace looking out at the harbour with flowers, complimentary champagne and Zilo, the friendly waiter, to fuss over them. From a distance Mary Lou commented, “Now, that’s the look of love.”