A leisurely overnight sail brought us to Lifou, a much smaller island that is also part of New Caledonia. Its 10,000 member population mostly do subsistence farming; other jobs are scarce. Our ship has been stopping there weekly during the season, which surely a boost to the local economy. There was no real dock where we landed, so a quick and efficient tender service brought us ashore. We took a tour designed to introduce us to the Melanesian culture here. We rode in a bus down a narrow two-lane road for about half an hour past dense jungle interrupted by an occasional home. The vegetation grows so thickly here, it is hard to imagine the work involved in making a clearing for your home, especially when there is no John Deere equipment around.
We all filed in to the right hand door of a large thatched roof meeting building after taking off our shoes. Only the chief could go into the left side of the door. We were directed to sit down on the woven mat floor, which many of our fellow passengers found to be a real challenge. The building is used during official meetings. The fireplace in the middle of is only lit when the chief is here. The guide explained how all the villages are led by local head men who gather here with the chief to discuss disputes and make policy. No women are part of this very local government.
Then we got a lesson on how to make bougnas, while we sipped juice our of freshly opened coconuts. The recipe involved wrapping banana leaves around chicken along with tapioca, pumpkin, and shredded coconut meat. Coconut milk moistened the mixture and it was cooked on coals under rocks headed by the fire. The sample reminded me of many crock pot recipes I have made. As the cook talked, chickens wandered around us, blissfully unaware of the fact that they could also be wrapped in banana leafs someday soon.
After a peek at the church, we headed back to “town” to shop. Many people sold local food, interesting, but perhaps not all that alluring to well fed cruise ship passengers. A local singing and dancing group suddenly appeared. After the head man blew into a conch-type shell the performance began. Although most of the people here look racially African, their music had a decidedly Polynesian sound.
We wanted to walk up the hill a bit for nice views of our ship anchored in the bay, but were thwarted by rain. Just like yesterday, we were left with the feeling that we weren’t seeing this speck of paradise at its best.