There are still a few kilometers to go but George, the guide we had for those parts of Vanuatu has been trying to communicate with the village for some time.
From time to time, we hear diffuse responses to his guttural calls that are confused with a distant echo, but the native Ni-Vanuatu assures us that, in Botko, everyone is already waiting for us.
Another half-hour of walking and we come across three trunks with carved human heads. George pulls a stick and hits one of them, producing a sound that we perceive to function as a kind of tribal bell.
"We can't enter their territory without first announcing ourselves at the entrance, he explains." And it continues to lead us way up.
The Francophone Welcome in Botko Village
The village chief waits, curious, at the top of the last ramp, dressed in a flowered and fluorescent shirt that amazes us with its surreal nature. "Be welcome” utters in French with a Creole accent, as soon as we reach him, while other indigenous people examine us from head to toe.
George completes the presentations in Bislama, the strange English-speaking dialect of this Melanesian nation. When the initial protocol ends, Gilbert returns to the floor and reveals an enormous concern in explaining that his tribe evolved, was converted by the missionaries and that he maintains both his belief in Jesus and pride in his faith.
“Where are you from? Portugal? Europe isn't it? I believe those around here too. So they must be a Christian people, right? With us, the French missionaries have done a good job, don't worry that you are in good hands.”
Even so, as this is your will, let us show you the terrible customs of our ancestors. Rest now. They've already walked a lot, but look, they still have a long way to go.”
On the way to Botko's Ceremonial and Cannibal Summit
We agree without reservation. For more than six hours and in excruciating damp heat, we climbed from Malekula's seafront to that high and big nambo, so considered to belong to tribes that use vegetable capsules to cover the penis larger than those of tribes from other parts, these are logically called small nambas.
It was an hour before we reached the place that most interested us. To prepare for the last few miles, we sat on a mat the hosts had placed facing a lush valley. We refresh ourselves and devour some tropical fruit.
Some time later, Chief Gilbert reappears and we take a new trail. One young man leads the way while another protects the rear of the group. Both are equipped with machetes that they use all the time to cut through the invasive vegetation or simply to entertain themselves.
The repeated use of that weapon, in the historical context because we had ventured and in the surrounding wild environment, seemed to activate the morbid side of our imagination. In this way, primary fears that not even the purest rationality could dispel and intermittent nervous laughter that we shared to eliminate them were renewed.
We crossed streams infested with potentially malaria-carrying mosquitoes and climbed over massive logs that had fallen during the worst storms of the rainy season.
At a certain point, the trail reaches a prominent ridge where we start by having a distant view of the surrounding Pacific Ocean before returning to the usual gloomy atmosphere.
Skulls, Bones, Arrangement Stones: a Kind of Cannibal Slaughterhouse
Gilbert takes us to the various places and artefacts that his ancestors used to perform the anthropophagous rituals. It starts by showing a stone with a larger hole filled with water and smaller ones, empty.
He explains that the natives there painted themselves for the final sacrifice of enemies, using the smaller orifices as a natural color palette and the water in the larger one, as a mirror and to correct imperfections.
He then moves to another large abrasive rock where he demonstrates how they made a fire and increased it, immediately igniting dry leaves. Afterwards, it takes us to a huge pile of stones used to wash, cut and cook the corpses of enemy tribes.
He adds that the traditional way of cooking meals was to cut the bodies into pieces, put them in a hole that functioned as a natural oven, together with yams and taro, all under a covering of banana leaves that trapped the steam.
We also learned that the normal cooking time was between three and five hours and "that the village chiefs had the privilege of eating the heads of the victims, something they did at that time if they believed that, in this way, they achieved more force".
Morbid Details of Botko, Malekula, and Vanuatu Cannibalism
Half joking, half serious, some elderly ni-vanuatus end up touching on the now taboo theme of the taste of human flesh and comparing it with that of other animals.
Botko's boss stresses that he cannot speak for himself but confesses: "my grandparents considered it sweeter than cow or pig."
Gilbert has just described the practical process. And for the avoidance of doubt, it shows us dozens of preserved skulls before proceeding to the base of a huge prickly pear tree used for the same anthropophagic purposes.
There, he insists on reassuring us: “we used to kill and eat the enemies who came to steal our women but the tribes of Vanuatu stopped doing it for a long time”.
The Latest Cases of Cannibalism Not As Remote As This From Vanuatu
Previous readings and investigations seemed to prove that it hadn't been that long. Most anthropologists seem to agree that Vanuatu's last known case of cannibalism took place in 1969, more precisely in a bay southwest of Malekula.
However, the natives of this island speak of another more recent macabre event that has turned into a kind of wild myth, a case in which an elder killed and ate a child of his tribe.
It's something that the pioneering discoverers and adventurers of this archipelago of 83 lush islands would have no difficulty believing.
Until 1980, Vanuatu was colonized in a condominium regime – halfway through Great Britain and France. Despite or because of independence, it remains deeply traditional, with more than 80 percent of the population living in huts and small villages surrounded by dense jungle, lost between mountains and at the foot of imposing volcanoes.
Os ni-vanuatu they believe in various forms of black magic and almost spontaneous myths. Many still wear petticoats made of herbs and nambas, large or small, depending on the tribe in question.
The Dreaded History of Cannibalism from the Vanuatu Islands
But if things turn out that way in the present, know that they were far more primitive in the days when Western navigators scoured this part of the world.
The first two British missionaries sent to the archipelago were immediately captured and eaten on what became known as the Isle of the Martyrs, now called the Isle of the Martyrs. error.
The name Malekula – the same island we continue to explore – has its origins in similar misfortunes. Louis Antoine de Bougainville and other French sailors sailed over and over along its jagged coastline and quickly resented the permanent threat of cannibalism.
In such a way, that they started to call her bad au cul (literally pain in the ass). Captain James Cook, a contemporary of Bouganville, reportedly recorded the expression in his diary. And time took charge of transforming and eternalizing it.