You never know? Culture Shock?Posted by Wezzie @ Sucks
A quick history lesson courtesy of Dive Vanuatu and Sailaway Cruises. It is rumored that the story of Roymata will be incorporated into Survivor Vanuatu.
Roymata's Grave, Hat Island ( The Island of the Dead)
Chief Roymata was so powerful that he took the title of King. Through sheer personal magnetism, Roymata united the warring and cannibalistic tribes of the area into a unified, peaceful group. But sibling jealousy ended his life when Roymata's brother shot a poison dart into his throat. Roymata did not die quickly, but suffered a lingering malaise. His grieving family and clan carried the dying King around the island of Efate, to say farewell to those whom he had unified. Finally he was taken to the famous Feles Cave on Lelepa Island where he died.
It is then told how he was carried to Devil's Point, the entry to the Underworld, and then through the mystical underwater caverns of Tukutuku to Retoka (Hat Island), where he was interred. Here, many men and women were interred with him, entombed alive.
A seven hundred year long tabu, on pain of death had been placed on Retoka Island, more commonly known as Hat Island. No one lived there and few plucked up the courage to sleep, or even go there, despite its wealth of turtle eggs and abundant fish life. Hat was know as the Island of the Dead, a ghost island.
In 1967, French archeologist Jose Garanger offered to search for the grave of Roymata to determine if he was a real, or mythological figure. The chiefs of Lelepa, equally curious, gave their blessing on condition that the grave be returned to its original state after investigation.
The burial site was surprisingly easy to find. Two rock slabs, like tombstones, at the base of a large white wood tree were located in a natural 'clearing' only 100m from the beach, on the north west side of the small island. Oral tradition held that no tree or bush would ever grow over the site of Roymata's grave; that holds true today.
In an area 20m x 10m, the archeological team dug down less than a metre before uncovering skeletons. As bones were uncovered, it quickly became evident that a mass burial had most certainly taken place. Forty seven skeletons were unearthed, radio carbon dating placing their time of death at between 1250-1300 A.D.
It must have been a grand event. Hundreds of mourners had accompanied Roymata to his final resting place. Forty six were never to leave. Traditionally, when a prominent chief died he required the company of his family and supporters to join him in his journey to the subterranean nether world. At least one of his wives must go; Roymata was reputed to have had ten. Also on the sacrificial hit list were the very old, incurably sick or incapacitated, children whose mothers had died in childbirth and lesser chiefs' wives where a daughter had died, sick witch doctors and wives of dead sorcerers'. From a practical standpoint, it was a general clearing out of economically unproductive people, and those who may have caused the deaths of others - black magic being the most common form of death in the islands.
For the men, being buried alive followed the ritual kava ceremony. On this occasion, the kava would have been laced with a soporific poison. But women were not allowed to drink kava, so they were either bravely buried alive, or strangled with a cord and laid out beside their husbands. All were orientated towards the southwest, so their spirits entered the dry 'country of the dead' out from Devil's Point.
Roymata's arms were ringed with valuable full circle pig's tusks, and white 'magic' shells placed strategically around his body. His head was supported on a slab of dressed limestone.
Hat Island is no longer tabu, and Sailaway Cruises offers regular cruises to Feles Cave on Lelepa Island, and Roymata's grave on Hat Island.
Feles Cave Lelepa Island
Roymata's place of death was Feles Cave on Lelepa Island. The dome shaped cavern has a 40m ceiling but only a 15sq metre entrance through the white cliffs of volcanic ash and pumice.
Like most volcanic islands in the South Pacific, frequent volcanic eruptions placed successive layers of pyroclastic material, including acidic ash, over basal basalt and coral reefs. With successive ice ages, the seas came and went, sometimes exposing land for eons and at other times flooding the area so yet more coral reef grew over compacted ash beds.
In many places, calcium carbonate leached from the coral reefs trickled through cracks in the ash, cementing it together, metamorphosing it.
Around 2 million years ago the ocean washed out the softer ash in the cliff at Lelepa Island, leaving the denser, ashy limestone behind. Subsequent earthquakes have caused sections of the ceiling to collapse, raising the floor level at the entrance to the cave. Lumps of carbon are mixed amongst the ash, protruding like black gems between the fault line. Inside, ancient cave drawings made from these lumps of carbon, were carbon dated in 1967 to more than 200 years old. Simple figures include men, turtles, fish, chickens and a whale. Traditional geometric patterns are also visible, albeit faded.
In 1879 a New Zealand missionary, M. Milne added his name and date to other, older graffiti carved into the cave's inner walls. This must have been inscribed shortly before he became involved in a dispute between villagers on Nguna Island and fatally met the blunt end of a pig killing club. It is rumoured he was popped into a missionary cooking pot and his religion absorbed abdominally. Also along the inside of the walls is a series of carved, circular notches. Each notch supposedly represents the death of villagers. There are hundreds of such notches, but it is unknown when the system began and ended. Perhaps the most gruesome tale associated with the cave is when a group of villages sought refuge there whilst being pursued by blackbirders aggressively recruiting labourers for the Queensland sugar plantations in the mid 1800's. To extract them from the cave, a large fire was lit at the entrance and the villagers smoked out, only to be killed or thrown alive into the fire as they exited