VANUATU’S 38th Independence Day was celebrated in traditional North West Efate style today – with dozens of dazzling smiles, greetings of ‘Happy Anniversary Day’, loads of good kai kai, the now traditional football and volleyball matches between local villages … and more smiles.
The smile is Vanuatu’s most famous trade mark and it is not reserved for tourists.
A healthy contingent of Havannah Harbour expats were greeted by an array of welcoming smiles from old and young alike and as always we were thanked for sharing their special day.
This year’s celebration was at the village of Mangaliliu, in the heart of a World Heritage site surrounded by jungle and rainforests.
And celebrating being a republic for 38 years makes it the most special day on the calendar in Vanuatu.
All selections of chicken, stick meat, kebabs and even anniversary chocolate cake with sticky red icing were well received, then all the shady spots were filled as the girls played volleyball and the afternoon football match got under way.
The game was played on a football pitch that is almost level and it was played at a fast pace between Tanoliu and Mangaliliu – but it was played in a spirit befitting an important national holiday.
Some of the larger trees around the pitch doubled as makeshift grandstands for the younger, more agile boys, while villagers laid out chairs in a cleared space for the expats.
It was noticeable that six or more years ago, few of the footballers wore footwear. Now they all do and they were quick to try out some of the moves made by their heroes in the recent World Cup in Russia.
The half-time entertainment at the Independence Cup almost stole the show when six colourfully attired Mamas sashayed across the brown grass pitch to some raucous music.
Hips swaying and arms swinging, they included some of the oldest mamas in the village.
In the cup, Tanoliu proved to be too strong, but the result was not really important.
The day was about celebrating freedom and each other.