Three generations at the Rom Dance – the High Chief (left), Chief Sekkor and his son
Apologies that a recent post arrived now fewer than five times on the blog! We can (occasionally) get the blog to appear on our pc here – log in, go and make a cup of tea then come back to see if the thing has managed to connect – but at the moment we can't edit it, the internet is just too slow. So the only way to add a post to the blog is to send an email update and the 'Gentlemen Don't Go to Windward' email seems to have repeated itself several times! These days we get so used to being online, even on the boat, that it's frustrating when it doesn't happen. We're using a Digicel sim card in Graham's iPhone which can then act as a wifi hotspot to allow the PC to connect but, despite the fact that we can see the Digicel cell tower on the hill just above us and the phone shows 5 bars of signal, there's virtually no data transfer available. Ah well....
The final day of the Festival was very, very wet! The Rom dance doesn't usually take place if it's raining because the beautifully-make masks, painted with natural colours and woven with pandanus fibres, would be damaged but, after waiting in vain for the weather to clear, the chief decided to go ahead with just 6 Roms rather than the usual dozen or so. The dance was made all the more special because the chief's second son, who looked about 13, was being initiated to be allowed to wear the Rom costume and join the elite band of dancers who can take part in this unique-to-Ambrym tradition. The poor lad looked very uncomfortable at having to do all this in front of all of us but with his father, Chief Sekkor and his 77 year old grandfather, who is the High Chief of the region, looking on supportively as he made it through the ceremony. At the end he was supposed to kill a very large pig but, probably because of his audience or perhaps because of the wet conditions, he just gave it a tap with his ceremonial staff (but he will have to do the job properly in the next day or so). This came as quite a relief to us; at the start of the previous day's proceedings we'd witnessed a pig being ceremonially despatched with blows to the head with a club, which wasn't a great sight. His father handed his uncle (we think) a substantial wad of money and a new Rom mask was presented to the boy in return. We were told that, once a dancer has earned the right to wear the Rom costume and has learned the intricate dance, he must not divulge any of what he has been taught to others or he'll face a stiff penalty.
Afterwards Chief Sekkor explained to us that he was desperate to keep the traditions of Ambrym alive so this latest initiation was really important to all of the locals. The High Chief, who had looked taciturn throughout the whole festival, broke into a lovely smile at the end and, holding hands with Kerry like a long-lost friend, looked delighted that his grandson was continuing the tradition of his forefathers.