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Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu
Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu
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Lambue, Belaru, Espiritu Santo, Luganville, Sanma province, VU
Climate zone:
Wet Tropical

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Site Update: News from the bush week 2

Project: Permaculture Research Institute Luganville, Vanuatu

Posted by Zaia Kendall almost 6 years ago

On Wednesday 15th, Meriem and I (Anne) went to town to do the weekly shopping and to send the website updates. We bought another shovel and gum boots for everyone and we met a bus driver, René from Nambauk the next village past Belaru. He gave us some information about the famous touristic spots in the area: millennium caves further up from where we are and the old American airport. He also told us that on Santo there are 52 different dialects. He explained to us how and when to get the bus up and down and gave us his phone number.

The guys went on the land site and cut the redwood tree. This tree is really hard and without a ripping chain that does not exist for the old model of chainsaw we are using, this job is just endless. It took one full day, 10 litres of fuel and 2 men to fell down the tree and ripping one part of it… As if this tree didn’t want to be shut down, while falling he got stuck on another tree.  Papa had to chop down this other tree quite dangerously. Finally it struggled as it was held up by vines but finally it reached the forest floor.

We decided in the evening to leave the redwood tree for a later better building when we will get the right chain on the right chainsaw, as we were just wasting a lot of human energy, petrol and time. We will use palm trees which is a strong wood as well.

On Thursday 16th the guys, helped by 4 of Ray’s workers started to make natan gura boards. Meriem and I stayed on the house site to work on the swale and clean out the tree previously felled. In the afternoon, we joined the natan gura team and learned how to make boards. The tree is dropped and then split in half with the axe and the crow bar, then again each half in two or tree other bits. The inside of the tree is made of a spongy matter which is quite light, watery and sugary. Then we took these bits one by one to flatten them on the inside and peel them from the bark on the outside. The real bushmen are doing the job in 5 to 10 minutes, we were taking almost one hour struggling to find the right movement. It is actually really nice and satisfying to see a whole natan gura trunk processed in few hours to make finished material usable for the building.

On the way back Papa and Steve cut a very long palm with only an axe in only 15 minutes, but the trees stayed held in place by branches in the air. After all the struggle with the redwood, we were very happy to have taken this decision ! We just need to get this hanging tree down now! I came back with a painful swollen blister caused by the new gumboots.

On Friday 17th, we had a early day and we were all happy to see Sami, one of the helpers who came back sent by Ray. We started to pull down the hanging palm. We used a long bamboo to bring a knotted rope as far as we can on the trunk so we can then pull it down,  quite a difficult task to do with precision with a long bamboo… Fortunately Sami was with us! We then felled a new Natan Gura, kept making boards and we got better! Starting to learn the movement!

After a quick lunch we headed back home to get ready for our weekend at Bambooa, in Papa family’s house where every one is already waiting for us. A nice break from the bush near the beach with Mama’s apparently great cuisine is exactly what we needed!


Their house is situated near Luganville in a village type area full of life and children and just a 15 minutes walk from the very famous ‘one million dollar point’ beach: snorkelers paradise! This is the site where the Americans soldiers dumped all they ‘rubbish’ or non compostable material at the end of the WWII before heading back to their country, today half covered by coral this part of the island is one of the high diving spot of Vanuatu! Papa’s neighbour and landowner of the beachfront site, knew how to value this beautiful piece of the island. He made up a nice garden area with some tables and a rest area and makes the tourists pay 500 Vatu to swim from the white sand/broken bottles glass beach to the metallic submarine which is slowly taken back by mother nature.

We were introduced to all the family: Mama of course busy in the kitchen, May, one of Agnes’ sisters and Vira 1 and 2, two of her brothers, plus husband, wives and a lot of pikininis (children in Bishlama). Papa is a successful cuddly ‘Bubu’ (grandfather) and he is really proud of the last born : Wilson, the cutest tornado ever ! We pitched our tent in the garden, watched and helped by all the family. As soon as we finished, the girls were already washing, brushing and playing with my long hair so different from theirs! Dany had the same treatment and end up platted by Hannah, sister in law. We went down to one of the brother’s kava bar to finally try this reputed drink. We found it to taste like licorice and very strong, way stronger then the one I had in Fiji! We finished our day with an amazing crab and coconut dish before falling asleep in the house… as the tent had been occupied by the pikininis ! This is truly an island paradise and it’s so good to share this delightful slice of heaven with our new family!

On Saturday we just enjoyed our rest day, sleeping in and talking around a nice brekky. We went down to this famous beach for a snorkeling session with the young girls, we had the privilege not to have to  pay as we were being accompanied by the landowner’s daughter.


We then went for a look around the area visiting the house of Vira number 1 and some relative’s cousins in order to check some bamboo and Natan Gura structures.

Every one is really curious to hear about permaculture and papa is becoming really enthusiastic. We really liked few bamboo wall weaving patterns and we found some great hut designs! I found the little chill out protected area really appropriated for our dining and chilling space! We met new friends, Molina and Marilyn, a police man and his wife. Really nice people interested about learning more about what we are doing and helping us .We had another Lab Lab right in the middle of the afternoon, then we went back to the beach for a swimming session!

Papa and Mama slept in the tent that night with the children and really liked it ! We promised we would give it to them when we leave.

On Sunday 19th in the morning we followed the family at the apostolic church. As the Italian expression says : “ When in Rome, do as the Romans…“ In Vanuatu, we do as the NiVans…we honoured our hosts and quite enjoyed our singing time in an open church located in the middle of a flourishing garden, kind of Eden !

We spotted a baby comfrey imported from a neighbouring island, Ambae !!! A lot of pigeon pea and different beans: winged and a kind of small madagascar! We came back with a lot of seeds and two tree seedlings: a palm and a white type of hibiscus!

Agnes and Ray came for a visit to talk about the building, the progress in the materials collection and the Natan Gura thatches needed. We learned that we just have 200 and we need a lot more … maybe we can ask Ginette?

The way back home was a struggle, not many buses and it was a really hot day, we had to walk quite a bit!

A last swim in BP Borne where we can also rinse ourselves at the fresh water spring and Ray will bring us back.

We had a brainstorming about Zone One that evening, and talked about new ideas and examples of building collected during the week end at Bambooa. We made a list of urgents, tried to anticipate the building site organisation and consequences and made some decisions:

– An annual garden, short-term food provider, which will be planted with the already available seeds: madagascar beans, choko, winged beans, cucumbers, bok choi, tomatoes and capsicums before the end of the week. We will use the slightly shady area just next to the house, it has been cleaned out of the vines the first week and since then we have been making big piles of all the organic matter collected from the cleaning. Organised around the trees and along the grass edge as barriers, they will make perfect protected ready mulched beds. They will still be easily removed later if needed when we will progress on the design. This is for now an emergency garden needed for food security.

– A short term nursery around the stump of the dropped milk wood tree.

– Compost making near the same area continuing the clearing of vines, adding green layers on some of this organic material to make compost straight onto future beds. We will also bring in some kitchen waste.

– Finding some time to work on digging the swale!

– Cleaning some areas in the second clearing to start to plant ground cover such as pumpkin, sweet potato and a variety of ground cover beans we got from ‘wan smal bag’ garden in Port Vila. We want to observe and develop techniques to reduce the vine, which is also a ground cover! Then we will plant cassava, small trees such as pawpaw and bananas and probably pioneers such as cassia and albizzia to start a food forest depending on the coming design.

On Monday the 20th Steve is not here , but 4 of us have a great and effective working day. We took down a new Natan Gura , the third one, and processed it all into boards in one day! Plus Papa and Dany split the palm which was cut down previously !!! We start to be really good at making boards: 16 more !


I (Anne) started to limp due to my gumboot blister from last week. Arrived home I figured out that my ankle was badly infected,  red and swollen! Hello dear bacteria!!! Time for me to use your cream Tom ! It took me less then 1 month to get this famous tropical ulcer infection! Weak white people!

We ate a nice pumpkin soup at night and kept the seeds for our upcoming garden!

Tuesday 21st we started our day in flip flops! As I cannot use shoes anymore we decided to start our new journey of becoming bushmen and imitate the NiVan!

What a nice feeling to get the freshening nice morning dew and travel way lighter!

We also had an effective day splitting and preparing 18 posts from  the palm on site and felled and started to process another one! The processing job is quite similar to the Natan Gura board making, a bit harder to flatten the inside, and then we need to carve them as the sections are bigger. Those one we don’t peel out since there aren’t risk with insects and we prefer them whole!

When we got back home, we found our food attacked by chooks! they had eaten our bananas, some of the one meter snake bean offered by Ginette and our pumpkin seeds !

Wednesday 22nd,  my infection was getting better but I decided to stay home to do a bit of cleaning, to experience some star fruit ‘carambole’ jam, learn the Natan Gura thatch making by observing Ginette and doing some writing to send you some news! Meriem went to town to meet a friend and to buy nails and a hatchet to carve the palm post. Dany and Papa finished to prepare the posts with Linden who offered to help. They focused on finding small red wood trees to use them as posts. Because they didn’t want to cut trees in the Zone 5, they looked for some along the North boundary and collect 24 small trees and a big one, they then brought them back to the house site and came home really exhausted.

We had a nice evening. Agnes stayed with us for the night,  so we had a nice cassava and coconut vegie dinner and a lot of laughs.

On Thursday 23rd, Ray came to pick up Agnes and he dropped off a big crew of tough workers! Steve was there with 2 other young boys from the Packete community: Timmy and Calvin. Linden came as well and the four of them made a kind of funny team : hard workers and hard laughers ! Really keen to learn and interested in building. Mendra, Ray’s brother a very strong middle age man who chopped down the long big milkwood, stayed on the house site for about 30 minutes with Rocky, Noelin’s husband, a little older but with a lot of stamina, very good eyes and skills and a lot of good stories .

With so many workers we had to give good directions to be effective. They started with bringing down all the bamboo posts from the cacao Natan Gura patch on Ray’s land, we were really impressed with the strength of these young boys ! Mendra did as well a quite impressive amount of work carrying all the big ones by himself ! Papa and Rocky marked out the house again and moved it a little further front from the initial setting. Rapidly a team started to dig the holes for the posts. Another team started to peel the bark off the red wood posts and finished carving the palm posts. I improvised a kitchen session on site, cooking some cassavas and island cabbage to extend our little lunch for this big mob of 9 workers !

We finally found the time to sow some seeds in our little provisional  nursery : the milk wood stump ! Steve found a smart idea to make label out of coconut leaves. Cacao, flat and winged beans, pigeon peas, pawpaw and capsicum has been planted.

By the end of that day we had 4 posts in the ground and almost all the timber frame material ready to use.





For now we only have 200 Natan Gura thatch panels which costs 20 000 Vatu, but we need 200 more. Ginette, our neighbour is an expert, she was available to make them, but doesn’t have the leaf material. We talked with Ray and Agnes who proposed to bring some over for her to process, but first we needed to get the bamboo supports ready. Linden kindly offered to help Dany fell down 100 big bamboos, cut them and split them in half, a long and quite risky job as bamboo is very sharp material to work with! We hope to be ready by next week to process the leaves. We are happy working with our neighbours and friends as they are treating us as family.

On Friday 24th, we arrived early on site and the helpers started to arrive, Timmy, Rocky, Mendra and Ray came that day. We finished putting all the main posts up: 10 more! We dug the holes, leveled the posts, rammed earth back…. heavy work with the soil a bit wet but our team is great ! Meriem planted some sweet potatoes cuttings in the second clearing.




We left the site early with such a nice feeling of accomplishment with 14 posts in the ground and got a lift down town with Ray.

A bit of shopping and hangout on the main square where the celebration of independence had started with many different foods, kava and games stalls, some music and fireworks.

On Saturday 25th, Meriem went to Bambooa visit Papa’s family and spent the weekend near the beach as Dany and I did the previous weekend. Dany and I stayed at home with the neighbours, we had a chicken for dinner and could see the chicken processed NiVan style from A to Z!!! Linden caught it with the palm frond and the dog, he killed it with a knife and after pulling out all the feathers, Frank chopped it into pieces before cooking it !

IMG_4832  IMG_4836

Those chicken are amazingly fat, fed with coconut! We first boiled it for almost one hour and then we had capsicum, onions and baby African yams, delicious sweetness!

On Sunday, Ginette and Frank decided to make a cassava lab lab, we spent the day with them, helping and most of all, learning!

I solved the mystery of turmeric : yes of course they know!!!! It is called island curry! Ginette laughed when I told her we were looking for ‘yellow ginger’ at the market and every one was looking us weirdly! She proposed to give us a lot of planting material for the garden and it is great !

Here some pictures of our sweet home to let you imagine where we are and maybe come for a little visit, even if only in cyberspace ;-))))

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