Edgar hummed softly, almost to himself. Edgar did everything softly, with a quiet, dignified self assurance that belied his barefoot, tee shirt and short trousers presence. Early on a sunny morning with just two other people in the tiny but well respected Vanuatu National Museum, Marce and I eagerly rushed from amazing mask collections to twelve foot tall wooden drums, intricately detailed pottery urns, head to toe grass costumes with long pointy snouts, but Edgar, Edgar was the man. He’d said to take a look around and while there were no cruise ships in the harbor and he hadn’t planned on a demonstration he might show us a few things.
A wooden frame, one meter square, containing a light layer of sand lay on the floor in front of him and he softly began to give a small talk about…well I had no idea because at first I couldn’t understand a word he said.
Marce looked as if she understood everything so I determined to concentrate more intensely. Slowly words I recognized began to rise up out of Edgar’s gentle lilt. He knelt and began to slowly trace intricate patterns in the sand, never lifting his finger, never stopping, quietly, constantly relating an ancient story which seemed in sync with the ellipses, loops, and circles.
Just when it seemed he’d drawn himself into a corner and there was nowhere to go he’d swoop around with a graceful figure and continue. Turns out that it’s not really sand drawing, it’s a form of writing. It’s how they write the story down. Breathtaking.
When it was time for another story he held the frame by the sides and with a well practiced flick of his wrists, the sand jumped and the whole story disappeared like a huge Etch-A-Sketch. Edgar did three stories, the first was an incredibly intricate design, the second revealed a turtle just before he Etch-A-Sketched the frame and the last became a multi masted sailboat, in honor of how we arrived here in Vanuatu.
He played the Vanuatu national anthem on a gamelan kind of instrument.
I guess you could say that Edgar is a kind of Renaissance Man, all of which makes it hard to imagine his ancestors of not very long ago “eating the man.” Yes, there are still Vanuatuans alive today who have eaten humans but I guess like Hannibal Lector says, it’s not bad when paired with fava beans and a nice Chianti.