The Monday morning village of Lenakel market was bustling with villagers who had descended on the centre of the town to see the freighter off and to buy and sell their local produce and handicrafts. We had woken up early in the morning but were still a bit late in our 7am arrival. Getting to the market we motored from our anchorage in the harbor to the wharf which was also crowded with people getting onto the small freighter bound for Port Villa. It was a site to see as pickups were unloading produce and gear bound for the capital city of Vanuatu. I looked over and noticed three small baby pigs bound up with their snouts poking out of some burlap sacks. One had managed to get his entire head out of the sack and was squealing loudly, not sure that he really wanted to go on the upcoming voyage. Hand woven mats and veggies wrapped in banana leaves were also among the items being loaded up. We tied up our dinghy and quietly walked through all of the action going on around us, careful not to get in the way.
The walk from the wharf to the market square only took two minutes. Already the most rare produce products for this time of year were gone. Although there were no more avocados and watermelon, there were plenty of bananas, tomatoes, peanuts, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and root vegetables of the islands. As we wandered around the people who had laid down mats on the ground with all of their fresh garden items, Orin spotted two live chickens that were immobilized and sitting on the ground among the produce. Presentation is a big part of the farmers market. Carrots and yams were in bunches, tied up to form pyramids on the mats. Four bunches of lettuce were strung together with a stick made from the hard vein of a palm leaf and woven baskets hung from an overhanging tree branch. Interestingly enough ladies sat around the various stalls clustered into small groups. If we wanted to buy any items we had to pick it up and then look around to wait for someone to come by and tell us that this was their produce for sale. Someone always came but not usually right away. It was awkward on a few occasions wondering if the person who owned the stand had gone to the washroom or left for some other reason. Eventually someone always showed up to collect their money.
The market here was among the most affordable we have seen in the islands. 4 heads of lettuce (100 vatu – $1.15), a 2 lb pyramid of carrots 50 vt, 5 cucumbers 100 vt, 5 lbs sweet potatoes 100 vt, pamplemouse 25 vt, 5lbs finger bananas 200 vt, 10 lbs tomatoes 100 vt, two bunches of raw peanuts on the root 100 vt. The selection was incredible and it is obvious that the people of Tanna depend on and spend considerable amounts of time and effort on their gardens. The people of the island still live very simple lives in handmade thatched roof homes and their only need to earn money is to pay for clothing, tools and the hefty school fees needed to educate their children. If they don’t have children needing school fees, it is a very simple life.