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October 17th 2007
Published: October 17th 2007
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Discovering Lonwolwol

From 1933 to 1948, a missionary by the name of Paton lived and studied language and custom on Ambrym. He eventually published his findings in a scholarly reference book through a university in Australia. I’ve recently gotten my hands on this book and have found it very useful in learning more about the place I live but also I find it very interesting that as old as the information is much of it is still in practice today. But I’m not going to talk about custom in this blog.

In Paton’s 15 years on Ambrym he learned from it’s people their language and a place called Lonwolwol. Lonwolwol is significant for a number of reasons:

1. Because according to Paton the birth or starting point of all dialects on Ambrym emerged from this village.
2. The one and only medicinal hospital on Ambrym was erected at a mission here in 1896.
3. The missionaries living here not only worked at the hospital but studied extensively the language of Ambrym.
4. But unfortunately, Lonwolwol on December 13, 1913, ceased to exist. A violent volcanic eruption destroyed and engulfed the entire mission station including all research recorded, the hospital and the village. Don’t worry, most of the villagers were able to take refuge on the neighboring island of Malekula.

A week ago I went on a long walk through dark bush with my family. By dark bush, I mean no one lives out there, there is no road just a path to follow. It doesn’t stop until you reach the ocean. So why did I go? To see the famous river (or lake depending on who you are talking to). I have yet to see a proper water source on Ambrym. We rely strictly on rain water although, I have heard such rivers and springs exist. So after walking for about two hours, we reach a nice long sand beach. All the children immediately began digging for crab. I was told to follow my papa and some of my brothers. We walked down the beach a little bit and then turned back inland through some marshy bush to the lake (river). It looked like a lake to me and I wasn’t too impressed. It was too deep where we were to swim and everyone said it was loaded with namarae (eels!). So swimming was out of the question. So what can you do on this lake?

Then papa pointed out this was Lonwolwol. I said, “oh, ok.” And he said, “The hospital is over there.” I said, “I don’t see it.”

The lake is Lonwolwol, the hospital, everything. When the volcano erupted in 1913, it destroyed everything and over the years this place filled with water from rains and cyclones and the ocean. Still when the ocean rises considerably (not just high tide but during cyclones) it empties into this lake. Which, is why I think they call it a river. It will in time become an inlet (if my geography terminology is correct). Apparently, where the cement from the hospital is it is shallow and easy enough to swim across. Unfortunately, mountains surround nearly every side of the lake making it difficult to reach.

Anyway, back on the beach we built a fire and roasted bananas and crabs! The crabs they dug up by the river (lake) were twice the size of the ones by the ocean. Yum!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.


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