Table of contents:
Etiquette In the Islands
The guidelines offered on this page will help you ingratiate yourself with the local community, and help to preserve both the charm of the Louisiades and the special relationship shared between the communities who live there and the cruisers who visit them.
Everything Belongs to Someone
To the visiting "dim dim", the Louisiades appears to offer abundance - fish, shellfish, paw paw, coconuts, and mangos are everywhere you look. However, understand that the locals depend on these resources to survive, and whilst they will gladly trade with you, helping yourself is tantamount to stealing.
If there is something you want or need, ask permission of the senior members of the nearest village first. The one exception seems to be fishing for game fish - i.e. fishing away from inhabited islands for species that the locals are not equipped to catch from their banana boats or sailing canoes. In this case, it is polite to donate some of your catch to the village. (The locals tend to have less concerns about the risk of ciguatera than yachties do, and appreciate large predatory species like giant barracuda which you might otherwise discard).
When you arrive at a new anchorage the local community will quickly learn of your arrival and come out to greet and trade with you. In a community that depends on sailing canoes for communication with the rest of the world, the arrival of visitors is a big event for everyone as it represents a chance to find out the news, to trade for items they need, and to be entertained by the travellers' stories. Nevertheless, it is polite to ask the senior members of the village if they mind you staying for a few days. It is sometimes worth assuring them that you don't want to fish around their island, that you just want a secure place to rest and the opportunity to get to know them.
Most islands are inhabited, so the chances are you will be walking through someone's back yard or their garden (even though this is not immediately apparent to the visiting "dim dim"). Once again, if you go ashore, ask permission to explore the island before venturing too far. It's extremely unlikely that you would be refused - it's more likely that you would be offered a guide to show you something particularly interesting, or invited to visit the local school.
There is no garbage collection & disposal service in the islands, so marine pollution principles apply:
- rinse, compress, and stow all your plastic waste for disposal at the next developed port
- stow your organic waste and dispose of it only when you are well away from places where folks go swimming / paddle canoes, and you are certain it won't wash up on shore
- stow your glass and metal waste until you are in deep water and can be sure it won't wash up ashore.
Fresh water is a precious commodity in the islands. Very few islands have plumbing - most rely on catchment from the roof of the school or brackish water from a well. In other words, don't count on being able to get water from the local village. Depending on the season, even asking for water to refill your tanks would put some villages in a difficult position - they would probably want to help you, but doing so may risk their own water supply.
If you need drinking water, see what you can trade for coconuts. Seriously, the locals carry fresh coconuts the way folks in Sydney or Melbourne carry fancy bottled water!
Trade, Aid & Gifts
The Louisiades communities are generally proud of their self-sufficiency and resourcefulness. They are so generous and welcoming towards yachties that it is difficult not to feel compelled to do everything you can to help them. Here are a few guidelines that will hopefully help you to make a contribution without undermining local community pride.
- Generous trade is preferrable to gift-giving
- Strike a fair deal, agree on it, and then throw in a little extra (e.g. a t-shirt for the child who is likely to be in the canoe with the adult)
- Gift-giving is appropriate for beneficiaries such as schools and clinics. These organisations appreciate the following contributions, and you can be assured the entire community will benefit:
- exercise books, pencils, erasers
- medical supplies
- baby clothes
- Gifts may be appropriate to show your appreciation if you receive particularly generous hospitality from your new friends
- I exclude first aid and other "service" type assistance from these guidelines. If locals ask for help in terms of "medicine" (typically they will want antibiotics or basic pain relief such as paracetamol), or assistance to get an injured person to an aid post or hospital, it's probably serious and there should be no question that you would offer whatever assistance you can without expectation of repayment. Similarly, you may be asked to assist with mechanical skills, or to use your tools to help repair something for the local school or clinic. This is a great way to make friends with the locals and gain insight into their way of life, and that makes it a fair swap in my book.
Alcohol (& other drugs)
Keep your grog on your boat, and don't offer it to the locals. Generally speaking, the locals will have a significantly lower tolerance of alcohol than the average yachtie, and alcohol abuse tends to have unpleasant social consequences (domestic violence). Local "bad boys" make "jungle juice" in bush stills - leading to prohibition of yeast in some communities!
The same goes for any other recreational substances you may have on board. Just don't.
Betel is the local social drug of choice. Dim dims sometimes gain significant kudos with locals if they learn to partake - probably since so few do. If you want to try it, you'll have no trouble finding a local willing to teach you. On the other hand, a quick look at the state of a 50 year-old betel chewer's dental health will quickly convince you that it is not a habit you want to develop.
Be generous, but consider whether your generosity could create jealousy, dependency, or lead to a tendency to expect "handouts" from future cruisers.