Tattooing is again popular through out the Pacific after the missionaries tried to stop the practice a half century ago. On Tahiti they (Tahitian as well as the French) stick mostly to traditional Polynesian style made up of black patterns, though you will see the occasional heart or eagle. Though the fashion tattoos today, made with a modern tattoo-gun at one of the tattoo studios, are the most esthetically to look at, there is just something authentic about the elder's old and faded pieces that easily fill out a whole leg or back. These were made by hand with the use of crude tattooing instruments by repeatedly tapping a stick with a row of needles into the skin. So when you get tired of looking at the turquoise sea, turn your eyes to the walking skin art in the streets.
The highland is still very much a wild place, even though the diverse patchwork of tribes and clans race against the changes that are taken place. To keep up with their tradition and culture the two biggest cities, Goroka and Mt. Hagen, each put up a spectacular show every year, where tribes from all over the highland dress up traditionally and perform dramatic sing-sings. It's a unique opportunity to meet the Asaro Mud Men, Huli Wigmen and other fierce warriors decorated with feathers, animal teeth and pig grease. And even though things have calm down since the heydays of cannibalism, the shows are still pretty crazy. Just like PNG.
Betel nut is an innocent looking nut, but when chewed with crushed coral and mustard stick, it works as a mild stimulant – which strangely also generates blood-red saliva that stains everything including the teeth. Most locals chew betel nut unless their branch of Christianity has managed to ban it. Many shops and offices have signs banning the chewing of betel nuts on the premises and in Honiara they even try to minimise the disgusting red spit splashes by encouraging the use of spitting boxes (used cardboard boxes). Yummy. If you give it a try, do not expect any effect besides a headache the first couple of times - and you have to be pretty persistent to keep trying.
In the not-so-old days of tribal warfare, the tribes of Malaita fancied a bit of head hunting. To be able to distinguish friends from enemies, they practised facial scarification as a means of tribe identification. Each tribe had their own design made up of circles and lines which were cut into the cheeks of infants. When they grew up, the marks would smoothe out and leave discoloured facial patterns. Though the Christian missionaries have managed to ban the head hunting, some people of Malaita still perform facial scarification with the ancient patterns. And it still looks really cool.
The people of Vanuatu are not shy to show you their way of life. A visit to a Kastom village will no-doubt involve some traditional dance, like the Namba dance on Tanna island. The chief will call the men together by banging the tam-tam, and soon after they will all appear buck-naked with only a bundle of leaves, a so-called Namba, covering their private parts. They will clap, sing, jump, and stamp their way through the tribal dances right on the dirt under the canopy of a giant banyan tree. It is an amazing performance to watch and has a refreshingly authentic feel to it, far from those tacky tourist shows you can see elsewhere in the South Pacific.