‘Hungry Devils and other tales from Vanuatu’ is a collection of short stories about modern missions in the South Pacific, penned by Bryan Webb – a long-term resident of the islands.
Vanuatu is a challenging country for a missionary. With its many tribes, distinctive cultures, and over one hundred local languages, it tests even the strongest-willed of men. But Bryan feels right at home in this tropical Melanesian paradise.
Day after day, despite many adversities, he preaches the word of God to the native inhabitants, trying to incorporate his teachings into local traditions. At the same time, he gets to know the islands, absorbs the Ni-Vanuatu way of life, and immerses himself in everything the archipelago has to offer. He laughs and cries; he struggles; he fails and succeeds. But he survives and, so it seems, thrives.
What a wonderful book this is! Thoroughly captivating, insightful, revealing, thought-provoking. Bryan Webb writes about Vanuatu with a fierce, uncompromising passion he doesn’t even attempt to hide. In the opening sentence of the first chapter he declares: ‘Vanuatu is the land that I love, my surrogate home, the land of my calling’. After such forthright statement, you just know the next pages are filled with some incredible tales. And you can’t wait to read them.
The most impressive feature of this account is its remarkable completeness. Everything – from scenery to people to customs and traditions – is described in equal measure. The author doesn’t confine his attention to one element only, but rather portrays the country as a whole. In some of the stories he takes readers on a guided tour to remote villages, painting a vivid picture of the lush tropical settings, while in the others he delineates cultural practices of indigenous and often forgotten tribes, providing an insight into their distinctive folkways. These different subject matters form a cohesive unity that makes the memoir an immensely interesting publication. But, not only is it engaging, it’s also very informative. This may have something to do with Webb’s extensive knowledge of the archipelago. As a long-standing resident of the islands, he demonstrates an unusually high level of familiarity with the Ni-Vanuatu culture and way of life. His narratives are characterized by accuracy and precision of an insider’s eye. Although from a distant land, Bryan Webb is a local; a local foreigner, you can say. His genuine affection for the Melanesian country couldn’t be more evident. He respects the natives, at all times. He never condemns them, even when their actions elicit his rage. But most importantly, he doesn’t judge what he sees and experiences. Not once does he suggest that something is worse, strange, less worthy. Whether it’s cultural relativism or the effect of his missionary kindness, I don’t know. It might be both.
Speaking of which, religion – or, to be exact, the author’s pastoral ministry – is as much of a prominent topic as Vanuatu itself. Webb outlines the peculiarities of his day to day work, offering you a glimpse into the world of twenty-first century Christian missions. Moreover, every chapter is laced with biblical citations that beautifully complement each tale. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: that’s too much religion for one book. Well, even if this particular subject is beyond the sphere of your interests, I guarantee the author’s adventures will draw you in.
Especially taking into account that the memoir is incredibly well written. Despite the fact that it often broaches very serious issues, Webb maintains a light tone that is breathtakingly delightful. His style is concise yet detailed and descriptive – his words, which evoke a profound sense of ‘being there’, let your mind travel. And, I must say, this is an amazing journey you wish could last a lifetime.
All in all – I will be straight and to the point here – if you read ‘Hungry Devils’, you will be hungry for more.