Approaching Lifou island by boat (if you’re arriving by cruise ship), one of the first things you see is the gorgeous old white church on the hill. The second thing is the absolutely incredible azure water that mesmerises you.
The next thing you’llI notice is the broad smiles on the locals faces! There are ladies in their beautiful traditional gowns and little local children laughing and running around.
Then you’ll notice how friendly and well-behaved the locals pets are. The dogs calmly walk about, and don’t pinch food out of tourists hands or bark.
Add to that the lush green surroundings, and you’ll immediately feel like you’ve landed in heaven (minus the humidity).
If you’re staying on the island for the day, you’ll notice that time goes slowly and you just feel different.
As a travelling writer, I immediately felt that this place was special. I’ve been to quite a few islands and the atmosphere on Lifou (or Drehu as the locals call it) was just unique.
As we ventured to the main town and Luecila beach on the other side of the island, I made up my mind that I had to find out how these people (who seem to live such simple lives) are so happy!
It’s no secret that in 2023, depression and anxiety are affecting huge numbers of people in civilised society.
Never in history has there been a bigger mental health crisis affecting our young people, and older people too.
According to the ABS, 20% or 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition, an increase from 18% in 2014-15.
13% or 3.2 million Australians had an anxiety-related condition, an increase from 11% in 2014-15.
A further 10% had depression or feelings of depression, an increase from 9% in 2014-15.
Yet, these people who live on a remote island, 6 hours by boat from the nearest westernised ‘city’, don’t seem to be affected by mental health disorders.
We decided to get a land tour by bus, and here it was that I met Eddie.
Eddie Caihe was our tour guide for the day.
He started by saying that he’s the grandson of one of the Islands chiefs. There are 37 villages and each village has its own chief.
The chiefs acts as policeman. There are no police on the island and Lifou is practically crime free.
Eddie was saying that there were only 5 people in the islands ‘free hotel’, otherwise known as jail.
After we completed our village hopping, we arrived at Lucille (or Luecilla) Beach.
When I say that I don’t have the words to describe how beautiful this bay was, I’m being honest.
The sand was pure white, the water was warm and calm and the whole place was heaven on earth.
I sat down with Eddie in this piece of nirvana to continue our conversation.
Local culture and community
He emphasised the importance of community and respect. The chiefs huts have a low entrance in order for the participants who enter to hut to bow before the people already in there. This indicates that they respect their fellow human beings.
For an island of 10,000 people, everyone and all the communities are interwoven.
Nobody does anything by themselves. They exist as a ‘whole’, not as a ‘part’.
That’s how they survive and thrive so well.
When I asked Eddie if the youth are suffering from anxiety and depression, he simply said “no”.
“We have a few cases here and there, but the youth here are quite happy”.
Eddie emphasised that the locals live very simple lives, and he attributes this one factor as the main cause of happiness.
“Simple lives equals simpler problems to solve, and that’s why we’re happier here”.
The islanders support themselves by farming vanilla, coconut, yams, bananas and many other fruits and vegetables.
Eddie proudly told me that Lifouans grow the ‘best vanilla in the world”. Organic vanilla from Lifou sells at approximately 70,000 CFP francs a kilo (AUS$900). They also fish for local fresh seafood.
The soil is very rich, all they have to do is “throw down the seeds after they’ve eaten the fruit and it grows again”.
Future of Lifou
Eddie told me that Lifou has built an international airport in 2022 and their first 5-star Hotel, both of which are opening in 2023. He hopes this will bring many more tourists to the Island, as the
Daily routines of the locals on Lifou
Eddie told me that the locals “work on the plantations and farms all day, work in the schools and with the tourists, then head to the beach for a relaxing swim to wind down. They then spend the rest of the day with their families and loved ones. Church on Sundays, and we play soccer too.“
I’m sure they drink a little Kava too.
Conclusion and impressions of Lifou
Here’s what I learnt from my time in Lifou.
People who are surrounded by loved ones, friends and family (community) and who lean on them for support are the genuinely most content and happy people I’ve met in my life.
Everyone gives their neighbour something valuable (non-materialistic) and it becomes a knock-on effect. Respect for our fellow human being is the basis of all.
You don’t need all things that western society has told us we need to happy. You don’t need that new BMW, or latest model iPhone. You may not even need that Arts Degree!
We can save this money, and go travelling. That’s just one example of what I’d do, now that I know a bit more about my own happiness and what brings me joy.
Materialistic possessions and a hustle bustle life don’t seem to be the recipe for contentment. That’s not what makes us happy in the long term.
I think a key to a happier life is simplifying it. As Eddie was saying.