Monday, 9 January 2012

Old Year’s Day and the Okalolies

I had an excellent Christmas Dinner on Tristan at the UK Government Administrator’s Residency.  Sean is a great cook and kindly invited the ex-pats round for a delicious Christmas roast dinner with loads of vegetables and Christmas pudding.  A visit to the Residency is always eagerly anticipated – it is by far the biggest and poshest house on the island; warm, bright, comfortable and with deeply plush armchairs.  The Tristan equivalent of Buckingham Palace, I suppose.  (In return Sean and his charming wife Marina came round to my humble abode for dinner last week.  Just the impetus I needed to spring clean the house and cook a nice meal.  French onion soup and home-made bread, Roast Chicken and potatoes, peas & cabbage with lovely red wine!)

New Year plans were a bit uncertain, but it developed into one of the best I can ever remember.  Though to be fair, I only have a hazy recollection.  I visited and met loads of people throughout the day, evening and night.  And there was a fair bit of drinking too. In fact from 10am on Old Year's Day (the local name for New Year’s Eve) right through to the small hours.  The highlight was another visit to the Residency for drinks and nibbles. Folk stood around in the garden and chatted in the warm summer’s evening.  A Rockhopper penguin surveyed the scene from the corner of the garden rather disapprovingly.

It is an Old Year’s Day custom on Tristan that young men dress up in frightening disguise, wearing horrible masks and go from house to house terrorising the islanders.  Women and children are locked up for safety by their men folk.  But the Okalolies, as they are known, are devious and have been known to go up into an attic in one house and down through the hatch into the next! Anyone caught out can expect a prank to befall them: like being thrown in a paddling pool or at the very least squirted by water-pistol.  Initially I thought the penguin in the Residency garden was yet another Okaloly prank. But no. Rockhopper penguins leave the sea at this time of year and head to higher ground inland to molt.  This one just happened to gatecrash the party!

The next stop is Prince Philip Hall for the Chief Islander’s party. It is traditional that only men are invited. Well, except for the women who serve the food.  Then it is off to one of the many braais around the settlement, with an unscheduled stop to ask for directions.  I am invited in and treated like a long-lost friend, and eventually lead to my destination by my torch-carrying host.  The barbequed lamb and beef is well marinated in some delicious concoction, probably involving Mrs Ball’s fine chutney.  The heat from the braai is welcome as the evening begins to cool. We visit other braais, with more delicious food, drink, and convivial company.

Suddenly its quarter to midnight and we make for the Dong, where a large group has already gathered.  At midnight we take turns to hammer the Dong – an empty gas cylinder (well I hope it is empty!) that is more usually used to signal a fishing day.  Sean invites everyone back to the Residency (fantastic – another visit!) to continue the New Year celebrations and there is much chatting, music, drink and dancing - right through until morning.

Happy New Year everybody!


  1. Blimey Jim, great setting for a whodunnit!

    Happy New Year.


    PS - "Hammering the Dong"? You're definitely making that up.

  2. Hmmm, maybe I should have chosen my words more carefully!

  3. Fascinating. There's an interesting article about the NY's eve guising @

    I didn't know that a similar custom also apparently exists on the Hebrides.

    Sounds v much like you had a New Year to remember.

    All the best for 2012. Keep up the good work.