My family and I had been camped for several weeks at Tuwo (Tuo) in the Reef Islands
(Solomon Islands) awaiting the district ship to enable me to complete my tour and
return to headquarters at Kira Kira.
Tuwo villagers had lent us a small leaf house 10 feet by 12 feet which had been built
just north of the village, for the medical dresser. Unlike the village houses which are on
the ground with lots of comfortable mats, the Tuwo people had deigned to build a
"proper" house with wooden floor. Unfortunately for us and the next occupant there
were no spare palm trees in the islands to build a flat floor and the adzed logs that had
been used produced a most uncomfortable platform for our thin touring mattress. We
looked with envy at the fine, flat, mat-strewn floors in the village houses but were
consoled when one night a storm brought waves over the beach and under the house.
Two weeks had gone by without a sign of our ship and as we had no trans-receiver
nor even an ordinary radio we had to rely on telepathy to tell the Marine
Superintendent that we were now reduced to a ration of dried breadfruit and bananas.
The water supply from the small well depended upon the narrow lens of fresh water
which sat on the saltwater. It was impossible to collect fresh water without some
mixing, and we had long given up drinking tea made from such a saline source. Supply
of green coconuts was limited and reserved for special occasions when their clear cool
water washed away the salt from our tongues and our teeth. Our clothes, washed in
salty water, were now as stiff and as irritating on our salt-covered skins, as glass paper.
After the first week I had dealt with most of the minor disputes, held a few court
cases and spoken at each of the 17 villages on the need to support their local council.
The method of registering births and deaths - the only place in the Solomons where it
seemed to be taken seriously - was discussed with the Council Clerk and suggestions
for alterations were made. The Local Court was given some instruction and several of
the small village stores were given some help in setting up book-keeping practices.
Then the idea of holding a census was discussed with councillors and I spent a day
designing a form and the method of conducting it. Then it was off to visit each village -
this time I was not greeted with three verses of the National Anthem on entering each
village which was a relief and not exactly treasonable. The village chief had everyone
line up and with interpreter we went down the line and then to each house. It was a
great check on accuracy to have the whole village hear your answer. Several women
listed their children and then said "that's all". But their neighbours shouted, "What
about Ngave or Matthew or Minnie", sheepish grin - "Oh yes". The outstanding
mother had seventeen and what's more they were all living.
Towards the end of the third week I had guilty feelings about swimming before
lunch and being idle with my family by 4.00pm. Margaret and I discussed ways in
which we could repay some of the hospitality of the villagers. Finally it was decided to
hold a sports meeting, European style, on the beach outside our house. At low tide the
beach of fine sand was wide and firm and faced the great lagoon which stretched 20
miles towards the west.
Local Council members. Chiefs, Headmen, Teachers and others considered the idea
sounded fun and thought a small feast might be organised, though food was short and
there would certainly not be any pigs. We pooled our ideas on what sports and games
and set out to recruit marshals, starters and judges which was not difficult. Meanwhile
Margaret did a five hour circuit by canoe and on foot to some of the village stores to
buy prizes. The range was limited; lengths of material, boxes of matches and fish
hooks; but they would have to suffice.
There are only three of the seventeen villages of the Reefs on Fenualoa so most
people travelled by canoe and these began arriving early morning. Starting time was
when everyone had arrived and this seemed to have been achieved by 10.00. The young
single men sat or stood around in tight groups laughing and making ribald comments
to gaggles of nubile girls who paraded up and down the beach in giggling groups.
Children were mainly in the water or paddling around in the canoes, whether they were
three or thirteen years of age. The older men and women sat in their separate groups in
the shade talking loudly to each other and other groups while chewing betel nut or
searching each other's heads for "free riders".
The first races were quite conventional, 100 yards, 220 yards - straight down the
beach - for all age groups that were prepared to field a team. The older ones declared it
was too hot for long distances - and it was; but the younger ones just threw themselves
in the lagoon at the completion of each race.
The canoe races were conducted in the style of Australian surf life-saving boat races
in which the canoes were pulled clear of the water and crews were required to lie on the
beach for the start.
These races provoked great excitement with the graceful outriggers being pushed
through the water at furious speed, out to the buoys, back to the beach, and a run up to
the start line for the crews.
In the afternoon the women took part in basket weaving races in which they ran to a
coconut frond, made a basket and ran back to the starting line with the finished
product. There was so much laughter from both the contestants and audience that
some dropped out of the race through uncontrollable mirth.
Racing on soft sand when standing inside a copra sack pulled up to the waist caused
great hilarity for the married women but the young men and women seemed to have
little trouble in negotiating 50 yards in the sack.
But it was the three-legged race which caught on. So many of the young women went
around in normal circumstances with their arms around each other that tying their legs
together was a natural corollary to their normal stance and for days later pairs of girls
were seen on footpaths with two legs tied as well as the usual stance of arms encircling.
Most people had dispersed by nightfall but groups of young people remained on the
beach talking and laughing in the bright moonlight which shimmered on the lagoon as
all Hollywood movies showed it should.