As part of getting to know the Solomons, our organisation arranged for us to stay at a small village in the Guadalcanal province for a night. This village is comprised of about 20 families who live off the land and host visitors every couple of months as another source of income.
We are picked up on Friday morning by one of the villagers.
Because the roads here are riddled with potholes, driving here is an experience in itself. While half of the population will drive at a stubborn 10 km p/h no matter how many drivers are stuck behind them, the other half will drive at a chair-clutching 70-80 km p/h slamming on the brakes two seconds before potholes.
Our driver is of the latter driving style and we arrive in the village 45 minutes later with whiplash and feeling a lot older.
He walks us around the village showing us the produce the village grows and sells. There are nuts, fruits, vegetables, and palms. Coconuts are the biggest earner, which are dried out into ‘copra’ and then exported overseas to make coconut oil (so hip right now). A relatively new venture, cocoa, is their secondary money maker. This is also sent overseas to make chocolate that the locals rarely get to eat but all their visitors tell them it’s really yum and totally worth it.
Bearing coconuts, the village matriarch welcomes us and storis with us while curious blonde pikinini heads spy on us.
Our lodgings are a simple bamboo hut with a solar panel connected to a single lightbulb. No fan in sight, and I am unsure which one I would prefer more: light, or a fan.
We have a look at the local clinic that has been set up through foreign aid. A visit to the clinic costs a suggested donation of 5 SBD but this is often waived for those who don’t have the money.
Next is the school, and although school is done for the day, our curiosity is piqued by the recent lesson on the blackboard on how one can become a Big Man (chief).
Stage 1: Earn your keep in the garden.
Stage 2: Level up by keeping pigs.
Stage 3: Host partays and feasting.
Stage 4: Gettin dat shell money.
Stage 5: Making it rain shells for celebrity weddings.
Stage 6: Learning the ways of the ancestors.
Stage 7: Killing everyone’s enemies for blood money.
Stage 8: You win! Power and respect as Big Man.
We think it escalates rather quickly between stage 6 and 7 so we consult with one of the teachers. She assures us that the progression to Big Man doesn’t include head-hunting anymore in this day and age but there are trips available for tourists to see some skulls on Skull Island if one is interested.
Dan has a cult following of pikinini trailing after her by this point and they steal touches and hold her hand as we walkabout.
One particular 8-year-old gele appears to be the boss of the pikinini. She impresses us with her tree climbing abilities and throws various fruits and nuts at us to try: cutnuts, cocoa, nali nuts, and rose apples.
Lunch is rice, boiled banana, slippery cabbage, cucumber, and canned tuna – classic local kaikai
TIL: In the Solomon’s they call food, kaikai, and eating, kaikaim.
After a post-lunch swim we are taught how to weave. We make food-gathering baskets and then make our way to the garden to get dinner. While the kids use weeds as fuel to make towers of fire, we learn how to plant kūmara and bok choy. Seeing as there is no tap water in the village we are also shown where the wells are and gather a few buckets of water to take back to the kitchen.
The evening is spent exchanging games. We have prepared for this and have brought a rugby ball to teach the kids touch rugby. After five minutes, the kids are looking at the ball like, ‘What is this, some cruel joke?’. We realise that giving kids a ball that’s hard to throw and doesn’t even bounce good was a better idea in our heads.
The pikinini give up and show us how to play “stacking coconuts”. There are two teams: the fielders and the coconut stackers. The coconut stacking team’s aim is to stack 25 coconut shell halves into one big tower that will hold itself for five counts. The fielding team try and get the stackers ‘out’ by hitting them with a tennis ball. While the fielding team are distracted throwing and retrieving the ball, the stackers use the opportunity to stack shells.
This is a lot more successful than touch rugby.
After dinner, three of the village girls put on their traditional grass outfits and perform some local dances for us. We feel underdressed in our shorts and t-shirts, but in return, our trio performs “Mehe Manurere” and “Tutira Mai Nga Iwi“. Song and dance is a huge part of life here and they ask us to teach them to add to their repertoire. It got dark quickly after that and in the village where the only electricity is the odd light bulb, that means bedtime at 8 pm. Observing that some of the huts in the village were still dark, we had the guilty suspicion that we had borrowed someone else’s solar panels and lightbulb for the night.
We wake up the next day at around 5 am to the sound of the village piglet giving the family dog a hard time. After morning ablutions by the well and a birthday beach walk, we have breakfast while pikinini peek at us. By now we have realised that meals in the Sollies have a running theme of carbs on carbs and for breakfast, we were not disappointed; a bun in one hand and boiled pana in the other (kind of like a potato).
Before leaving, we ask camp mum to teach us one other life skill: how to “scrashem kokonat”. Now that we’ve been giving a hands-on lesson, I don’t think we’ll ever need to buy another can of coconut milk or cream while we’re here.
We leave the village without our rugby ball and none of our mints because the pikinini liked them so much. Feeling like we got a lot, gave little, but at least we left them with fresh breath.