Barbara and Ben
Life Solomon Islands

Kwaio Krismas

on
December 25, 2018

Two days before Christmas we were at the domestic airport with our frens Ben and Barbara, and Ben’s parents, waiting for our flight to Gwanaruu airport, Malaita Province. We’d been invited to our frens’ Christmas Engagement Celebration in West Kwaio, southwest Malaita, and we were excited. Excited because we were having a village Christmas and excited because no one knew what to expect at a Christmas Engagement Celebration. We’ve heard stories of oblivious foreigners getting accidentally married, was this going to be one of them?

After a wet and slidey landing at Gwanaruu airport, we jumped on the back of the family truck to head into town. We needed to stock up on supplies.

Gwanaruu airport, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Gwanaruu airport, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Supplies are always required before going to the village and that means stockpiling the holy trinity of dietary staples: Sol rice, Sol tuna and biskits (It’s also a good idea to slip in some coffee, powdered milk, toilet paper, snacks, something for the kids, and maybe some laxatives if you’re not flash hot with eating nothing but carbs on Sol rice for a week).

While waiting on the back of the truck we heard Ben spit out in disbelief, “That’s my bike.”

Now when we first arrived in the Sollies, one of the first persons we met was a guy who had his expensive dual-suspension, carbon-frame mountain bike stolen. That was 18 months ago in Honiara and his name was Ben. Honiara is not a big place but no wonder we never saw anyone riding it in Honiara – it was on a completely different island!

“That’s my bloody bike!” and Ben jumped off the truck with his Malaitan girlfriend in tow to get it back.

Word around the island says Ben shook the guy down and demanded compensation like a legit Malaitan gangster. He got his bike back so it’s probably true.

Malaita.
Victorious!

Once we’d packed our cargo (bike included), we switched to a faster but smaller truck and drove two hours south down the west coast of Malaita. Our backs helped to keep all our cargo in place and our legs swung off the edge of the truck. It was pretty exciting on the nerves: overloading, rusty latches, speeding, no seatbelts, potholes, and keeping all body parts on the inside of the vehicle not compulsory.

Once you got over the fear of an accident around every corner, the drive you could wax lyrical. Coconut trees lining the road, houses and leaf huts with respectably swept frontyards and backyards, dense bush, pineapple and kumara roadside stalls, pigs chilling in the middle of the road, people waved as we passed, strangers waving at strangers.

We reached Asimana village safe, asses numb, and feeling relieved. Half the village came out to greet us and lined up single file to commence the handshaking protocol, the standard code of conduct when Whitemen come to visit. It’s always nice to meet the whole village like this but also slightly awkward since both sides don’t know if we’re doing it right.

Barbara let us know special preparations had been made for our visit: the temporary shower that only comes out when Whitemen visit had been reinstalled (a wooden frame with a black tarp nailed around it), the outdoor toilet block had been unlocked but beware of the fire ants on the butts, and a new stage had been built under the house since last years’ Whiteman visitors were such a hoot maybe this year’s guests would be just as entertaining?

The next few days in the village we spent doing village life things. This was not our first village rodeo, so we were kinda ready. Well, we tried to do village life things but we were so damn hot just trying to acclimatise without power and fans. We spent most of our time finding the least hot ways of draping ourselves over furniture.

Our day started waking up in a pool of sweat at the crack of dawn when that bloody rooster started going. There weren’t many items on our village daily to-do list:

  • Refill the bucket for flushing the outdoor toilet
  • Handwash the laundry
  • Ask around the village for this ingredient or that particular implement
  • Make dinner
Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Mostly, we sat just around and storied. Ben made Whiteman food to share (pasta) which was received politely, and Nid introduced Sriracha (this was a big hit and Nid’s most valuable contribution to development in this country).

The kids were constant entertainment throughout the day, showing us their dance moves for the upcoming Christmas performances and how to do flips off the wharf. We also bought some second-hand books and games for the kids, one of which was an old I SPY puzzle asking where the ice-skates were. How to explain to a Solomon Island kid?

Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Wharf jumping by Su’u – the southern-most road of Malaita.

During one of our more heroic bursts of energy, we checked out the coconut mill and learnt how to make coconut oil.

  1. Crack a coconut
  2. Scratch it
  3. Put scratched coconut on a long stovetop to steam, and flip it around for a bit.
  4. Stuff into a tube
  5. Pressssss
Crack coconuts for scratching.

Coconut scratcher, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Coconut Scraper Turbo 300: On every Solomon Islander’s Christmas wishlist.

Coconut scratcher, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Scratch coconut.

Coconut oil making, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Use the husks to stoke the fire.

Coconut, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Steam the coconut and flip so it doesn’t burn.

Coconut oil pressing, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Shove it into a tube.

Coconut oil pressing, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.
Full body press.

If only they had a gift shop and coconut ice-cream stand at the end.

Christmas morning was a quiet affair as the real celebrations always happen in the evening. During the day it was all hands on deck to prepare for our feast. Like every feast in the Solomons we were having motu. The coconuts needed to be scratched and veges peeled and cut. The wild pigs had been caught the day before and one had already been put in the motu at 2 am that morning because it had died during the night (I think it had been dropped on its head a few too many times).

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

No outdoor meat cooking in any culture is complete without a group of men standing around looking at the meat being cooked. Not wanting to be left out, Nid joined the ‘men who stare at heat sources’ working group.

At one point, one of the men pulled out a chunk of charred meat and started cutting it into pieces and dishing it out to the other men around the circle.

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Motu, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

“Iu no like diswan eh?” he asked when he got to Nid.

Nid was shocked. Why wouldn’t he want to partake in meat tasting when all the other guys were getting some? After insisting, Nid got himself a piece but it only took one bite before he realised why the guy had been so hesitant.

“Dis meat… hem part blo insaed?”

“Ya, hem hart blo pigpig”

“Ah…” In Seinfeldesque fashion, Nid gave the rest of his portion of pig heart to the kid standing to next to him when no one was looking.

Meanwhile, our frens were having serious conversations with the parents.

For couples in the Solomon Islands, marriage comes hot on their heels. Officially, when a couple wants to get married they write their personal details (name, age, profession, address) on a piece of paper that is nailed to a public building for three months. This is the engagement period. If nobody objects within the three months the couple gets married straight after that three months is up.

Unofficially, everybody dates in secret until somebody gets in trouble and are strongarmed into getting married quickly or hit up for compensation.

An example of an Intention to Marry Document.

Ben and Barbara weren’t redi to get married just yet but were well overdue from a Solomon perspective. Stuck between two different cultures, they were looking to keep dating for a while longer with a thumbs up from the family to let them hold hands in public without Ben getting the bash from the cuzzies.

It was difficult to articulate what that was exactly. Was it an Acknowledgement, an Agreement, an Engagement of sorts?

It was also hard for Ben and Barbara to explain why Whiteman kastom have couples dating for months or years before getting married. “But why? Why iu no like for mari nao? Iu no like Barbara?”

We headed to church where the ceremony was going to happen. Nid was ready in the back to yell “I object!” just in case it started looking like a wedding ceremony. The pastor opened with a prayer and spent the next quarter of an hour assuring everyone that Ben was a real good chap. Ben and Barbara were on the edge of their pew wondering what would happen next.

“They will have a trial marriage”.

A trial marriage? This was the first time anyone had heard that combination of words put together but it fit. A ‘trial marriage’ was a good way of describing a halfway point between two kastoms. The pastor also pointed out that this special arrangement was the first of its kind in the village and would probably pave the way for similar arrangements.

Nid didn’t get to be that guy in the end but we are honoured to have been witness to our such a special Engagement ceremony and our first Trial Marriage.

Barbara and Ben

After some high-fives for successfully not getting married, we celebrated with the long-awaited Christmas feast.

The pigpig was succulent, kumara sweet with coconut juices, and the Sriracha was flowing. All fine feasts follow with a show and this was no exception.

There were several hours of performances, this part of the night being the embodiment of how we feel about the Solomons – weird and wonderful. There was a Kwaio men’s group that showcased traditional chants and dances that are rare to see nowadays. For the more modern audiences, the different families had practised over the past few days eclectic and unique performances because where else can you hear reggae, EDM, and church music combined into one genre.

The prize for the weirdest and most magnificent combo went to the lipsyncing, whiteface wearing aunties who stuffed cushions in their pants for Kim Kardashian butts. Yes, we had a lot of questions but like much of our experiences in the Solomons you kind of just roll with it.

Christmas feast, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Christmas performances, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Christmas performances, Kwaio, Malaita, Solomon Islands.

Our time in Asimana was one of our most memorable experiences in the Solomon Islands and we have to thank Barbara and Ben, and their families, for letting us be part of it. It was one of our most hottest, weirdest, and most special Christmases.

We wish Ben and Barbara all the best in their trial marriage and hope we get to see the next ceremony whatever that may be.

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Dan and Nid
Honiara, Solomon Islands

Kia ora. We are Dan and Nid. We've just moved from the Solomon Islands and are exploring New Caledonia for the next three years.

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