Two days before Christmas we were at the domestic airport with our
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.
Supplies are always required before going to the village and that means stockpiling the holy trinity of dietary staples: Sol rice, Sol tuna and
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.
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
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
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?
During one of our more heroic bursts of energy, we checked out the coconut mill and learnt how to make coconut oil.
- Crack a coconut
- Scratch it
- Put scratched coconut on a long stovetop to steam, and flip it around for a bit.
- Stuff into a tube
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
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.
“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.
Ben and Barbara weren’t
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
“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.
After some high-fives for successfully not getting married, we celebrated with the long-awaited Christmas feast.
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.
Our time in
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.