Dawn is fresh and spiced with adventure, as “MV Wango” chugs steadily over a flat green sea. To our right the long low outline of Gela Island lurks dark and brooding on the verge. To our left are the coconut clad shores of Guadalcanal, while beneath us, slumbering in the depths of “Iron Bottom Sound” lie 37 Allied and Japanese warships, with their ghosts of drowned sailors. It is difficult to reconcile this tranquil scene in which we are immersed, as being the same theatre where such a ferocious battle was once staged.
So what are these Solomon Islands like now?
Largely untouched, remote, and beautiful..yes.. but there is something unique about the people themselves..and to try and discover what makes them special, is why we are voyaging, my 4yo daughter Kimberley and I.
Already we are drifting into the charm of their lifestyle. On-board several mothers are breastfeeding infants; by the starboard rail the cook is peeling sweet potatoes with a machete; Kimberley, with her golden hair prominent is playing with islander children; while in an immemorial Joseph Conrad scene, men are lazing in the shade of the f’ard hatch, laughing and sharing stories.
Time, that unflinching master of our western world, has apparently been denied entry here..consigned to some minor desk job in the Ministry.
Morning finds our good little boat puttering along close to the western “weather coast” of Guadalcanal. We stir from our mats on the bare deck and gaze at mountains heavily laden with jungle looming out of the dawn. Small garden plots can be glimpsed here and there, and local friends tell us there are no roads here. Children walk two hours along a rugged cliff path to get to school, and it’s common for soccer teams to walk four hours to a match, play the game, then walk four hours back!
At 10am, after unloading our gear by dingy, Kimmie and I turn our faces inland, to walk to the village of Poishu.
Five hours later, (not bad for a 4yo), we ford a river and sight it in the distance. Old Poshu is a collection of thatched huts dotted on a hillside, looking over a wide flat river valley freckled with coconut palms.
My much travelled sister has friends here, who lend us a small three sided
hut to sleep in, then formally welcome us with custom gifts of a pig, sweet potato, and betel nuts. We respond with gifts of flour, rice, and biscuits, then our stay in their village is off and running.
I wonder if we can blend in and be part of their lifestyle, but Kimmie immediately starts running and laughing with village children. This is an amazing phenomena. They don’t have any common language at all, yet seem to understand each other perfectly well, in some universal form of communication known to four year olds the world over.
Our first day is so typical … you awake a bit before dawn laying on a cane mat, on a bare timber floor in a 3 wall hut, to a chorus of birds singing. You hear contented soft laugher emanating from neighbouring huts, then look straight out through the missing wall into pristine forest. The air is fresh, and you realise with every fibre in your body, that this world is wide and free, and you are alive, truly alive..tis quite some feeling.
Breakfast is sweet potato cooked over a small stone fireplace in the communal shelter, then every villager is perfectly free to do whatever they wish. There are jobs to be done, yet when you do them, is completely up to yourself. Our western notion of planning days well in advance seems a bit silly here … they just wake up and think, hey this is a good day for gardening, or fishing. Let’s go do that.
It all seems so easy. If you need a new house, all the village pitches in to help, which takes a month..done and dusted without any 25 year mortgage! Rates, power, phone and vehicle bills are all non existent, and food comes fresh from the gardens. Sure makes you wonder which civilisation could learn more from the other.
Each person has the right to part of any traditional land. This is cleared by hand, then planted with sweet potato, taro, peanuts, bananas, cabbage, or paw paw. It will be used several times, then left to fallow. This can be hard work, yet they do it at an easy relaxed pace, with much good humoured banter.
Then as my Western mind starts to think ahead to dates, schedules and other mundane matters … I realise with a jolt, just what is so special with these people … it is that they do not live for tomorrow or yesterday … they truly live in the moment, in the here and now.
Finally the day arrives when we must leave. There is a grass airstrip nearby, and as our small plane climbs up to a wispy gap in the clouds, Kimmie and I take one last lingering look at this valley … so pregnant with memories of forest walks, singing in their gardens, stories in the evening, and early morning contented laughter.
Kimberley asks me what I’m thinking about, and I reply:-
“Oh just something I’d nearly forgotten.”
“I know what you’ve forgotten”, she says, grinning all over her face.
and laughter fills this small plane winging it’s way over the mountains of Guadalcanal.