I have just come back to Honiara from a few days in a village and I must say, I’m a touch relieved! The destination point was R-, which is a village on the west side of one of the other main islands, Malaita. The purpose was a wedding: the younger brother of Ruth (the woman I am staying and working with) was getting married, and I got to tag along!
I fished the travel sickness tablets from my medical kit soon after the boat left the wharf – which I promptly threw up. The rest of the trip was spent on the floor, clutching my stomach while the kind attendant passed me plastic bags. Tearoha, Ruth’s 10-year-old daughter, just laughed at me.
When we entered the village on the back of a truck, I was so overwhelmed by the mass of unfamiliar people – many of whom were staring at me – that I happily took up someone’s suggestion and went to bed. That afternoon I sat on a stool amongst some of the women, and some brave little girls got up close, clinging to each other and giggling. One of them poked the skin on my arm. We finally broke the ice with some hand-slapping games. I find it amazing that little girls all over the world seem to play the same games! I taught them a few that I remembered from my own childhood, and then they wouldn’t leave.
The wedding preparations were in full swing. I watched some pigs being slaughtered, their screams ringing throughout the village. The men then used their fingers to pluck the bristles, and a team grabbed Bic razor blades to shave what was left. A big group of people sat around into the night, chopping the pigs into little pieces. A group of ten chicken-pluckers, many of whom were children, sat in a semi-circled and pulled white feathers from fattened birds.
When they held up the naked chicken carcass it occurred to me that the only time I’d seen anything like it before was in the form of the rubber chicken in a magic show. The dead chickens I was used to seeing were neatly folded under plastic film, their long toes clipped so we’re not reminded that this lump of flesh once pecked and fossicked. But these chickens were fattened up months before the event, as were the pigs, and people gathered taros, cassava and stones for cooking in the weeks leading up. There was no paying caterers for this wedding – the land and the people did it all.
The whole village came to the wedding, including the other language group (Langa Lanage as opposed to Kwa’rai, who hosted the wedding). The bride wore white and the service was fairly Western traditional, save for the wonderful Melanesian women’s choir that accompanied the couple to the church, and the scores of villagers who poked their heads through the windows to get a peek of the proceeding. I got a front row seat, such is the privilege of a white visitor!
But the wedding made me feel a bit homesick, as I thought about my own community and my own husband-to-be. There’s nothing like being an outsider in the midst of another’s community bonds to make you feel alone!
I also really began to miss my independence, by the end of my stay in Radefasu. I was like an infant again, completely reliant on everybody else for everything.
I needed to use the toilet, which requires a bucket because the house I was staying in was fairly modern save for the lack of running water. So I asked one of the women what to do, who inquired loudly as to the nature of my business, and then everybody discussed amongst themselves how I might acquire a bucket. A grumpy teenager led me to the church where she emptied a bucket of flowers, took it over to the water tanks, filled it up and set it before me. I knew what to do from there.
And I came to understand a little better the nature of a subsistence lifestyle. I mentioned around lunchtime one day that I was a bit hungry (alas there was no convenience store in sight!), but was told there was no lunch that day because everybody had been busy killing pigs in order to reward people who had helped with the wedding or contributed to the bride price. So much labour is involved in eating – you have to catch it, kill it or dig it, and then prepare it and cook it. So I waited til dinner.
And so I have a new appreciation for the joys of urban life, as polluting and unsustainable as it might be. It’s nice being able to catch a bus into town when I want to. It’s hard to leave the village. I managed to arrange a little trip around some of the nearby islands while I was in the village (I was intrigued by the Langa Langa people who have no land and so make artificial islands out of rocks!), and the whole thing cost over 300 Solomon Island dollars, by the time I paid for fuel and hired the boat and its drivers. Who has that kind of money – when you live off the land, largely outside of the cash economy? When you live in the village, it’s hard to go anywhere. As a consequence, I attracted a group of about eight women, who all wanted to go for a ride and see a part of the world beyond the village.
I can see why so many young people come to Honiara seeking opportunity and excitement – unfortunately far too many of them end up chewing beetle nut on the side of the road, and walking up and down, up and down, because there ain’t that much to do in Honiara either!