Busu Island

Lars Alfredson
Thu 6 Aug 2015 10:09
pos 8:52.88S 160:44.44E
Thursday 5th of August

2015-08-05 After breakfast we move on down the Lagoon to the villages where they build enormous wooden boats of up to 30 metres long. Unfortunately most are unfinished as they appear to run out of money for the projects.

We also come across a large fibreglass fishing boat that was badly damaged and is now drying out and tied up alongside one of the manmade islands. This had been bought off the Koreans with a view to repairing it, though it looks more like its being stripped. 

These manmade islands can be found all along the coast line of the lagoon.  We have been told that they were originally built by tribes fleeing the head hunters of the inland rain forests.  They came down to the water’s edge and undertook the most extraordinary building project.  Transporting thousands of tons of coral from the outer reefs in their homemade dugout canoes, they constructed their own plot of land on which they built their traditional wooden and palm house on stilts. 

Francis, our man in charge of hunting down the rascals who stole our computer, camera, etc., has spent the last 8 to 10 years building his island and house.  His house is a completely wooden construction with a corrugated tin roof.  It is next door to his brother’s house who is the chief of the village and pastor of the church. 

It’s not only the enormity of the task that takes so much time but also financial constraints.  Francis was buying his coral from the coral breakers at Solomon $8000 (£800ish) for a load measuring 10 ft x 10 ft x 6 ft.  He is one of the lucky ones who has a job as a bus driver but he only works every other fortnight.

Anyway, back to our exploration of the boat building village.  As soon as we dropped anchor a flotilla of canoes arrived, 6 or more, containing young adults as well as the hordes of small children.  Just as we were about to depart in the dinghy a canoe with two rather wise looking young men appeared and proceeded to make themselves comfortable on the sugar scoop. Lars suggested he looked after the boat whilst we went on tours.

We met Margaret and Mary, two older women returning from collecting cabbage from their garden for lunch.  I didn’t recognise the bunch of light green leaves they clutched as cabbage!  She had travelled to both New Zealand and Australia with the Mission but had returned to her home village to retire. 

We proceeded around the back of this manmade island which rather resembled Venice with their narrow waterways that run between the individual islands.  Returning to the boat we decided to find a more peaceful spot to swim and or snorkel.  Up anchor and off we go and quite by accident discovered the jewel in the crown of LangaLanga Lagoon.  The Busu Cultural Centre!  

Our first priority was to find a nice quiet beach and reef to anchor off.  We headed out towards some very new looking houses that had a golden beach and even an open traditional round house.  We later discovered that this is a resort which is still under construction.  Unfortunately we were unable to take advantage of the golden beach as anchoring was impossible.  We continued towards the open sea between two islands. 

The channel was bordered by reefs, making progress for our Captain and his trusty Look-out / Blogger perched on the bow, very precarious.  Twice we tried to anchor, twice we failed – snorkelling was off. 

Rather than trying to navigate the same channel back into the lagoon, we carried on around the island and used the next entrance, which according to the chart, was not quite so narrow.  As we started to round into the lagoon again our trusty Lookout got very excited, he had spotted a sign on one of the houses lining the foreshore, ‘Solbrew!’  “It’s the pub,” he cried enthusiastically, “and there’s a floating pontoon onto which we can tie up the dinghy.”  Our Captain, with equal enthusiasm headed for the village.

As we approached in the dinghy we spotted a sign painted on the side of one of the boats, “Busu Cultural Centre”.  We were greeted by a shy young adult who said that her father, the chief of the village had gone to collect some guests who would be staying at the centre and that we needed to talk to him.  Needless to say, the men enquired about a nice cool beer.  Beer was available but unfortunately no fridge so we decided to return to the boat for a quick swim and cold beer for the boys.

After a spot of lunch, corned beef fritters! We relaxed with our books to await the arrival of the chief.  He eventually arrived so we headed back to the floating pontoon.  This time we were greeted by and enthusiastic, little Japanese boy who spoke no English.  He was one of the guests who was accompanied by his mother and older brother. 

After some hard negotiation we agreed a fee with the chief’s son for a tour of the village and a demonstration of some traditional skills, ceremony and dancing.  The village was well kept with small gardens. The children danced around us and showed us some places of interest. For the most part, they love foreign visitors and are used to seeing white faces, that is, expect for  one small baby who screamed in horror as he saw us approach.  The rest of the other children rushed to reassure him. People tend to work and relax under their houses, during the day, where it is cooler.  The upstairs is generally used for sleeping. 

The chief’s son, our guide said that their island was at least 16 generations old, although of course they still keep adding extra sections.

Once the Japanese family had joined, the chief announced that the show was about to begin and wow! What a show!  The drums were beaten and the conch horns sounded the alarm that strangers had invaded the island. A group of ferocious warriors in traditional dress, brandishing traditional weapons, spears, bow and arrows, machetes, etc. and protecting themselves with wooden shields danced their way toward the invaders, us.  They were very scary, so much so that the younger Japanese boy ran off and hid behind a commemorative stone to Prince Philip’s visit to the island in 1959.

Fortunately we were saved from the boiling pot by the chief who came and reassured the warrior’s that we were friends not foes. We were then taken to see how the ‘Shell Money’ was made.  What an operation. 

The whole process is organised on a production line basis. First of all shells were smashed into small pieces using pebbles, next these small shards of shell were rounded again using a large pebble, these small pieces of shell are about 2 mm in diameter.

They are then smoothed between two sand stones before being passed onto the most skilled worker who, with a stick, a piece of sharpened flint and a piece of string, drills holes in the dead centre of these tiny discs.  Then threaded onto long lengths of thread before they’re passed to the men. Smoothing the shells to a perfect circular disc is the only process completed by the men, this is where brawn was needed rather than skill! 

These long lengths of shell money were the formal currency of the Solomon Islands for centuries and were used to trade for all manner of goods including wives. One 6ft sting was worth up to Sol$1,500.  They were also a sign of wealth. So, this led to a demonstration of the presentation of the bride to the groom’s family.

A beautiful young girl in traditional costume, shrouded in strings of shell money and carrying a sprouting cocoanut is presented.  She wears shell bracelets, necklaces, anklets, wide belts and most importantly a head dress.  This is signifies that she is a virgin.

“Photo opportunity” and Bob dashes to the side of this lovely young girl to the amusement of the accompanying mother, aunts, sisters and children.

The finale is the dancing.  First the children, well, all the boys, no girls allowed! Their dances are performed to pre-recorded music.  They all have such grace and sense of rhythm even the smallest, some appear as young as 5 or 6.  Poor Matthew, a little boy about 6 or 7, suffered the indignity of losing his costume made of leaves, however grandad dashed out of the audience and soon recovered his dignity.  The locals were highly amused and he was soon laughing with them.

Finally came the grown up men.  The chief led the women in singing whilst the men performed extremely energetic dances – amazing. Sadly although the display came to an end we then had the opportunity to invest in their souvenirs.  What a magnificent display of shell jewellery, wood carvings and polished shells.

 Afterwards we socialised with some of the locals and the Japanese family. Yukiko fortunately spoke perfect English.  Although she now lives in Kobe she spent her early years in America.   She gave her address and email details to Lars as he intends to visit Japan early next year.  It is really helpful to have local knowledge.

Well, an incredible day.  Happily we made our way back to the boat in time for G&Ts followed by dinner and bed.

Night, night from the stand in blogger.

(Sorry to be so long winded hope I haven’t bored you too much)

Shan (The Bloggers Apprentice)