Rendova Harbour

Wed 12 Nov 2003 13:43
12th November 2003. Amazing times in Rendova Harbour

Dear All

Since we last wrote we have been having the most amazing time.

Before leaving the lovely Marovo Lagoon we found a little was into the
unsurveyed and superb Mindeminde Islands where we were entirely alone
surrounded by small dense islets and reef in the perfect idyllic anchorage.
It is lovely when the water and weather are clear enough to be able to nose
into places just by seeing from the spreaders where the reef is and dropping
anchor when you can go no further. We were totally alone, except for some
sea cucumber fisherman who thought they would check us out at midnight which
gave us quite a surprise. In Shege we were ushered around by an old man who
remembers the Japanese and then American occupation in WWII and taken to the
Methodist bible school's married living quarters where the would-be pastors
sold/gave us veg from their immaculately kept and beautiful gardens. We
also snorkelled on a shallow WWII American fighter plane which had
staggeringly beautiful coral growing on it and was in excellent condition.
In the Nono Lagoon we zoomed our way up a river with some other "yachties"
and their 65 hp race tuned outboard for lovely fresh water swim and wash.
In Viru Harbour on South New Georgia Island we took the "community truck" in
land to see the logging and a big saw mill where we hoped to buy marine ply
to build a new dingy. Logging is a very major part of the Solomon economy
and as with logging everywhere, where it happens, it leaves a pretty ugly
scar. It has been described to us as sustainable, but when pressed this
seems to mean that it can carry on for about 15 years and then they run out
of trees! It also causes considerable land disputes as the government has
long leased some custom owned land to the loggers often without the
permission the most notable tribal member and in the experiences we have
come across, the local tribe have not seen any money. We also ventured into
the not recommended anchorage of Kalena Bay in the Roviana Lagoon, where the
water is so murky you can not tell how deep the fringing reef is, but the
depths seem to go from no soundings to 2 meters in an alarmingly short space
of time making anchoring pretty frustrating. We eventually just stopped
when we had soundings in 27m as the light was failing and the water too
unclear for it to be really safe to go on. The local pastor canoed out to
see us at 11pm and wanted to "share with us" the needs of his small
community. In other words could we find a way of providing a generator and
a fibreglass boat and outboard capable of taking about 20 people comfortable
for about 20 miles to the nearest town. In exchange for spreading this news
we were given a basket, beautifully made of shells, so if anyone has any of
these things going spare please let us know.

Our fishing also seems to be improving and we have caught two Barracuda and
a small shark, which we gave to a man in a dugout, wisely in my opinion!
However some of the typical tropical conditions have arrived and our rice
and flour is now the happy home of many weevils, and we have the odd cut
that seem determined to get continually infected and are refusing to heal.

But the highlight of the last two weeks has to be Rendova Harbour. As a
leaving present from the UK, Cate and Fiona gave us a book called 'Solomon
Time' about an English bloke in 2000 setting off to Rendova Harbour to give
the villagers some money they inherited from an old Scottish commander who
had run a coconut plantation there for 24 years. He had to do something
constructive with the money and set up a chicken farm on the Island.
Intrigued, we were keen to see if any of it was true. It all was and much
much more.

In 1958 Commander Scott-Elliot RN bought the defunct plantation from the
Lever Brothers, imported workers from the Island of Malaita (excellent
workers and due to their spreading and aggressive ways throughout the
Solomon Islands are deeply resented by the other islanders and are more or
less the cause of the recent "tension" in the country.) He built a
considerable empire farming coconuts, cocoa and coffee. He clearly loved
the place and the people loved him. He set up schools, pension schemes,
paid holidays etc and was basically the best sort of well loved and well
meaning colonial. When independence came, he was told he could no longer
own the land but only lease it on pretty bad terms, so he left, giving some
800 acres to the workers and selling the rest to the provincial government
as a going concern.

When we arrived our welcome was far greater than we could ever have
imagined. They do not see many boats from the UK and they just love the
English/Scottish. Gordon Suri arrived on the boat first thing in the
morning with all his photos of the Commander saying that our arrival had
brought him "tears of joy." He had been the chief cocoa planter from a
young age and was full of the memories of the Commander and his time there.
He spoke in a hilarious and very distinct way having copied his English
accent from the clearly very "properly spoken" Commander, but it was pretty
broken and added to the fact that he had no teeth left we found him almost
impossible to understand at first. However the long and the short of it was
that they were having a feast on the Sunday and we were to be the honoured
guests, so we set off to Munda to the shops as we were nearly out of
everything and promised to be back on Saturday afternoon.

The festival was the closing of the Mother's Union and Sunday School for the
year and all the Anglicans in the area were to descend on tiny Rendova
Harbour Village for dancing, dramas and feasting. When we arrived we
discovered they had killed two large pigs for the feast the next day, but
about 3 kilos had been kept back to give to us for supper, so Hair and
Tassels (Tassels for short and the major character in the village) and
Gordon Suri had yummy stew on the boat before heading ashore for the party.
It was explained to us that it suited them to pretend to everyone else that
we were actually relations of the Commander and were living in Scotland.
There was no question of us not agreeing to go along with this and we were
thus adopted as honorary "wantoks" (literally translated in pidgin as One
Talks or those who speak the same language and therefore extended family.
It is a crucial part of Solomon Island society and it is unheard of not to
give a wantok anything he needs or asks for.) Ashore we were presented,
cheered and clapped (we felt, and were treated like the Queen and the
village seemed happy to go along with Gordon's delusions of our grandeur.)
We were introduced to the parish priest from the nearby town of Noro (the
only person who threatened to rival our status in the village) and the fun
began. The entertainment ranged from the fantastically brilliant
traditional pan pipe playing and dancing all in traditional dress, to the
excellent if slightly raucous women's singing/ dancing groups, to the
slightly less brilliant dancing to a ghetto blaster, to the mind numbingly
dull men's group parable dramas. It was an amazing mix and we were
sustained till 2.30am by endless cups of incredibly sweet black tea, (they
think nothing of putting 3 and a half kilos of sugar in about 10 litres of
tea for the 300 people there.) Sadly we had to leave when the pan pipes
were still playing as my offer to bake a cake for the breakfast feast was
not going to be excused how ever late it was, and it needed to be cooked,
but we were anchored just off the village, so Peter we able to continue
dancing on deck till it all stopped at about 3.30.

We were told that church was a 7.45, but when our alarm went off at 7.00, it
was clear from the singing that they had inexplicably started an hour early
so we were late. Oh well, nothing new there. Church was followed by
breakfast of bread and sweet tea, (my cake was sadly given to the fat priest
and was never seen again!) and the opening of the custom ovens in
preparation for the feast. A custom oven consists of hot stones in the
ground, covered with pandanas leaves. The food is then wrapped in more
pandanas leaves, put on the stones, covered with more leaves, weighed down
with more hot stones and left over night. There were three ovens. One for
pig, one for tuna and one for sweet potatoes and taro. No sooner was
breakfast finished than the feast was spread out on leaves on the ground and
all 300 Anglicans sat down crossed legged and gorged themselves on the most
succulent pork I have ever ever tasted. It was just delicious and huge fun.
20 mins later, all was finished, the remnants of the feast, leaf tables and
all were picked up and thrown on the rubbish heap and the dancing began.
The pan pipes were again fantastic. These long pipes are played either as
rhythm or tune. The large ones are hit with old flip flops providing the
tuneful drums, and the smaller ones are played as wood wind instruments.
The dancing to ghetto blasters was frankly hilarious, especially the boys in
their late teens, who were the height of really cool, but reminded me of
dance routines I enthusiastically took part in at school. It was exactly
like Room17 for those of you who remember! But it was all so colourful and
the best fun. Everyone was having the most brilliant time and there was
cheering and whooping throughout. The proceedings were governed by an MC
who looked just like a New York DJ and to show their appreciation for the
dancers old women ran amongst them liberally spray scent and talcum powder
all over them. If they really enjoyed it then they would fold up $2 bills
(about 20p) and stick it anywhere available on the dancer, just like a strip
joint. The sight of Gordon's ancient wife shoving $2 bills down the
traditional thongs of the young male pan pipe dancers was surreal and

Once all the routines were over, the public dancing to the pan pipes began.
Everyone took part including us and we danced continually until mid
afternoon when the guests had to leave. They all paddled out of the
harbour, each boat load competing to be able to sing the loudest and
everyone remaining in Rendova Harbour collapsed in exhaustion.

The next day was poor weather and of instead of snorkelling on the reef we
spent most of the day helping Gordon Suri reply to a rather threatening
letter he had received from the owners of the plantation, more or less
paving the way to send them back to Malaita. As I have said, the Malaitans
are roundly resented for their spreading in the Solomons and here is no
exception. The story and letter are too complicated and boring to explain
here, except to say that we suspect the situation may have been made worse
by Gordon Suri, who has no respect for the plantation owners. He told us
that he told them, "firmly but fairly", "not angry but teaching" and in the
words of the Commander that they are "Bloodyfools!"

The weather cleared up in the late afternoon and Peter had asked if we could
record some of the pan pipe music without the whooping and cheering and we
would try and put it on a tape for them. It seemed that they can not play
without dancing and dressing up, so we had another great show, of different
pan pipe music and dancing, in full traditional costume including my
favourite coconut husk wigs. Everybody wanted to perform again and so after
the pan pipes we had to video, or actually pretend to video in places, all
the dancing and raucous singing and the synchronised dancing to ghetto
blaster again and print out endless pictures of everyone in costume.

But it was not to stop there. We had to see their lagoon, so the next
morning we set off in one of the amazing long dugouts (carrying easily 30
people) with our 2 hp outboard on the back to one of the outer islands.
Peter at the helm and loving every minute of driving this fabulous boat, 35
feet long and carved from a single trunk. 17 of us went and the boys were
dispatched to catch lunch. The younger children and Tassels lit fires and
started boiling the sweet potatoes and heating hot stones, while Peter and I
snorkelled. Within a few hours we were all eating delicious reef fish
cooked on the hot stones and potatoes. Everybody had a go with our snorkel
and flippers and we ended up giving Peter's flippers to them as they were
very uncomfortable for Peter.

We planned to leave early the next morning, but Tassels arrived at about
11pm with a lobster (which we paid about 85p for) and told us that the whole
village wanted to shake our hands and sing us a goodbye song. He arrived
with Gordon at 7.30 to pick us up. We were given a shell necklace each,
sung a raucous and lovely good bye song in their wonderful harmonious way
and shook hands with every single person in the village from the tiny babies
to the old and were paddled back to the boat. Luckily we were ready to get
the anchor up immediately as everyone was watching us till we left. And we
motored out of the Rendova Harbour.

Hope you are all having a good time

All our love

Katharine and Peter