Thursday 3 November 2022

From On Board: Heritage Expeditions in Melanesia - Mysterious Malaita

#expeditioncruising .

While there may not be any uncontacted tribes remaining in the Solomon Islands, the Kwaio people of the Malaita highlands would come close.

Aboard Heritage Adventurer we were truly privileged to have Chief Esau and a small delegation from Baru village (pop 3337) make the arduous trek from his homeland to meet us on the coast.

The Kwaio people have made a concerted effort to conserve both their culture and ecology against the tide of modern (and some historical) threats. In concert with the Australian Museum, The Baru Conservation Alliance was formed in 2018 to allow the Kwaio people to retain their ancient culture while still allowing them access to the benefits of modern society such as medicine, sanitation and education.

The plan was for us to witness and later participate in their secret ceremonies which would have required us to strip to a banana leaf (when in Rome...) before joining their tribe. Unfortunately, their arrival drew such a crowd from the local beach-dwelling villagers that any secrecy was soon neutralised.

We held some cooking and food preparation demonstrations on the beach and Chief Esau gave us some interpretation, but it was decided to move the dancing and singing to behind the closed doors of the ship's lounge. Not ideal, but the best option under the circumstances.

We stroll along the neat paths of Gwaunaru with an escort of youngsters (RE)

Earlier in the morning, while birders went in search of new species, we visited the quiet seaside village of Gwaunaru which retains a population of around 1000 people in the village and the surrounding neighbourhood.

The houses, we discovered, were intricately constructed with a combination of trimmed wood and thatch with neatly manicured, ornamental yards. The boys had overcome the shortage of toy cars by fashioning their own 'Tonka' trucks from soft sago palm wood. They conducted mini motorkhanas on the sandy beaches and steered them deftly by way of a string and stick. Their prototypes were clearly taken from the internet and I'm sure I recognised some designs from among current models.

Local lads display their unique automotive designs (RE)

We stopped by the little village store for a sample of locally grown tobacco and found it quite mild and pleasant despite being rolled in bleached 70gsm stock. All the while a gorgeous White-bibbed Lorikeet sat politely on the head of a young girl as she watched the clumsy white folks wander the paths of her village.

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