Notes from the Solomon Islands

In Memoriam: We lost our wonderful friend and strong supporter of the Vaka Taumako Project. Larry Williamson, President of the Pacific Traditions Society 1999 – 2012.   Here’s an update from him from 2008:

Larry Williamson, 1938-2012

Larry Williamson, 1938-2012

Notes from the Solomon Islands

by Larry Williamson, June 2008

Dr. Larry Sherrer, an ophthalmologist here on Kauai, his daughter Chantay, a film student at Univ. of Calif., Northridge and I left Kauai around the first of June.

Our first stop was Honiara, the Capital of the Solomon Islands. From there we took a two-prop airplane to Lata, the Temotu Provincial Capital, about 400 miles east.

There we met Rik Allen, a community developement specialist from Australia. We piled in a small boat and went around the island of Nendo looking for Ross Hepworth’s cargo ship to take us to the Reef Islands, about 30 miles northeast.

We went into several long bays, lined with mangrove trees, with the most beautiful emerald green water I have ever seen. I learned later the the mangrove bays are where the crocodiles are: I didn’t see any…

We found the ship and stayed overnight in the Melanesian village of Nanggu. Dr. Larry took a picture of the children and they ran off terrified when the camera flashed.

We left for the Reefs around 3AM. The ship’s wake was a display of lights created by the phosphorescence of tiny sea creatures. We arrived in the Reefs at dawn and met Mimi George and Meph Wyeth. Meph went back to Lata and Mimi joined us.

Ben Hepworth, Ross’s brother, captained a small outboard boat to the Duff Islands. Lots of flying fish. I thought it was a rough trip. Mimi, the seasoned sailor that she is, said it was the smoothest trip she had ever taken to the Duffs. Chantay and I pretended we were on an amusement park thrill ride and so had fun.

Dr. Larry, as they called him, to not mix up the two Larrys, examined well over 100 people and gave out glasses. He found several people with cataracts and plans to return in a year and 1/2 to operate. Chantay took 20 hours of good quality video. She plans to produce a documentary. Copies of the video tapes will go to the Vaka Taumako Project archives. I took over 300 photos and some sound recordings, including a 3 hour story of Lata. Ariki Kaveia pointed out navigation stars and Mimi recorded their names and positions on a computerized star finder.

The people on Taumako live basically the same as they did 2000 years ago. There are a few solar panels and rain water tanks and English is spoken by the young people. The older people speak a dialect of Polynesian and pidgin. I had trouble … sometimes I would nod my head and hope that the person wasn’t asking me a question.

Taumako is one of the few remaining paradises left in the world. Most people there are heathy, happy, kind, generous and caring. On Taumako the people are aware of the good life they have and are proud of their island, but there is a desire for a more modern life. Desire brings discontent. Paradise is a state of mind not a place. Some things could improve the life on the island: how do you give a community modern medicine, electricity, and education without losing paradise? The core of the question is as old as Adam and Eve.

I enjoyed seeing people that had come to Hawaii in the past, especially Jennifer, Jonas, and Te Matua (Keveia), The people I met for the first time are new friends. The people I traveled with – Larry, Chantay, Mimi, Rik, and Stanley formed a bond with our shared experiences.

We left Taumako in the same small boat a few days early because of a lull in the ocean waves. Even then, the waves on the 5 hour trip back to the Reefs looked like mountains. Even Mimi commented on the waves.

We stayed in the Reefs for a few relaxing days then took a boat to Lata and a plane to Honiara.

In Honiara we met Rick Feinberg, an anthropologist at Kent State, his wife and son. they were on their way to the Duffs. Mimi and Rick are doing research together under a grant from the National Science Foundation. I palled around with my good friend Dixon.

On the way back, at Fiji, Dr. Larry, Chantay and Mimi went on to Hawaii while I went to New Zealand. I had a great time there! I want to go back in the summer (our winter) and see the places where they filmed The Lord of the Rings on the South Island.

There are so many more things to tell you … Too many things I have to think about. Maybe someday.