Polynesian Presence in SE Solomons and North Vanuatu

Polynesian people of the Santa Cruz Group, live in the Duffs Group, the Outer Reef Islands (Nifiloli, Matema, Pileni, Nukapu, Nupani, and a few communities on Fenualoa).  Reef Islanders and the vast majority of Santa Cruz Islanders speak Melanesian and Austronesian languages.  Polynesians also live in isolated settlements mostly along the north coast of Ndeni (Santa Cruz Island) itself.  Further south in Temotu Province of SE Solomons, the islands of Tikopia and Anuta are Polynesian, and there are Polynesian settlers on Vanikoro and Utupua, though the bulk of those populations speak Austronesian.  South of Temotu, most of the Banks and Torres Islanders speak Austronesian, which is an older language  and shares a lot of same and similar words as Polynesian

When voyaging canoes were plying this region, many of them built on Taumako/Duffs Group, there was a sense of community and there was a lot of intermarriage between the Polynesians from different islands.  The suppression of locally controlled transport during British and Australian control, and until today, has made it impossible to keep up the vital “partnerships” between people of the Polynesian islands.  According to the late Chief Kaveia and other old people who once participated in voyaging in Temotu, it is the loss of these partnerships that most frustrated the continuation or revival of voyaging in Temotu.  Thus, it is the partnerships between people of different islands that must be re-created or revived for voyaging to grow again in Temotu.  That means that there must be a period of exploratory voyages and the relationships need to grow.  On the very first voyage of the Vaka Taumako Project one young man of the Taumako crew met his wife to be at Nifloli, and before the Taumako crew left Nifiloli, the parents of the two made preliminary arrangements for the marriage to occur the following year.  There are many more young people hoping to find marriage partners on distant islands, and hoping to arrange an order to build a canoe for someone from a different island.

Taumako Community

People have lived on Taumako for over 2700 years.  Chief  Kaveia said that when he was a small boy – maybe about 6 to 8 years old,  there were over 2000 people living on Taumako.  Then an epidemic illness struck and all but 37 people died.  That occurred a year or more before 1920.   The community of Taumako itself totaled only about 350 people in 1996.  When the VTP got started in the population swelled by at least 200 more people coming home to participate in building a voyaging canoe.  The number of people living on Taumako varies between about 400 and 800 in recent decades.

There are various family groups in which people are related through their mother’s relatives /oror through their father’s relatives.  The Temotu Provincial Government defines the subgroups of Duff Islanders as “15 tribes.”   There is a series of life maturation rites that are observed for every person.  Duff Islanders have a reputation for observing Kastom, that are rare elsewhere these days – such as a feast for the first time a child is given holes in their ears to wear  turtle shell earrings, or feasts for every worker on every day that they work on a voyaging canoe, or using limed sticks and ritualized words to control rain or wind, or using a smoking stick to have a dream to see who was the culprit who stole something from somebody.

Taumako is a high island while Outer Reefs are classic atolls.  So the natural resources (such as trees for canoes, paddles, and house posts, plants such as the leaves used for roofing panels,and  volcanic stones for earth ovens) are needed by atoll dwellers.  Taumako canoe makers provided voyaging canoes and paddles to their partners for hundreds of years, and very likely for thousands of years. Outer Reefs has huge fish and reef resources, and used to have giant nut and breadfruit harvests, which might be revived as DDT use decreases and birds return to pollinate these crops.

Polynesians also have partners and close relationships with Melanesian people of Santa Cruz and other islands.  The Premier of Temotu, for example, is the grandchild of a Matema woman.  Taumako people, including Chief Kaveia, sold voyaging canoes to Chiefs in Graciosa Bay, and other predominantly Melanesian Islands.

The Vaka Valo Group is a coalition of closely related Taumako people who are led by Chief Jonas Hollani.  Chief Jonas is a superbly skilled canoe builder, and has the most experience making voyages of any able-bodied person on Taumako.  The members of the Valo Group are eager to learn every aspect of building and sailing voyaging canoes.  They work as volunteers.  But somehow they must earn enough money to pay the school fees for their children, so the VTP fundraises for that cost.  The Valo Group built a full size  Te Puke in 2015-17. This took daily work for about 18 months.  For this they needed to import feast foods, such as sweet potatoes, rice, tin fish, and tea, for rations for the workers.  Without these rations, and a little money for paying the school fees, the Te Puke could not be built. Valo Group can sail this 11meter Te Puke for fishing, as transport to their gardens on the other islands, and on training voyages for crew.  They sailed it to Santa Cruz in 2017, and to Vanikoro in 2018, and they aim to sail it to Vanuatu as soon as there are proper winds.   Valo Group aspires to help other groups with their building projects, and welcomes their participation in sailing.

Other Taumako groups, such as one that might be led by Chief Fox Boda, intend to build more voyaging canoes and participate in voyages.  They are waiting for funding support.  Once they have built a voyaging canoe they will use it in a sustainable way and they can sail it to Vanuatu with Valo Group.  Chief Fox’ wife is from Matema.  His large family, and “tribe,” if you will, has a lot to gain from strengthening their inter-isand community.  This can be said of every group and family in Taumako and Outer Reefs.  Island people thrive when they form and grow larger inter-island communities. For this they need voyaging canoes.  Voyaging canoes = community for everyone in the ocean regions.