[120614, 2141 UTC, Departing Tikopia,Solomon Islands , 1140' S / 166 56' E]

 

Dear Friends;

One of the interesting things about visiting rural islands in Vanuatu, and now in the Solomons, is that canoes will find you no matter how isolated a spot may appear to be. They will come to trade or even to buy items as supply boats are rare. In some places we have been the first yacht to visit in a year. Traders coming from the villages have modest and, for the most part, practical needs and they come bearing gifts of what's in their gardens...bananas, papayas, peppers, eggplant, yams, island cabbage (a green veggie that tastes like spinach), etc. Hens eggs can be had but they are less readily available. What they want is almost anything they cannot grow or obtain on island: utensils, pots, dishes, fish hooks, batteries, used clothing (especially!), pens, paper, sugar, coffee, rice, fabric, matches, lollies, etc. It's an interesting and slow process of chat and requests back and forth that can take an hour or more per canoe. We're still learning the subtleties and also getting better at stocking up with the right goods. In Tikopia we had a steady stream of canoes for the first day or so and then word must have gotten around that all the best stuff was gone as our visits fell off. One pair of young siblings visited us three times, anxious to try to obtain an inverter, not quite sure they had convinced us of their desire!

But lets get back to our final days at Tikopia: Saturday, June 9 dawned with overcast skies and showers that would descend down the mountainous island and pass out to sea, leaving us a bit damp. Because of the rain, we worried that Tikopian dance club might not wish to dance. We went about our chores - fixing this, cleaning that, all the little jobs that accumulate while on passage and constantly hanging on - until at about 1400 we received a visit from Danny, the chief's grandson. He simply said, "They're waiting for you". We immediately sprang to action to gather our goods to go to shore, though it was a full hour before the appointed time for dancing.

Danny expertly rowed the Tikopia Iti (a canoe built as a tender to the island's Wharram catamaran) into a pass in the reef between breaking waves. We weren't confident we could find the pass and the waves were pretty intimidating so we landed instead on the coral shelf in an area protected from swell, but a long way up the beach from the chief's settlement, Matautu. Thankfully, our battalion of munchkins were there to meet us, and between us and all the tiny hands, we were able to drag Bacio up the beach beyond the high tide line. (Every trip to shore resulted in the dinghy becoming a plaything for our little friends and we always returned to an unharmed but mildly disrupted and sand-filled tender. We now refer to this as Bacio's munchkinized state.)

Our miniature troop grasped our hands and escorted us up the beach to the site of the modest Anglican church where there is an open area used for dancing. There we met one of the dancers, not yet in costume, who said we were expected at the chief's home! Retreating through the lovely old growth trees, we announced our arrival and crawled through the entryway and visited Edward (Te Ariki Tafua) for the better part of an hour before we accompanied the chief, he in his traditional regalia, to the dance.

Back near the church, we were introduced to the leaders of the dance club,Marotosi, and then directed to sit on a mat of woven palm fronds next to an overturned canoe-turned-tamtam. After a formal introduction by John, son of Chief Edward, the drumming began and two lines of dancers emerged out of the breadfruit trees into the clearing. Clad in lavalava made of either tapa (for women) or pandanus (for men), most dancers were painted with swaths of orange tumeric on their cheeks and shoulders and wore crowns made of bright yellow tumeric flowers. The warm colors of the costumes were gorgeous against the surrounding greenery illuminated only by cloud-filtered sun. For perhaps a half an hour, they danced, never once stopping to rest, just smoothly moving from one dance to another until finishing with a lively staccato dance of spinning bodies and clashing wooden sticks, in perfect coordination with the beating of the tamtam and the chanting of song.

We weren't sure of protocol but we applauded heartily and this seemed to be appreciated. The dancers then sat, seemingly glowing with satisfaction, while their leaders spoke to them in Tikopian and then stood and Philip praised the performance and offered thanks plus our cash donation to their travel fund.

After the dance, we were told we would all go into church for a blessing. The church, of western construction of painted corrugated tin, had simple wooden benches and a concrete floor. No one sat on the benches, though, everyone sat on the floor and we followed this example. Most of the short service was in Tikopian as the villagers followed the readings of the priest, but occasionally we'd catch a bit of English as in the Lord's prayer.

We ambled back to the village, and sat chatting with the Chief and his wife while his grandchildren gathered around. Seems Edward was keen to see a video but needed us to bring one ashore with a small donation of gasoline for his generator. (The island hasn't had a supply ship for quite awhile.)

As a side note, it seems that traditional dress for women has evolved here. Older women are comfortable with bare breasts but younger women seem to have opted for covering up. Few women or men wear tapa everyday but lavalava wrapped in many interesting ways are common. Many young boys wear fabric wrapped in the same configuration as tapa would be, rolled for passing between their legs and wrapped around their hips, creating tight fitting short-shorts with gluteus maximus exposed. We did not see many men dressed in this manner but understand this is still done, perhaps because of its practicality. As we have come to appreciate, western clothing is not readily available and that which is, is well loved.

We returned the following day with our laundry, our donation of gasoline and our tiny DVD collection, and visited and waited for the signal that movie time would begin. Seems we were waiting for son John who had gone fishing. At lunch time we returned to Carina to hang our clothing to dry and returned once again at mid afternoon. While back aboard we downloaded weather info and discovered that the prognosis was for strong winds from a westerly quadrant and realized we would have to leave Tikopia the following day to reach shelter (125 miles NW) ahead of the winds. Disheartened to be leaving so soon and knowing we'd miss the festival planned for Monday, two days hence, we gathered small items to give as gifts and also prepared gift bags for the other chiefs. Into these bags we deposited our boat card and a personal note for each man, explaining the threatening weather and apologizing for not calling at their homes.

Returning to the village, we visited a bit more while we all waited for John to return from fishing. It seemed perhaps that he was the one who knew how to run the DVD player. During each of these visits we learned of more and more of the people and the culture of Tikopia. We began to hope too that the culture survives the planned introduction of digital communications with the coming of a cell phone tower. (The lease has been negotiated but the company is awaiting assurances that all chiefs are in agreement and that the lease will be free of encumbrances.) Edward explained that they felt it important for their children's future to have access to the internet and to learn to operate computers.

Interesting to us during these visits was the discussion of a competition where a javelin or lance called a tika is tossed. The sport is unique to Tikopia and its sister island Anuta. The heavy tip of a tika is formed from a smoothly carved piece of koa wood (or perhaps it's a nut), that is lashed to a thin bamboo pole about 1 meter long. A small leather piece is lashed to the competitor's finger and is used to launch the tika while running. Danny, one of the chief's sons, is a champion of the so called "unmarried" team of the lee side that competes with the "married" team of windward side. Winning tosses are said to be up to 200 meters! Danny and Edward insisted Philip should leave Tikopia with a tika, fashioned one for him and gave him instruction in using it.

As our final afternoon stretched on, the chief's grandson, an impish little guy with a big smile and light brown bobbed hair, presented three hens eggs in a hope we'd trade away our lollies. Once these were accepted and word got around, other kiddies raced off to find more eggs to add them to the pile and a deal was struck.

Still the afternoon wore on and John remained at sea and it became apparent that we wouldn't be watching a video soon, so we took a few more photos and said our good byes, explaining we still had many hours of departure preparations ahead of us. After distributing little gifts around, we decided also to give the DVD "Seabiscuit" as a departure gift and of course to leave the gasoline we'd brought for the generator. As we made our way back to the dinghy, our group of lolly traders followed and expertly put a canoe to sea to escort us back to Carina and to collect their goods. Some even pulled Bacio through the shallow waters up to the edge of the coral shelf and until the water was nearly to their chins.

Early the following morning we held our breath as Philip slowly recovered our 290' of chain using our hand windlass. And, though we eventually did retrieve all of our chain (and our anchor!) we did have some moments of doubt when Carina would abruptly come up short and dip her bow as the chain wrapped firmly onto a coral bommie. Finally free, we pointed Carina's bow west and motored through the wind-shadow of the island until we could get wind and put up our sails. A small group of munchkins waved goodbye from the beach.

Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake