[120721, 0620 UTC, Santa Ana Island, Solomon Islands, 10º50' S / 162º 27' E]
Santa Ana was first known as Owa Rafa. It is a small island sitting with its little sister, Owa Riki (or Santa Catalina) like tiny sentinels four miles off the southeast end of Makira in the province of the same name, Makira, Solomon Islands. It's a tiny island, less than two miles across, that has three villages and a large freshwater lake. And, while primitive, it does have a tiny airstrip and is connected to Kirakira and Honiara (the capital) by thrice weekly Dash 8 air service and a rickety cargo ferry. Santa Ana's lovely bay, called on some charts Port Mary, is nearly perfectly round with a passage through the coral on its northwest corner, a wide entrance protected from the tradewinds and swell. Using a Google Earth chartlet to correct the low resolution inaccurate chart, we entered at about 1000 local time and dropped the hook into 60' of sand over coral just west of the village of Gupuna. Tuckered from our last night of sailing (mostly hove to through a series of violent squalls), we didn't launch the dinghy but remained aboard and tidied up while entertaining a steady string of canoes coming to meet us, to trade or to sell veggies and fruit (or to score lollies).
The following morning, we ventured ashore as all eyes in the village watched. Children came running to help us pull Bacio up the beach to tie to a tree alongside a fleet of small ocean-going speedboats and an even greater number of dugout canoes, sans out-riggers. Climbing off the beach onto an orchid-lined oceanfront path (buzzing with tiny bumblebee-sized hummingbirds), we asked for Chief John and were quickly surrounded by a army of giggling children, many with lovely light blue eyes and blond hair, who whisked us up the path to John's workshop and into the village of raised homes made of senga palm leaves. John is one of the master carvers in the small village and we found him at work on a variety of projects, including cabinetry and chairs for the school. All woodwork and carving here is still done with only hand tools.
John, a soft spoken grey haired man of 67 years, invited us to sit on his bench while we talked. His beautiful, blond, coffee skinned 2 year old grand-daughter, wide-eyed, snuggled between his knees while studying us carefully. We offered our usual fare of tea, sugar, tinned meat and rice, and introduced ourselves and asked permission to anchor in the bay and to explore the island. Seems John is only one of three chiefs on the island but his domain includes the bay and surrounding reef and it was important to seek permission from him specifically.
Interesting about this village is the dramatic line of demarcation between kastom village lands and lands owned by the Kuper family. The boundary line is easily seen when it is pointed out but the invisible economic line is a little more subtle and more difficult to detect, though perhaps more significant. Seems in the early 20th century a German man bought a large tract of land here, married a local girl, and his descendants, though now almost 100% Melanesian are still known as "the Germans". The Kuper family also calls themselves "German" and seems to own most (if not all) of the enterprise on the island and live in western style homes. Laura Kuper came to Carina to trade almost as soon as we'd anchored and asked if we had music for her IPod or DVDs to trade! This in a village where subsistence living is the norm and villagers' only economic opportunities seem to be the sale of timber or carvings and perhaps a bit of their crops, should they decide to paddle the five miles across open water to Star Harbor on Makira Island.
On the same day we visited Chief John, three additional yachts arrived and the village, which sometimes sees only 5 yachts a year, was overwhelmed with visitors. We too had a period of adjustment to yachties after a month traveling alone and visiting remote locales. We quickly found these yachts - Kalalau, Stella and Aletis - to be wonderful company and have kept in touch as we all travel up through the island chain.
We stayed at Santa Ana six glorious days, walked across the top of the island in company of the other yachties and James, John's son- in-law and deacon of the evangelical church. The wide grassy road, recently improved by the government, climbs steeply to the height of land where the open air-schools are located (primary through secondary), and then descends and passes close to Nafinuatogo village and ends at wind-swept Natagera. Natagera is the location of (what we were told was) the last kastom house in the Solomon Islands. A kastom house is the center of the traditional religion and most have been destroyed at the encouragement of the Christian churches vying for the souls of the people.
We arrived in the afternoon on a Sunday, when the entire village was at home as no one ventures to their distant gardens on the one day of rest. The tradewinds seemed to make the whole village seem barren and kicked up spray that made the sky overhead overcast. The scene was of a sandy town square with a large wooden open-air Anglican church at its far end and with young men and women playing football (soccer) or volleyball (with only a line for a net) as dozens of adults mulled about in the surrounding palm huts. All eyes turned to us - of course - as we paraded into the village, our interpreter and guide leading the way.
Children quickly fell in behind us forming yet a bigger parade, giggling wildly when one was brave enough to approach us and take our hand. Reaching a community center where hand written notices of rules and sports practice were tacked to the palm walls, we were asked to wait on the chief. A minute or so later, Peter, one of the council of chiefs approached and explained that they requested a kastom fee for the tour of the kastom houses and village. Our companions all looked chagrined as no one had prepared with Solomon dollars (or in fact possessed any). Philip, thinking quickly, approached Peter and asked if our smallest note - a 100 SD bill, worth roughly $14 USD - would be a sufficient donation for our party. Smiling widely and raising his eyebrows a bit, Peter nodded. Later when Philip signed the guest book, he noted that others, perhaps Solomon Islanders, had paid as little as 2 SD or 10 SD to visit.
There are actually two open-ended kastom houses in Natagera that sit facing each other, perilously close to crashing surf, protected only by a narrow coral shelf and a wall made of coral stone. The kastom house is under the protection of the men of the village and no women are allowed inside, so Leslie & the other women of our party stood outside while the men were given the tour. The supporting posts for the palm leaf roofs are black and carved with figures of warriors, chiefs and gods, mostly displaying extremely large penises and generally in possession of a weapon or tool. One post showed a (clothed) warrior, making a traditional pudding of yams or kumala, a scene we'd see in practice still today later in the Solomon Islands. Inside, a raised platform of coral stone sits under large suspended canoes and also tombs made in the shape of large tuna, also supported by carved posts. Each of the canoes and tombs contain the skulls and bones of an ancestral chief, whose bones were exhumed from the ground six months after they died, for transfer to the kastom house. Neatly laid on the stone platform were skulls wrapped inside a bundle of small smooth sticks about a meter long that were cinched at either end, creating an eerie package from which the eye sockets of the skulls seemed to peer.
While in Santa Ana we acquired the first of our Solomon Island carvings, a fish float and a walking stick, the carving on the walking stick depicting two young men standing back to back, holding tuna. Carvings from this province, the Makira province, tend to be of light colored hardwood, acquired locally, but colored in a dark, semi-glossy finish and decorated with inlay. John Wapua (the chief at Gupuna village on the bay) showed us the process of creating this finish, called supuru, though he was careful to protect the full recipe of the secret formula. To make supuru, a carver finds a very specific hardwood in the bush and grates a bit of bark with his bush-knife into a cloth bag, such as a loosely woven bag used for rice. The bag is then hung and twisted tight with a small hardwood stick until a red gooey sap is extracted. This sap is mixed in a coconut shell with the light fine ash of wood of yet another tree (which John did not show us) that had been burned hot and allowed to cool and kept very dry. This supuru coating is applied to the finely sanded carving (after nautilus shell inlay has been completed) in two or three fine layers, applied with the carver's finger, with each layer being allowed to dry a few hours. Any supuru staining the nautilus shell inlay is removed with super fine sandpaper.
The fish float is an interesting and genuine artifact of the local culture. It is a fancifully carved flat piece of wood with a stone lashed to one end. A fish hook is tied to the float and the float put to sea; the stone keeping the float vertical. As the float bobs the baited hook also bobs until the bait is taken. The float marks the catch until the fisherman can retrieve it. Our second day at Santa Ana, a tiny man from Santa Catalina Island approached in a dugout canoe (he'd padded across a strait in seas that would sober us in our keel boat) and handed us a white garbage bag full of carvings. He explained shyly that these were fish floats, though it took us awhile to ascertain this because of his soft voice and heavy accent. They were astonishingly playful of design and Leslie immediately decided we should have one, since they were a traditional carving and so pleasant to the eye. Philip, thinking "uh oh, we'll pay a bundle now that Les has shown such enthusiasm", finally asked the price. Edmund (our carver) responded, 100 SD ($14 USD). The deal was quickly sealed, a photo of Edmund and his art secured, and we felt good having given this artist his asking price while securing the lovely carving to decorate Carina's interior.
Leaving Santa Ana was just as difficult as it had been to leave Tikopia and Vanikoro and we lingered after the other yachts had hoisted sail and set off west towards Guadalcanal. John Wapua seemed to adopt Philip as a kindred spirit, trusting him enough to ask for ideas to help him to advance the cause of his people. John had also taken us walking to visit the unmarked grave of a WWII soldier recovered and buried by the islanders, given us a peek at his island's carving secrets, and spent many hours just talking of his island and family and his dreams. In return, we gave him small gifts including duplicating some 20+ year old family photos, (hopefully) good company, and even repaired a hole in his ocean going punt using our supplies of epoxy and fiberglass. When it finally came time to leave, John insisted Leslie must have a kaukau, that is a "woman's tool" of a naturally-finished shell of a coconut that a woman must have to serve rice or pudding to her family.
Finally ready, though a wee bit unwilling, we hoisted sail one morning and headed out into (what turned out to be) squally seas for an overnight trip along the north coast of Makira Island towards Marau Sound and specifically to Tavanipupu (tah-vahn-ee-poo-poo)Island.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake