The Solomon Islands (2 of 4)

Solomon Islanders have countless mysterious custom stories that come from traditional beliefs, from before Europeans discovered the land. After spending some time there and hearing many stories, I truly felt like they were real events that happened, and that some of the people still believe today. The magical atmosphere of the country adds to the mystique of the tales.

Some examples, taken from W. Davenport’s Custom Stories (Cultural Association of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, 1979), follow:

The Origin of Deni (Nendo’ Santa Cruz) Island

Two supernatural brothers who lived at Lakau an Aua Island left the Duff Islands in their canoe to look for the place where the supernaturals (atua) danced. They took with them a long rope. Every once in a while they stopped to listen, and finally they heard the atua singing and dancing.

The older brother told the younger brother to dive down and fasten the rope to anything he could find at the bottom of the sea. On the bottom the younger brother found a giant tree growing. He tied the rope under its great buttresses, then jerked on the rope to signal his older brother that it was fastened.

The older brother hauled and hauled on the rope. The sea around the canoe began to heave and boil. Soon one, then two peaks broke the surface of the sea and finally an entire island emerged. This was Deni (Santa Cruz Island) and the place where the tree to which the rope was fastened stood is the peak named Matepapa, the highest point of the island and the place where the atua dance.

Another story that relates to the seven deities, in which some Solomon Islanders still believe, details an event that also shows the close link and communication with nature that the people have:

Tuna the Eel

A woman of Kalua married a man of Malina (both on Taumako Island) and they had a son. The husband died, leaving the mother and son to make their living alone.

Every day mother and son went to their garden, and one time after digging holes to plant taro tops the mother found that she had dug one more hole than she had taro tops to plant.

When mother and son returned to their garden the next day they found a fresh water eel (tuna) in the extra hole. The mother put the eel in a taro leaf, and later when they went back to their house she packed the eel in a half coconut shell of water to keep as a pet for her son.

Soon the eel outgrew the half coconut shell, so she put it in a food bowl. Not long after it outgrew that bowl, so she put in a bigger bowl, then again in a still bigger bowl. All the time, Tuna was wondering how he could get hold of the child and eat him, but the woman also knew what was on Tuna’s mind.

One night the woman wanted to go torch fishing on the reef so she prepared some leaf torches. Before leaving her house she put a large pudding bowl on her son’s sleeping mat and covered it over with a bark cloth blanket, but she carried him out fishing with her. As she left the house she called out, "Tuna, you take care of your little brother."

As soon as she was gone, Tuna jumped from his bowl and went up to devour the boy, but he found out that he had been tricked by the boy’s mother. In anger Tuna slithered down to the shore to kill both the mother and the son. As he lunged for the mother, she fended him off with her lighted torch singing, "Chasing, chasing, she was sorry for the small eel. It is now large and chases them."

Following her song, she ran from the eel and called to the seven deities that looked after the people of Kalua: Tekova (Heron), Tekuli (Dog), Taituli (Centipede), Navanga (Eel from the sea), Tetohe (Pearl shell), Teuoihi (Giant Oyster) and Temokopili (Lizard). The supernaturals heard her cry of distress, but Tekuli, their leader, was over at Papa on Aua Island. Teuoihi went over to Aua to get Tekuli, while the other supernaturals called to the woman not to be frightened, for they would take care of Tuna, and they reminded her to be very careful lest she trip and injure her son.

Soon the seven supernaturals closed in on Tuna. Tetohe leapt ahead and cut Tuna into seven pieces, and each of the deities ate a piece in order to destroy him altogether.

These tales are just a couple of examples of traditional beliefs in the Solomons. Hearing them intrigued me to the extent that I could almost believe they were real.

Read Part 3