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People of the Solomons



Village Life in the Solomons


Photos of Saeragi Village
Images of Mbabanga Village
Pictures of Solomon Islanders
Photos at Seghe Airfield

By Richard Moore

While the natural beauty of the Solomon Islands is truly outstanding – its clear, warm waters in particular – my lasting memories of the country are of encounters I had with the local people.

Whether it was being "attacked" by tribesmen, sung to by children in a remote kindergarten, chatting with a stone carver at a Gizo market, or a betelnut seller's family near Seghe airfield, or with kids and their families after a game of airstrip soccer – they all gave me a better connection to the beautiful Solomons.

As a traveller it is not always easy to mix with locals – particularly if you don’t speak the local language which, in the Solomons, is pidgin English.

And Solomon Islands men look pretty staunch and often surly but, if you give them a wave and a smile, you will almost always be rewarded with a massive show of smiling white teeth and a wave back.

People in the Solomons I found to be lovely.

They are quiet, almost shy, but it is worth making the effort to reach out.

The kids are really curious about visitors and with a bit of coaxing you can get them to chat about their schools and what they do.

Near the airstrip at Seghe, on the south coast of New Georgia, we were sheltering from the hot sun on a shady verandah and got to talking with a betelnut seller.

Betelnuts are chewed by seemingly most of the population and stallholders can make a good living selling them. She had five children – four girls and a boy – and the youngsters became quite chatty with a bit of prompting I took some photos and they were delighted to see themselves on the back of my camera.

Later I crossed the grass strip because I saw some lads taking penalty kicks with a very old soccer ball. I couldn’t resist and asked if I could join in.

The young guns, who ranged in age between about 4 and 10, no doubt thought I’d be an easy victim and they’d score lots of goals. (I didn’t let on I had been a goalkeeper at quite a high level).

After about 10 minutes they were very disappointed they didn’t get the ball past me but still let me chat with them on a wooden deck and their mum joined in our yakking session.

Possibly the best interaction, though, was at the village of Saeragi on Gizo Island when, after our visit to the village, we cooled off by jumping into glorious waters with a group of local kids.

They no doubt thought we were quite mad, but it was an absolute hoot and the delight they had at my “bombing” lessons had us all cracking up.

Approaching Saeragi only an hour or so before it was hard to focus on anything other than the picturesque shoreline of magnificent trees and impressive native buildings dotted along it.

Unless it was the extraordinary colour of the water – a rich green-blue that called for you to dive in and cool yourself on a hot, humid Solomon Islands day.

Saeragi is on the northern tip of Gizo Island in the Solomons' Western Province.

We had gone by a local boat around coasts of palm trees and jungle, steering in between small, verdant islands on our journey from Gizo town. The sheltered waters were gentle under a blue sky speckled with fluffy clouds.

Rounding the final corner we waved back to the friendly villagers who were cooling off in the calm waters and the host of kids spilling on to the golden sands. We steered in towards shore and my focus was entirely on framing shots within my viewfinder.

Someone said a conch sounded, I hadn't noticed, but the cries of my female colleagues alerted me to something out of the ordinary and so I stood up and started shooting – images that is.

We were being rushed by black-painted Islanders who were armed with spears and axes. They were yelling, presumably a challenge, and charging our boat.

It was both surprising and exciting and had it been a real attack we would have been very quickly in trouble and, in times long gone, possibly featured on the menu.

While in the past they were headhunters, to call today’s villagers of Saeragi friendly is to do them a disservice – they are delightfully welcoming.

Once ashore we were given crowns of fragrant flowers and sweet-smelling floral necklaces before being treated to the refreshing flavour of the water from freshly opened young coconuts.

The leader of the young warriors greeted us and explained what would happen during our visit to his village. While fearsome with axe in hand he was new to the speeches game, but his presentation was well done and we were honoured to be welcomed into Saeragi.

We had the various woven – and very attractive - baskets explained to us and we all commented on how their swirling construction differed so elegantly from the usual interlocked weaving from other parts of the world.

Suddenly there was another commotion as some of the local children reacted with excitement as one of our group showed them images of themselves on an iPad.

And it has to be said these kids are cute. Big eyed, dark skinned, white toothed, cheeky and delightful little beings.

Then it was back to official proceedings.

First up we were shown how the villagers started fire rubbing sticks and then using coconut husk to accept the heat and start the flame.

Hard, skilled work that doesn't come easy to First World hands. It's even less easy in front of laughing little ones who clearly expect visitors to be as good as villagers in the fire-starting business.

Next came a demonstration of how to de-husk a coconut with a sharpened stake. Easy when you have done it many times, not so much for newbies. Mind you, if you end up like Tom Hanks in Cast Away it could be a lifesaver.

I'm a bit of a dab hand at opening coconuts with the back of a blade – having learned it in the Cook Islands – but my skills were never called upon at Saeragi.

My ability to eat, however, was - after both an interesting lesson in how Solomon Islanders cook via a heated rock oven covered in leaves, as well as and traditional dancing.

We were treated to three dances – a welcome, party dance, a best mates knees-up and a tribal effort that warriors would do before setting off on a head-hunting raid. That was both fascinating and little bit scary.

Possibly more worrying than I will admit to with intimidating noises and cadence as well as a snake-like choreography.

It was after our very tasty lunch we took five minutes – well, five island minutes (about half an hour) – to cool off at a pier in front of what we took to be an open-air school.

The kids there were delighted the foreigners were ready to swim with them and we all really enjoyed the chance to be part of their environment.

It has to be said that the children were driven to peals of laughter by the big white guy landing two spectacular bombs that sent water splashing the height of the trees.

Well, not really, but they were impressive!

After 30 minutes in the water with the kids it was time to return to Gizo and we did so reluctantly after what was a really enjoyable time with the villagers of Saeragi.

The next day we had a much more intimate encounter at a kindergarten in the remote village on Mbabanga Island about 20 minutes by longboat from Gizo.

It was cute, but slightly awkward, and yet so endearing that meeting those children became one of the highlights of our event-filled visit to the Solomons.

Through intermittently heavy rain we had walked for about 20 minutes through jungle and tall coconut palm plantations to get to the home of 300 islanders – a clean and well laid out collection of pole huts and buildings made from local hard wood and thatched palm fronds. Some homes had tin roofs using rusting corrugated iron.

We went to Mbabanga to see life as it is for most Solomon Islanders who live away from the big cities.

It was basic, very basic.

Fresh water comes from tanks collecting rainwater and obtained through a PVC pipe centrally placed like a modern-day well.

And it probably wasn’t the right day to come as the skies were grey, the sea was grey and well, it was humid and very wet. But, when you are on a tight schedule, you need to get out and about in all weathers and worry later about finding a good cloth to dry off the camera gear.

The kindy was set in a thatched building with a split-level floor. On one side was a raised sandy area, while the classes were held on the lower area on woven frond matting. It was cool and decorative. The bottom half of the class’ walls was rough wood paneling and the top sections open to the elements, although sturdy wire grills served as places to hang class work.

We were welcomed at the door by Jacinta, the kindergarten teacher, and given flower headwear by three of the little kids. The flowers were definitely not my cup of tea, but to refuse the offering would be rude and they did smell beautiful.

Then we were treated to a song as the class introduced themselves by each one singing: “My name is …. And I love the Lord.”

There were 18 kids in the kindy class, although Jacinta confided that a number of them were younger brothers and sisters who came along to join in. They were aged between three and five, dressed in a variety of clothes and colours and all had big dark eyes.

We took photos and – as a really good icebreaker we discovered while touring the islands – we showed the class the images on our digital devices.

They crowded around and their reactions were fun – all were delighted to see themselves on an iPad or back of my camera.

It was probably the first time in their lives they’d seen pictures of themselves.

Once Jacinta restored a bit or order – mainly among we visitors – the class sang us some songs and did some dances.

The girls were very shy and did a cute, but unwiggly, version of a native dance. The lads – boisterous even at that age – did an energetic dance I took to be the local challenge.

Then, dancing complete, it was time to go.

We stood and my female travelling companions were farewelled by the kids but the young fellow designated to be my “Goodbye Guy” burst into tears saying he was scared of me.

Hardly surprising as I was twice the size of the men in the village and my shade of slighty-tanned pink I guess was a bit of a rarity in these parts.

As are children’s books and so I made a mental note that upon my return home I would delve into my storage unit and get a collection of suitable titles from the ones I used to read to my kids and send them over to Jacinta and her charges.

To me they only contain memories, but for the island children they could open their eyes to a different world … much as the kids did for me.


Copyright 2014 RICHARD MOORE