The first part of our morning on Santa Ana (also known as Owaraha or Owa Raha), Solomon Islands, was spent meeting the local islanders and participating in “retail therapy” (shopping in their open air, artisan market) and then watching a quite varied series of traditional ceremonial dances by dancers from Santa Ana and some neighboring islands. Afterwards we did a mid-day hike across the island to the second village by the coast. Along the way, at the top of the island’s hill, are the local schools. Many of the charming and freindly school children (on a two hour break for lunch) walked with us, hand-in-hand, answering questions about the island and their village and school, then joining us in singing songs (in English!).
The highlight of the destination was a chance (for the men – only) to enter and visit the two remaining historic “spirit houses” where the bones of previous chiefs are kept (a third historic spirit house on the island was demolished a number of years ago – the Christian missionaries, beginning in the mid 1800s, did not want to sanction the traditional ancestor and spirit worship). The spirit houses also serve as meeting houses for the men of the village (women and children are not allowed to enter, but can look in from the end of the houses). [For an introduction to Santa Ana, see our earlier blog post “Santa Ana (also known as Owaraha or Owa Raha), Solomon Islands”.]
The Story of Karimanua and Kakafu
On the island of Santa Ana there was a boy named Karimanua. One day, he and his younger brother, Kakafu, went into the gardens with the other men from the village. In the hot sun, they used heavy wooden sticks to dig mounds for planting yams. Together, they worked for many hours and grew hot and tired. The men said, “You two boys go fetch cold water from the spring-fed pond and bring it back so we can drink.”
The brothers went to the pond, and when they got there they began to play in the water. First in the water was the younger brother, Kakafu. He played like he was a shark, swimming around in the pond. His elder brother, Karimanua, looked down and said, “It is not good, you are not a shark.” And so he got in the water too. Being of the shark clan, the two brothers swam about with ease. But the elder brother was the better shark. Karimanua was such a good shark that he snuck up on Kakafu from behind and bit his brother in half at the waist. This was very bad, and Karimanua knew it. Desperately, he tried to fit his brother back together again. He pressed him together, both halves of him, but with no success.
While this was happening, the men in the garden had sent another boy to find out where the two brothers were, and why they had not returned with the water to drink. The third boy approached the pond and saw what Karimanua had done. He saw him attempting to fit both ends of his brother back together. The boy ran back to the men and told them what Karimanua had done to Kakafu. And then all the men rushed down to the pond to see for themselves what had been done. They saw Karimanua, and they chased him. He ran, ran, ran down to the sea, down the path and past the village until he reached the sea. When Karimanua reached the sea, he once again turned into a shark and swam out into the deep water. He swam far away from the men, away from his village and his mother’s gardens.
Karimanua (“the one who wanders around the village”) sometimes grows hungry and comes to land. When there are feasts in the village, for an important death or other reason, he joins the men in the spirit house as they prepare root crops in large wooden bowls. As they smash up the yams with their wooden sticks, the hungry Karimanua helps them. But unlike the other men, Karimanua uses a hollow bamboo stick. The bamboo catches food, which Karimanua eats before returning again to the sea. Even today, Karimanua can still be seen swimming far out to sea, recognizable by the small gapagapa bird that flies over him and that occasionally lands on his pointed fin. – with thanks to expedition anthropologist Patrick Nason, an expert in Pacific Ocean and Melanesia maritime culture with doctoral training at Columbia University