Our mid-day hike across the island took us to the second village by the coast where we had a chance to met villagers and visit the two remaining historic “spirit houses”, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
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!).
A view from the top of the hill in the center of the island as we hiked across Santa Ana, Solomon Islands; note how lush the jungle is and some areas have been cleared for agriculture and coconut trees
The children were friendly and very engaging – many walked with us, hand-in-hand across the island and told us about their life on the island and also sang songs (in English) with us; Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
These two girls were very happy to pause for a moment for a portrait, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
The second village’s homes are all traditional (no corrugated metal roofs, etc.) and are just inland from the ocean, beach and the spirit houses, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands; note the abundance of coconut palm trees
These three boys (hamming it up) were not put off by the fact that they are sitting on the low exterior wall of one of the two remaining, historic spirit houses that contain the bones of past island chiefs, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
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 spirit houses, containing the relics and bones of old island chiefs, are a central meeting point for men on the island and continue (even in the age of Christianity on the Island) the tradition of ancestor and spirit worship, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
In the second spirit house are two large canoes, each filled with the bones of deceased chiefs and relics from each chief’s life, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
Under the canoes in the second spirit house are paintings of fish that have significance to the tribe and chiefs, along with bones and other relics (and a large wood fish sculpture), Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
Just beyond the spirit houses was a beautiful coastline lined with coconut palm trees, Santa Ana, Solomon Islands
A village elder (seated on the left) told us the story of Karimanua (in good English!) — a legendary boy from Santa Ana, Solomon Islands, who was turned into a shark by the spirits and revisits the island in his human form – with the carver holding the statue of Karimanua (half-man, half shark) that we purchased from him; note that this sculpture and story are unique to Santa Ana Island
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