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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sex and the Solomons

Okay faithful readers. I'm going to talk about it. I sort of pinkie promised myself that I wouldn't talk about cause, well, its a bit personal. But love is clearly in the air here in Honiara (I leave it up to you to ponder whether it has struck me or not). Everywhere I turn there are people falling in love or hooking up. I don't know if its the time of year here or what but something is clearly up.

This is kind of my advice guide for newbies re: sexual interactions in the Solomons.  I've started this little series for newbies because I get lots of emails asking me about what its like here, where are all the hot men I thought, after 10 months of being here, I've amassed a certain amount of wisdom on the subject. Just don't going thinking I'm a slutty mcslut for giving you this advice: MUCH of it has been gleamed from others.

Let me say a few words to the non Solomon Island dweller: love here is a complicated thing. Not that love anywhere is straight forward but there are all kinds of taboos around sexual interactions in the Solomons. And, remember folks, these are ISLANDS. Hard to get away from people if it doesn't work out.

When I go to the village, me and the local girls often talk about men. There is a surprising innocence and propriety around sex in the Solomons but, from statistics, its clearly going on here. The birth rate is high and unmarried pregnancies are common occurrences.

Note: There is also an alarmingly high rate of sexual violence towards women in the Solomons. This needs to be discussed at length on a highly effective level and I don't feel I have the knowledge or technical ability to clearly discuss those issues right now in this blog entry. I have several friends who work in that field and they are my heroes. It would be disgraceful to pretend to be as knowledgeable or as adapt as they are at discussing these issues. So I'm going to keep it light.

Social sexual interactions are a strict no no in the Sollies. Men and women do not hold hands while walking down the street. Men hold hands with other men and women hold hands with other women but I have rarely seen a woman and man hold hands here. There is no public kissing or hugging of the opposite sex.

So without further ado, here is my thoughts on some of the key relationship terms or issues here in the Sollies.


Me and my faithful housemate Carol (who moved in about two months ago to Casa Turchese) attend a wedding on Saturday afternoon. There are certainly hallmarks of a very western wedding: the big white dress, the groom in a tux, and the bridal party all in matching pink outfits. The ceremony is Anglican and, in formal, quite similar to anything I've seen in the states or N.Z. But one thing is different. Instead of the “you may now kiss the bride”, the priest says “you may now lift the veil of your brides”. There is no big finish kiss, just a modest lifting of the veil.

I felt slightly sorry of the bride in her huge white dress. The girl, only 20, was sweating profusely in the heat, as was her young groom.

After the ceremony, the couple leaves the church and heaps of colourful confetti are thrown at the couple. Then we are off to another location for the reception. The bride and groom barely interact, as if slightly embarrassed by the whole situation. The reception is held at a school hall and the wantoks of the bride and groom have prepared a huge feast of motu (an above ground oven covered in rocks) kasava, fish, chicken and veggies. The wedding cake is banana with white icing (it was delicious, of course I tried it), three tiered with a white bride and groom statue on top.

I was, I must admit, slightly disappointed with the conventional nature of the wedding. I was hoping for something a bit more Solomon Island rather than the traditional boring old wedding but it all seemed very by the book, down to the line of handshaking.

Bride price

This tradition is common in the Solomon Islands. In most places, the original intention of it was to pay the family of the bride the amount of income they would lose when the bride leaves the family for the groom's home.

Now, bride price has become a totally new thing (according to some of my local matron friends). There is a very large ceremony and quite a lot of money is now paid to “purchase” the woman. The intention, again according to my local matron (older women) friends, has been warped beyond recognition, giving the man “ownership” over his bride. Many blame the influence of colonization and the church for the reasons why women are now much more subjugated than before. With only snippets of oral history, its hard to tell whether women had it better or worse in the days before Mendana found this sun dappled isles.

The tradition of bride price is controversial, as it creates a sense of women as objects that can be sold and bought, rather than individuals with rights and freedoms. However, not all people see bride price this way and some people stick to the traditional notion of it being simply a method to compensate the families.

Either way, it is an old tradition in the Solomons and not one that is likely to be changed any time soon.

02, 03s (pronounced oh-two, oh-three)

One not uncommon phenomenon here is the concept of having multiple partners, usually without the other partners knowing about it. Its not just a male activity, women here take multiple partners as well, especially in Honiara (its fairly unheard of in the villages).

I believe the concept of having multiple partners came, partly, out of the over abundance of women versus men at one time in the Solomon Islands. When I speak to my local male co-workers, there seems to be a perception that if you treat one woman badly or get bored, simply get another one because there are so many women.

In a recent meeting, I pointed out that, statistically speaking, there are now more men than women in the Sollies and a significant amount of more men than women in Honiara. My local male coworker was shocked, and explained:

“But there are so many women at the clubs!”

Despite the anecdotal evidence, this may turn into a problem very soon for Solomon Island men. With less women, there could, potentially interesting shifts in the dynamics of social interaction.

Bush Married

Living together is kind of a no no in the very religious Solomon Island context. Locals have created a work around called being bush married which is living together but not legally married but is recognised as being married by the local community. There are many reasons why this happens:

-It can be difficult if you live outside the urban areas to get the proper paperwork completed re: marriage certificate.

-Also divorce is also very difficult to get here, so many couples chose to stay married on paper, with the man or woman simply moving on to another relationship by living with someone else.

-It is not uncommon for men to leave their wives and move on to other women quickly.

-Women also run away from unhappy marriages only to find themselves replaced when they return to their villages. Often, women have to pay compensation to those who they have upset (usually the in laws) if they wish to return to their family home.

Creeping (a slightly Chosieul phenomenon)

Now, I'm a bit hesitant to discuss creeping, as I am not an authority on this issue and I have never been to Chosieul, so I can't speak from experience. I do know that this does not happen everywhere in Choiseul, so bear with me.

Choieul is a particularly gender separated culture; women and men rarely interact in a social setting. But, obviously, people need to interact somehow. The young available men go “creeping” at night. Creeping involves men taking ladders up to girls windows and climbing inside. Then stuff happens, the girl does not know who she is with and the man leaves. However, if the man likes the girl, he leaves out her bedroom door to meet with the father. This indicates his intention to marry to the family.

While lots of local people have problems with this tradition, its a difficult one to break because the mothers and fathers of the young people involved typically met or interacted in this same fashion. I'll leave it up to you, gentle reader, to decide what you think about it.

The non local context (EXPATS)

Dating amongst the ex pat community is not an easy thing, although I have several friends who met here and fell in love and have great relationships. But the expat community is very small and if it doesn't work out, pretty much everybody knows about it and why. The sense on anonymity is completely gone here and everybody knows everyone else's business. Essentially, my advice here is: don't be an asshole to people. If you want to shag around, that's fine, but people hear about it. If you treat people like crap, well, it gets around. I'm just sayin.

Now, the drunken hook up is common here, as is drunken behavior in general. And, like a drunken hook up anywhere, its slightly uncomfortable to deal with but here, you gotta deal with it at some point. My advice is: deal with it sooner rather than later and just be upfront and honest about your intentions. Everyone will be happier if you do that.

So, don't be an asshole. And if you do like someone, be pretty sure before you head in there cause it can get kinda messy if it turns to custard. Its very hard to avoid each other on this little island. Anyway, if things don't work out, my advice is to stay classy about it (which is my advice about most everything).

Expat/local dating

Now, this is completely a personal choice and I really have no advice here. I have heaps of friends, both men and women, who have had cross cultural relationships here and its worked out great. I've also seen it go horribly, horribly wrong.

The scenario of it going wrong looks something like this: I've seen ex pat men have relationships with local women, only to leave them when the contract is up, sometimes with little ones, and then the men are back off to Australia or N.Z., never to be heard of again. Or local men turning their backs on their families only to have their expat women leave them to another assignment and then struggle to reintegrate back into their wontok system.

Also, be aware that the drunken hookup is likely not necessarily a wise idea with this context. I know several people who got called out by this, only to find out their hookup was married or a sex worker or both. Threats of violence can occur as do demands for money. So just tread carefully with the drunken hookup.

I guess my only words of consideration is what it would be with any cross cultural relationship: respect the traditions and understand that there are significant differences between the two of you. Love and accept those differences. Trying to change anyone is an impossible feat in any relationship, so I wouldn't suggest trying it (believe me, its just not worth it!). That's my two cents.

Again, don't be an asshole to local women or men. No one deserves to be treated like personal sex objects (unless they agree to that and are totally on board with it), especially the lovely, trusting and warm people of the Solomon Islands. Sorry but I'm going to be judgy about any douchebaggery in this regard. If you do treat people like crap, and I hear about it, we are going to have to have words. I'm just sayin.

In conclusion, love is a complicated thing everywhere, even in these little sunny islands in the Pacific. So have fun, enjoy the sun, don't be an asshole and you should be just fine.

P.S. To all the ladies who email me asking me where all the hot men are...well, typically they are all stuck on the base and need a pass to get out. So good luck with that, ladies.

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