It’s midnight; I’m running through a strange village with a coconut frond in my hand, slapping the ground all the while flaming coconuts are being thrown at me along with stingy stinky fish water.
When a flaming coconut hits the back of my calf, I realize that this is some of the craziest sh*t I’ve ever participated it.
27 brave souls fly to Santa Ana (in two separate planes, no less), an island just south of a much bigger island, Makira (no, this is not the Melanesian equivalent to Shakira; it is an actual place). Originally, it was to be two flights at the same time however, as anyone who flies Solomon Airlines (quoted in the Lonely Planet guide as competing strongly with Air Kiribati as the most unreliable airline on the planet), knows, time tables, schedules and plans go out the window pretty quickly.
I am on the morning flight. After we land, the pilot turns to me and asks me if I am the boss. I say no but he doesn’t quite believe me.
Anyway, we make our way from the grassy airstrip down to a village that hugs a beautiful bay. There we board some banana boats to make it across to Santa Catalina, our destination for five days. The trip across is fairly easy; only a little swell to make things more sporty.
We are greeted by warriors, wearing banana leaves and black paint. They scream and point spears at us.
The whole village is there to greet us, sing songs and make speeches. The 12 of us who made it across (all women) stand in a line and wait for our names to be read out so our host families can come and get us. It is explained later that we are going to stay with these families and are to be adopted into their tribe.
My new father, Phillip, takes my bags and quietly escorts me to my new home. Phillip’s house is a large, open plan leaf house. My room was originally part of house; they built a divider for me so I could have some privacy.
A whole banana bunch is hung from the ceiling; I have literally a hundred small yellow bananas to myself. I meet my mother, Sally, who has red wavy hair just like me. She shows me around to the toilet, which is in a leaf shack near the Greek Doctor’s house, the bathing area, which is in another leaf shack closer to the house and other facilities around the place. When we return from our “walkabout” I get a fresh coconut to drink out of. For some strange reason, the coconuts here are so sweet, as are the bananas.
We hang out for the afternoon, getting used to the village. Village life seems peaceful but there is activity going on all the time.
In the evening, we are invited to witness the making of the special traditional Wogasia (spear festival) pudding. So let me break it down for you. Pana is a kind of potato that is mashed until sticky and, well, foul smelling. The pana paste stuff is poured into a large rectangular bowl. Into the mixture goes hot, hot stones and loads of coconut cream. The white sticky stuff slowly turns a grayish brown and is mixed by four men with large stirring sticks. The pudding becomes a mass of bubbling goo.
Two large bowls of cool water are brought out and two men take positions on either side. Then the fun begins. The men start grabbing at the hot stones. They throw the stones on the ground, careful to miss their toes and put their hands in the cool water. This goes on and on until the pudding is thoroughly mixed, the men are all sweaty and the stones are removed.
The pudding is then left to sit for three days and will be eaten at the end of the festival. Yum.
We eat a nice shared meal of fish. I always go for the fish head; it’s delicious and easy to eat and no one else dares eat them but locals and myself. I discover that, after awhile, the group uses me as a taste tester because, essentially, they think I’ll try anything. They are right; I always give anything a go once.