First Annual Rodrick Bay Yacht Festival
22 July 2012 | Louisiade Archipelago, PNG
Last weekend we were back in Rodrick Bay after a week's worth of Honiara's Pacific Arts Festiva that ran the 1st -14th of Julyl. They did a really outstanding job putting that all together with something like 23 different Pacific nations attending. Each country had its own bure or hut, and the Solomon Island provinces each had amazing meeting houses with their individual styling and sub culture. There were several different venues to celebrate as well, in which the countries each traveled by mini bus to put on their shows. We were lucky to have been right in the central area of the National Museum where they had the film festival, theater productions, and the art exhibition across the street. Needless to say the experience was incredible, well worth timing being there to participate. I fell in love with the USP (Univ. South Pac.) musical, "Drua, Ocean of Fire", attending three of their performances. It was very exciting to see such a high quality performance and I just couldn't get enough.
On the heels of Pacific Arts came the first annual Rodrick Bay Hideaway Yacht Festival, which was the spectacular culmination of 6 weeks of hard work that we witnessed and were a part of with our village friends. There were 8 yachts participating, a great turnout for a first time event, and everyone was delighted with the program. Upon arrival at the beach last Monday morning, we were greeted by the lovely ladies in their custom grass skirts, pandanus tops, and heavy layers of shell money draped over them. We were handed a drinking coconut laced with red hibiscus and a bamboo straw, had a lei draped over our heads, and were led in procession through the "gate" into the roundhouse seating area. There must've been upwards of a hundred people who came from the other side, "Haroro Village", as well as some other villagers that came in their dugouts. We were treated to the national anthem, and the pan pipes started to play with the men in their custom skirts with ferns tucked in the waist band, arm bands, and leg bands, as well as long coconut hair wigs that made them look fantastic! After the opening ceremony celebration we took a walk through the village to the last house before the jungle trail to the other side, to see a local garden. Along the way we noticed the sago palm, from which most of their housing is made from, the coral cuttings that are burned to make lime for using with the betelnut chew, another pile of coral for export to be used in tropical fishtanks far away, and the betelnut trees themselves which a youngster climbed and dropped down a load for anyone who wished to try it.
Upon returning for lunch, which was local custom food of fried fish heads, sweet potato, banana, and watermelon slices served on woven plates with banana leaves, we ate and went back to the boats for snorkel gear and had an afternoon snorkel. We reconvened at 3pm when Lilian, head man John's wife, and another woman, both dressed in their custom clothing (same as they wore on their wedding days) showed us how to weave palm leaf baskets. I one was asked to do a demonstration of sewing the roof materials into a roof panel, so I was hauled off to Mary and David's house to be dressed in the same custom manner in Mary's traditional costume. That was a big hit with the locals when I returned all decked out, and I went to work sewing just as I had been taught. Everyone thought it was funny when the puppy Coco climbed into my lap while I sewed too, as that's where she spent a lot of time napping when we were making roof panels in weeks prior.
The second day we were greeted at the beach landing again, and this time there was more dancing, pan piping, and singing and many more people attending, including the tourism office. It was fantastic! Now we could understand what they were doing from 11pm - 4am every night, practicing perfect for us! That day there was a tour of Lilian's kitchen, where 3 ladies dressed only in traditional skirts showed us how they make three different kinds of custom pudding. YUM! This would all go into the biti (oven) for the feast that would be the grand finale. After another lovely luncheon, we returned to listen to a headhunter tale where the chief made fire by rubbing two sticks together and sent his warriors out on the warpath. They returned with 9 skulls, and they are the real things! When one of the cruisers said, "You don't do that anymore, do you"? and it was silent for a minute, and someone answered if they had to defend themselves, then yes! There is still some pretty serious rivalry between islands and provinces in the SI. Very interesting...
That afternoon there was a mini market of fresh vegetables and potatoes, cucumbers, betelnuts, and other garden goodies for trade, and it was the strangest feeling I had looking at them spread around that it felt like a scene out of a Ken Follett novel as something rather midieval! There were others that had set up their trade goods such as carvings, shells, shell money necklaces, and WWII artifacts. One man had Clark D. Brown's dog tag on a laniard, and there were utensils dated 1917, from WWI that were used again in WWII. These things tend to show up when they're gardening. We traded for a canteen that's imprinted with GM Co. for General Motors Co. and it's dated 1942. WOW! Someone's initials are etched into it on the front as well, HBK, and they nearly speak to you when you hold these things, like memories coming out of them! Cool.
So the day ended with a live pig being brought in on a travois hefted onto two men's shoulders which was presented to replace the life of the pig that was cooked for the feast. The costumed women all had giant baskets of pudding on their heads, each decorated lavishly like a war canoe but decorated with flowers. The depth of their hospitality was now showing that they would feed everyone present, upwards of a couple hundred people, and a giant spread of leaves was placed across the area outside of the roundhouse and everyone sat down to eat. There was pulled pork, fish, potatoes, and the three kinds of pudding. Unfortunately for Morgan who had spent the previous night vomiting due to ingesting a large amount of sea water during the snorkeling, he declined eating but the rest of us enjoyed ourselves immensely. It was a festival of delight and wonder for all of us "yachties" for sure, hard to believe we didn't have a better understanding of what it would entail since we were around for most of the preparations, but we are certainly grateful for the surprise and very impressed, as I'm sure were all the village visitors as well!
Rodrick Bay inhabitants are the most kind, caring, and considerate people we've ever encountered and they are the heart of the most incredible Solomon Islander experience one could ever have!