Carving Meccaa

Our time in the Western Province began in the nice little harbor of Peava, just southeast of Morovo. It was an overnight passage from Tulaghi, with a morning arrival into the narrow pass and the sun slightly behind us. The village greeter came paddling out in his canoe to ensure we anchored in an acceptable spot, and after a little chat, we politely let him know that we needed some time to rest.

Later in the afternoon, we all went ashore to introduce ourselves and meet others in the village. Barry stood up from his carving work to say hello. Ronnie told us about the area and about his family, and we continued a long conversation about the Solomon Islands’ history, the effects of logging on the reefs, and somehow Trump even got some air time! It seems his tweets even get here.

Peava Village
This particular island’s masterful carvings are known worldwide as well.  In fact, the “Barry” that I met that first day is actually a carver who is written about in numerous cruising and tourism guides. Even Ronnie, a fellow carver himself, praises Barry’s creative genius and expertise. At the time we met on the beach, Barry was in the beginning stages of carving a sea turtle he’d been commissioned to make. A rough piece of wood with the rudimentary outline sketched in blue marker slowly evolved into a work of art while we stood and talked. Elizabeth watched closely as Barry meticulously placed the chisel on the outline and bang- bang-banged it with a block of wood in his other hand. Years of practice had taught him just how hard to hit and at what exact angle he needed to hold the chisel.

The following day, our greeter came out to show us a few carvings his uncle had done. It was at that moment that we saw the depth of Mark’s carved-art addiction. In Chief John’s village a few months before, we’d just seen a glimpse when Mark had fallen head-over-heels for the shark-man. But here, in the carving capital of the Solomon Islands, his addiction would be fully realized! As the man began to unwrap his wares, Mark saw another carving that he just had to have - a series of turtles carved in polished Queen Ebony with hundreds of shells inlaid as accents. SOLD. That wiped out about half of the Solomon currency we’d gotten from our last trip to Honiara. Uh-oh. We’d have to get creative with trading if Mark found anymore must-haves! Our cash onboard was quickly being carved away!
Some of the carvings we acquired in Marovo

Shark-Man carving
Luckily, Mark had a few skills up his sleeve that came in pretty handy. For one amazing carving of a hunter and an eagle, he installed a solar panel and lights in Dashee’s house.

(See photo of Dashee with his prized hunter and eagle - we traded some lights and a solar panel that Mark spent a day wiring up for his family.)

Dashee and his carvings

The carving aboard Field Trip
For a carved crocodile and a “spirit of Solomons” panel of carved fish, he traded clothing and a solar lantern along with a bit of cash. And when the village organized a carving showcase in the meeting house, we brought what we could to trade, doing our best to deal fairly. Mark had to curb his enthusiasm and avert his eyes. The benches were covered with hundreds of hand-carved bowls, sculptures, spoons, and jewelry. This time, though, it was me who fell in love with a piece.

It was a ‘toto isu’, translated ‘long nose’ in the local language, but known throughout the Solomon Islands as ‘nguzunguzus’ (pronounced ‘noozoo-noozoo’). Their ancestors would have placed the figure on the prow of their canoes to state their intentions when approaching another island village. If the figure holds a human head, this means they are coming for war; holding a bird means they come in peace. The figures have become a national symbol, and are embossed on the one-dollar coin. The price for this work of art?? $1500 Solomon dollars - about US$200. Our trade? A cell phone with 12-volt charging adaptor for his daughter who was away at school.

Fuel Barge, cash from carving buys a drum of fuel
Although we were able to trade some goods and services for carvings, the folks here are desperate for cash. School fees are a major expense for them, and their children cannot attend school without payment. In hindsight, we would have liked to have brought more money with us, but we made it work and helped them in whatever ways we could.


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