Copyright © 2005 Tom Ludvigson. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 2: TRIP I 8.5.74 - 21.11.74
2.1 Mol Kleva
2.3 Sulu and Kinglu
2.7 A devel at Duria
2.8 Lahoi on Patua and Mol Sale
2.10 Other healers
2.11 Usa Pon on kleva
2.12 Tamate and malaria
2.13 Maitui on aviriza, ria and tamate
2.14 Devel tales and Memei on Krai Vurombo
2.15 Mol Santo's rain
2.16 Totonos and vavaulu
2.17 Dysentery at Vunpepe
2.18 Sulu and Mol Kleva on spirits, illness and dream cures
2.19 Memei vs. Lahoi over Patua's marriage
2.1 Mol Kleva
It seems appropriate to begin this account of the kleva inside a small house at Tonsiki, where by chance I happened upon one of them in the midst of practicing his craft - a performance that caught my interest and led to me finding out for the first time about the existence of the kleva in the Santo mountains.
I had just entered the house. In the half-light inside I recognised Piloi's wife seated on a mat by the wall to my left. Squatting beside her was a man that I knew as the chief of our Tohsiki-speaking neighbours on the north-west side of the valley: stocky, with receding short gray hair and a blind eye, unseeing cloudy white in a curiously aristocratic face. Next to him was a pile of fairly large fresh green leaves - they looked like Yellow Hibiscus leaves to me. Sitting down on the edge of the mat on the opposite side of the house, I watched the man pick up two leaves in each hand. Then, holding them flat against each hand with a thumb, he placed them next to each other on his companion’s nearest shoulder, pulling them down her arm and bringing them together in one movement, finally folding them up and tucking them under the toes of this left foot.
It was his house; one of only three in the small settlement at Tonsiki. Set high on the ridge that separates the Ari valley from the upper Peolape, the hamlet had been settled recently from the much larger village of Duria, further down and closer to the centre of the valley.
I had come from Vorozenale that morning. Guided by a Tonvara boy named Merika Pro ("Big America") I had crossed the valley more or less as the bird flies, by-passing the settlements along the main track and going straight for our destination by way of a sequence of tiny garden trails. I was exhausted. The climb up the escarpment on this side of the valley had seemed almost endless and ridiculously steep, though finally rewarding us with a birds-eye view of the valley. We were so high up that we could even see across the Truvos ridge to the other side of the Zari. The reason for the excursion was the usual: I had been sent for as there were children sick in the settlement.
I watched as my host at his work, as he continued to apply the same treatment to the woman's other arm, legs and back. The way he folded up the leaves tickled my imagination. He didn't fold them - it looked more as if he was wrapping something up inside them, carefully forming neat little packages with his hands and stacking them under his foot. What was in them? Was the man some sort of magician, taking objects of some kind out of her body? What kinds of things? And how had they got in there in the first place? A host of questions ran through my head as I sat quietly watching while he finished his task, but I felt reluctant to start asking him about it. Though he had sent for me to come and treat his coughing children, I hardly knew the man. I had only seen him once before, and had never spoken with him. And his performance looked too much like a conjurer's trick to me - he might find my questions embarrassing. I suspected that we had interrupted what wasn't intended as a public display.
I held my tongue until the next day, when I left Tonsiki and continued to Duria, again by request for medical attention. There I got answers to my questions quickly enough. Yes, he did take things out of people's bodies - the things that made them ill. Food, mainly: river fish, prawns and so on, I was told. And vezeveze: pebbles and spikes from inside the soft core of a local tree-fern, thrown into the body of the unsuspecting victim by some sorcerer. The man's name was Vohia Drok, but since the time when he succeeded his elder "brother" (FBS) as the Duria chief people called him Mol Kleva.
The word kleva was not new to me. A Bislama version of English "clever", it had come to my attention on my most recent visit to Canal.
I had not gone there alone. There were twelve of us including women and children, so we all stayed with Maliu Kalus' Malekulan brother-in-law who worked as a cook at the Ecole Communale and owned a small plot of land among the shanties across the Sarakata river from the town centre.
Drinking kava one night in his "kitchen" - a traditional sago thatch structure with oven stones in one corner of the dirt floor where we spent our nights - we were joined by a man carrying a boy, maybe three years of age, in his arms. Maliu introduced the man as a "brother" from the Tazia valley: their fathers were both of Vunu Maliu, the Mushroom Clan. His name was Maliu Vunavelu. His son was with him because the boy was ill.
Accustomed to being approached about matters of that nature I looked at the boy. His thin arms and legs and distended stomach indeed combined to give an impression of bad health, but the boy wouldn't let me near him for a closer examination, crying and pressing himself closer to his father's chest with the odd glance back at me, eyes wide open with fear.
I suggested to Vunavelu that he take his son to the French hospital on the other side of town the next day, but he said not - he had gone there in the past and had had little satisfaction. Besides, he said, he had already that day taken the boy to an Aoban woman living on the outskirts of town. She had treated him with leaves and spells. It had cost Vunavelu ten paun (B), twenty Australian dollars, but that was a small price to pay for his son's recovery.
As I proposed that he still take the boy to the hospital, the others came to his support. The woman was a kleva woman (B), they said. She had cured hundreds of people of various diseases. Even some masta took their ailments to her, they told me. Our hostess, Maliu's sister, had consulted her as she had not had any children. True, that hadn't produced any results yet, but then she had only been to see her twice. Their belief in the healing powers of this "clever woman" seemed unshakable.
I drew the conclusion that a kleva was an expert healer. Because the woman came from another island, and Maliu Vunavelu had come all the way to town to make use of her services, I had tacitly assumed that she had no counterpart in the interior of Santo. Now I learned differently: apart from Mol Kleva I was told of another three of these kleva in the mountains. They were all men, and I had met them all at one time or another during my three months in their territory.
2.3 Sulu and Kinglu
One of the kleva was Sulu, my neighbour from Kuvutana, whose activities as a healer were known to me from our joint trip to Ariau. Since then I had seen him consulted a couple of times more. Three women from the Tazia valley had brought a sick child to Kuvutana - for singsing, as someone referred to it when explaining to me in Bislama the reason for the visit. And when Vemari gave birth to a boy at nearby Palakori, Ai Rovo brought some leaves for Sulu to "sing" over - another silent spell, perhaps, like I had seen him do at Ariau? I saw Ai Rovo leave with a bunch of leaves in his hand on his way home to relieve his wife who still had pains after the birth.
Another kleva was a man named Kinglu. I had first heard about him during my days at Tombet, on my fourth day in the village. A drizzle had started that morning and a young boy informed me in halting Bislama that it was the work of an old man living at nearby Vatroto. He controlled the weather, bringing rain and sunshine as it pleased him.
Nearly three weeks later he'd been pointed out to me at a feast at Vunrevorevo. Old and crooked with sparse white hair and supporting himself on a stick with one hand, he came through the door of the largest of the houses in the hamlet, walked slowly across the central clearing shaking an old rattling tobacco tin with the other, while singing over and over again a brief chant. He ducked through the door of another house and emerged shortly afterwards, heading back where he had come from, soon followed by another man who had taken over the tin rattle and was wailing what sounded like a different composition. It was dusk, and the men were starting to sing valavala songs - a favourite night-time activity during feasts, to last until dawn.
At that time I didn't know Kinglu as a healer; I only knew him as an old, venerated magician. Now I was told that he was the most powerful of all the kleva. The others cured with leaves and spells after somehow "seeing" what caused the illness. Kinglu just looked at his patients, told them what had made them ill, and they became well.
The fourth kleva was a young man from Duria by the name of Patua. I had met him briefly on my very first day in the valley, as my guide took me to his house in Duria on our way between Tonvara, where I had spent the night, and Vorozenale.
The building was small, with a narrow entrance and a wooden slab for a door, which reduced the light inside to a minimum. The contrast with the strong midday sunshine outside was so great that at first I couldn't see anything or anybody indoors. Sitting down on what felt like a mat I had to be content to listen to the incomprehensible conversation between my guide and two invisible hosts, until gradually I was able to make them out: a man and an old woman seated in the gloom, the latter intermittently rotating a length of bamboo in a slow fire. Presently she lifted it out, removed some leaves from the open end and emptied the steaming contents onto a large leaf: little elongated packages of grated taro wrapped in "island cabbage" leaves; scalding hot, but very palatable.
I didn't know his name then, but I heard about him indirectly a number of times during the ensuing month, as I repeatedly was told of people going to Duria to lukluk man i sik (B): "see a sick man". I offered to go to have a look at him and apply my minimal skills, but the proposal was initially declined. They wanted me to wait until after my next trip to Canal. K had promised to try to get some tools for giving injections. The Tombet dresser gave injections: he had been to see Patua, "pinning" him once. My hosts at Truvos told me they preferred that mode of administration - admittedly more spectacular than my insignificant-looking little pills and capsules.
Now that I was back, and suitably equipped, I had been kept almost constantly afoot with medicine, spending every night except two away from Truvos during the week that had elapsed since my return. At Duria that day I met Patua, and recognised him as my host during that past short visit to his village: a morose man in his twenties, of average height but perhaps a little less muscular than most, and with a slightly protruding stomach.
I examined him, but could find nothing out of the ordinary, though he insisted that he was very ill. His pulse and temperature seemed normal. The only outward sign of there being anything wrong with him was his attitude: he seemed morose and almost uncooperative, as if the consultation was an imposition forced upon him by his friends and me. But he complained about some not very specific stomach ailment and general fatigue. Was this sickly and misanthropic youth really one of the expert healers? I had expected someone more impressive.
That was when I found out his name. It struck me as really strange that he should claim to be called Patua. Later I would even write it Batua on occasion, trying to retain an imaginary distinction between his name and the Kiai noun patua; unable to accept that anybody should be given that word for a name.
Patua was Kiai for two little spirit children, who cry for human liver when they are hungry, and take their host's spirit hunting when his body is asleep. Maitui had told me about them one day at Vorozenale. He was one of my many visitors during those early days, came to see me for no obvious reason except that I was there, and I was taking advantage of his presence to learn more about the place.
We were talking about chiefs. I had heard that a chief should be succeeded by his son, but had since found out that neither at Truvos nor at Duria had this actually happened recently. Now I was hoping for Maitui to throw some light on the subject. Instead I got sidetracked.
Mi mi pikinini blong jif (B), said Maitui, not without pride: "I'm the child of a chief." His father was Mol Sahau, chief of Tonvara, killed when Maitui was only an infant, he explained. No one had replaced him - the Duria chief served as chief for Tonvara too these days.
Somewhat surprised by this revelation I asked him about the killing of his father. As Maitui appeared to be in his early twenties it must have happened around 1950, but I thought feuding had ended on the island well before then.
Maitui told me that his father had been shot - as a cat. Seeing my puzzlement he then proceeded to explain. Everybody has patua: two little children that come to you when you are asleep. Others cannot see them. You may put them among the roots of a banyan tree, or among rocks, but when they get hungry they come to your side when you are asleep, and cry. They cry for liver and entrails to eat. You can feed them on pig innards, but they may take your nonoa and to hunting.
This too was a new word to me; I had not heard it before. Maitui illustrated: your shadow, or your image in a mirror or a photograph were his examples. And your nonoa wanders at night when you are asleep.
I got the idea of some astral double whose experiences we remember in the morning as dreams. Was this what he meant? I asked as best I could in my still halting Bislama, and Maitui confirmed, enthusiastically.
The patua take your nonoa with them and together they go into some house somewhere where someone is asleep, cut open his stomach and the patua eat his insides. Then they stuff the cavity with leaves and seal up the wound so that it doesn't show. In the morning there is no trace of the operation, but the victim will be dead within a day. The person whose nonoa took part in the feast will be aware of the night's happening, but he will not dare tell anyone for fear of retaliation.
When a hunting nonoa enters a house, it can be seen as a light, or as a fowl, dog or cat. It can be killed with a rifle, bow and arrow, a knife, or anything that will kill the animal in question. But if it appears as a light you must aim below it; if you shoot at the light itself you will miss. It is a trick - the nonoa is really beneath the light, Maitui explained.
If you shoot a nonoa its owner dies within a day. That was what had happened to Maitui's father - he had been shot in the shape of a cat, and died not long after. By that time he had himself killed many people in the area with his patua.
These were the first details I learned about the workings of Santo witchcraft, though I already knew about its presence in the area. Wardley, the "dresser" in whose house I had stayed at Tombet, had told me about two recent suspected cases.
One had occurred just two months before I came to Santo. A woman lay sick in a hamlet named Vutioro on the west side of the Peiorai river. Wardley had been there to treat her. The hamlet was one that he visited regularly on his bush tours with western medicines. Eventually the woman died. Her grief-stricken husband, convinced that an old woman at nearby Malmarivu had killed his wife with witchcraft, attacked and beat the old woman severely. The assault was reported to the coastal authorities and the attacker was given a two months` prison sentence.
The other incident took place in the upper Peolape valley while I was still at Tombet. A boy died at a hamlet named Liosara. He had been sick a long time according to Wardley, who had tried to get him moved to Tombet for intensive care, but there had been no cooperation from the people in the area. When the boy died, his neighbours accused a man from further up river, but living at Liosara, of killing him with witchcraft. Angered by the accusations, this man had in his turn threatened someone with a rifle. The affair had been reported on the coast and police had been sent in to sort things out. It seemed that witchcraft was something to be taken seriously. Even if the killings themselves were open to question, their repercussions seemed at least potentially as deadly.
I mentioned these incidents to Maitui, asking if they were patua killings. He said yes; that was what he had heard said at the time. Both those times the ensuing disputes had ended up with gavman at Canal. But there was no use in going to gavman with accusations against someone who had killed someone else with his patua. Gavman won't punish witches, said Maitui. He only asks: Yu luk? (B) "Did you see it?" And of course you didn't see it - you can't see patua; they are invisible. So gavman does nothing, and people take matters into their own hands. They may ask for compensation for a killing: a pig, or a sum of money - Maitui suggested one or two or three hundred pounds. But if the witch refuses to pay, a fight may ensue, even with deadly weapons: rifles, knives, rocks or clubs.
It may have been a product of my rudimentary Bislama, but I took Maitui to mean that everybody has patua. Since then I had learnt differently from Maliu Tin, a Tazia man married to a Vorozenale woman; still another "brother" of my host, Maliu Kalus. When not staying in their garden house at Morvari on the track to Vunpati, Maliu Tin and his family slept in Maliu Kalus' house in Vorozenale. One morning he told me how patua had first come to Santo. They came from ples blong waitman (B): "the white people`s country."
A man went to work there - at Noumea. A white man there gave him two children. He put them in a suitcase and brought them home to Santo. He left them at the foot of a banyan tree. Nowadays, if someone wants patua, he can buy them from someone else for the price of a pig. The witch puts a spell on a coconut and pours it over the head of the initiate, who can them see two little children. Others cannot see them.
So patua were witches' familiars; an instrument of death, and as so properly feared and hated by the local people. They were to blame for the depopulation of the mountains according to Maitui. In the past there had been lots of people living in the area; now there were only a few - all because of the witches, killing people with their patua.
This, then, was the sources of my puzzlement; if the patua were such a moral outrage, how come the young Duria healer was called by their name?
That night around the kava bowl at Duria I tried to probe further into the topic of vezeveze - the pebbles and spikes allegedly plucked out of people's bodies by the kleva. I had only just heard about them that day, and was eager to learn more.
Patua, the most likely expert on the matter, had not joined our evening gathering, but the rest of my hosts were cooperative. After assuring me that no one had vezeveze in our part of the mountains, they told me that those who had learned the appropriate spells could charm objects and throw them at an enemy. They learned the spells from a smol man (B): "small man", who lived in the bush - not an ordinary man, but some kind of bush gnome, by the sound of it.
A victim of vezeveze would become ill with pains in his body, unable to sleep or even lie down comfortably on a mat. Typical vezeveze objects were stones, iron nails, bits of wire, or matailoko: hard black spikes commonly used as arrow prongs, found in the soft pith of the abundant malavu, or "black palm" - a tree-like fern much like the New Zealand punga. Even if the intended victim was far away, the objects would find their target. Whether thrown by hand or shot with bow and arrow, they would fly high in the sky before landing for example on the roof of the house where the unsuspecting victims lay asleep. Then they could be heard as a trickle of running water, as they came through the sago thatch and entered the flesh of the intended.
2.7 A devel at Duria
Next morning I accompanied a local man by name of Memei to a coconut grove not far from Duria, to fetch back some dry coconuts for milk for a pudding being prepared for later in the day - part of the festive treatment I received in return for dressing sores and dispensing shots, pills and ointments. We went there by ourselves, just the two of us, but I thought I heard voices nearby and remarked on this to my companion.
He paused to listen, and replied that he couldn't hear anything. Shortly after I heard them again, but Memei still denied hearing any. Next I thought I heard footsteps from the same direction, but again Memei hadn't noticed. Then suddenly he froze and said that he could hear someone talking, though that time I didn't hear anything. Memei now suggested that it might be a devel - Bislama for "spirit". On my enquiry he explained it like this: if you had been joking with a man during his lifetime, he may come and play pranks on you after his death - like throwing stones at you, or coming up to tickle you from behind. Perhaps we were the victims of some such ethereal prankster? If so, there was only one remedy. If you work out who it is that is pestering you and pronounce his name, he will go away and not bother you again.
We didn't attempt it though. We just quickly gathered our coconuts and hurried away from there.
2.8 Lahoi on Patua and Mol Sale
A week later I finally had a day to myself at Vorozenale, pouring into my notebooks all the new information I had accumulated in telegraphic sentences on tiny jotting pad pages. Ever since I arrived back with the "pin", my backlog in field notes had been growing steadily larger: the visits to other settlements meant simultaneously lots of new information to write down, and no appropriate time to do it. Now I worked hard to catch up.
I pondered what Memei had told me, as I wrote down a condensed account of the incident with the voices in the bush. I thought that I could detect traces of a more general theme in the remedy that he had suggested: to utter the name of the spirit responsible. Maybe this was how Kinglu cured people's ailments: he "saw" the cause of the disease, named it, and it came to an end? perhaps identifying and disclosing the hidden cause was enough to render it ineffective?
Lahoi and family arrived home in the early afternoon, with taro to cook. During my day's writing I thought of a number of questions to ask somebody, and needing a break I walked over to his house and engaged him in conversation. I told Lahoi that I had seen Mol Kleva in action at Tonsiki, and that I had heard about the kleva and their powers. Was it really true that they could remove vezeveze?
Yes, said Lahoi, he had seen it with his own eyes, right there at Vorozenale. It was Mol Paroparo, the chief of Truvos, who was suffering from pains in his extremities. Patua was fetched from Duria to help. He seated his patient on a mat and proceeded to stroke his body with leaves - like Mol Kleva at Tonsiki - and soon tree-fern spikes were falling all over the mat. Lahoi was awed. He had heard people talk abut vezeveze wielders among our Moris-speaking neighbours to the east - the people of, Tanmet and Lotunae - who were seldom visited from Truvos for fear of their black arts. They in turn hardly ever came to visit us, allegedly fearing our vezeveze, though Lahoi was adamant that no one had them here. But he had for a long time suspected that it was all empty talk - that there was no such thing as vezeveze. Now he knew that he had been mistaken: he had seen the spikes with his own eyes. And from that day he had a new respect for Patua. Mi fraet long em (B): "I'm afraid of him", Lahoi told me. Patua indeed appeared to have fearful powers over the unseen - or at least over his neighbour's imagination.
Lahoi had more to tell me about the young Duria healer. He had been sick for three months now. Much like me, people were mystified by his ailment - no one knew what was wrong with him, though speculation was rife. There had even been talk of foul play being involved. some said that Mol Sale was making Patua ill with the aid of some taro peelings left over from the meal eaten by him, Lahoi told me.
This was the first I heard of such practice on Santo, though the concept was familiar to me from my reading: the notion that you can work harm on a person through some object intimately connected with him or her.
I already knew Mol Sale. I had met him at a feast at far-off Vunrevorevo, in the days when I was still based at Tombet in the northern interior. Now old and gray, he had told me how as a younger man he had guided Guiart through the Ari valley, when the French anthropologist visited the area two decades ago.
Mol Sale had succeeded his father as chief of the Moris-speakers, but didn't live among them. Instead he lived alone with his wife and many children at Zinovonara - a small settlement on our side of the Ari, their fallow bordering on ours in the fertile basin just downstream from where the Zari joins the big river.
Apart from being a close neighbour, Mol Sale had another link with the people of Truvos. He was the "brother" of old Vepei of Kuvutana - their mothers had been full sisters, Lisa had explained to me. As such Mol Sale was the closest living elder clansman of Vepei's three sons, Lisa, Sulu and Eilili. They were all of Vunu Aki, the Black Ant Clan.
It appeared that Mol Sale had a bit of a reputation for dealing in harmful magic. It was only two days since I had heard from Mol Kleva at Duria how Mol Sale's Moris-speaking neighbours had driven him away from further down valley, because he had patua - in other words, he was a witch. He had then lived for three years on the Duria side of the river, before shifting to his present residence.
Lahoi now claimed that also that second move was in response to pressure from neighbours - the people of Duria didn't want him around either. Now he just stayed at home and had few visitors, as others were wary of his patua and sorcery. He couldn't go visiting the coast either, said Lahoi. If he did he would kakae kalabus (B): "eat prison" - the coastal chiefs would see to that. His evil-doings had been reported to gavman.
I also commented on Patua's suggestive name. Lahoi replied that his real name was Muramura, but he had been baptaes (B) Patua. I wasn't sure what he meant - baptised? Yet further questioning didn't get me beyond that notion. Later I found out that it was simply Bislama for conferring a new name on someone - as the Christian missionaries did with their converts - but implying no special ceremony.
After a few more enquiries about other topics I returned to my notebooks. I was intrigued by what Lahoi had told me about Patua. So much of what I had heard about him pointed towards the invisible world of malevolent powers, where the young healer appeared both as their victim and slightly ambiguous master.
Now that I had become aware of the existence of kleva in the mountains, I started noticing some of their influence over the lives of others in the community.
I prepared a festive meal for Pos Vea from Vunpepe, who had guided me back to Vorozenale from Duria, and had stayed the night with us in Maliu's house. I peeled and boiled some yam that had been given to me and poured the steaming white pieces on to a large wooden plate. As an extra treat I opened a tin of mackerel and following a local example from the recent past, poured the oily fish stock over the cooked yam before emptying the rest of the contents on a plate, adding two finger size koro river fish left over from last night's meal.
Pos Vea wouldn't eat, though the others present dug in with relish. I was astonished. I was sure we were scaling the heights of local culinary tastes and, in trying hard to be a good host by their standards, had expected him to respond with gusto. My guest explained. He couldn't eat fish - Sulu had forbidden it after treating his infant daughter for some complaint not long ago. I had also spoiled the yam for him by pouring the fish stock over it.
Quite taken aback I asked Pos Vea if he was allowed to eat the koro - then he could have both of them with some cold taro. No, he said, koro were normally not forbidden him, but I had put them on the plate with the fish. I had wanted to give my friend a treat, but instead failed rather miserably as a host. Pos Vea looked rather sad as he sat eating cold taro with salt while the rest of us feasted on yam and fish.
So the kleva placed food taboos in connection with their treatment of the sick. But their prohibitions also went beyond their neighbours' culinary habits, though still only in the interest of their health. I heard that Sulu had forbidden valavala singing at feasts in our valley. Emi stap pulum sik (B), was the explanation: "It attracts sickness."
2.10 Other healers
The kleva were not the only people active in the field of healing. Sulu told me, on our early expedition to Ariau, that many people knew some kaston or lif: "custom" or "leaf" - this is how he referred to their curing practices in Bislama.
Since then I had indeed seen many different people in the role of healer; not just Sulu and Mol Kleva. At Ariau I saw on of the sick girls treated in the following manner: her father spat at her from three different directions, then he made six anti-clockwise turns above her head with his hand. It seemed no less alien to my understanding of curative measures than Sulu's performance at the time, though I assumed that was what it was.
Another time I saw Usa Pon put a spell on some leaves for my next door neighbour in Vorozenale, Noti Pelo - the wife of Maliu Kalus' half-brother Vuro Kiki. This was at the time we were building Lisa's house at Kuvutana. A crowd of us were gathered there, busy erecting the framework for the new dwelling, when Noti Pelo approached Usa with a bunch of leaves.
He squatted on the edge of the sun-baked clearing, with the leaves held in front of him with one hand. Watching him from across the work-site I could see his lips moving, as he quietly muttered some formulae to himself, occasionally pausing to spit at the foliage - much as I had seen Sulu do at Ariau in the recent past.
While heart surgery is spectacular enough to become the topic of many a TV program, we rarely see the same attention paid to people drinking lemon and honey for sore throats. Similarly, while the removal of vezeveze may have been a public occasion, most ordinary everyday curing took place unheralded, when called for, in people's homes. Consequently, most of what I saw in the vein was when I was the patient myself.
Crossing the Zari on my way to Ariau with Sulu I had slipped on a wet rock and landed on it with my left shinbone. Initially the bruise didn't bother me much, but four days later it had turned into an open sore. Following a slow and painful walk to Vunpati to attend the mortuary feast for Pos Ee's son, my leg swelled up and hurt so much that I could not stand up. Confined to a mat inside Krai Tamata's house for the next two days I became the hesitant object of a number of remedies.
Kavten, one of my Vorozenale fellow-residents, removed my bandages and sprayed the sore and swelling with a mouthful of carefully masticated leaves. Later Krai Tamata chewed some more foliage and covered the swollen area with green mush which turned into a dry crust with an opening for the wound. At the end of the day Pos Ee washed it all off with hot water and instead smeared the area with pomad (B) - pink, scented Vaseline intended for the gleaming slick-back hairstyles of the nineteen-forties, judging from the artwork on the small metal container.
In the morning Pos Ee repeated the same treatment, but as the pain kept giving me considerable discomfort and I could see the signs of a growing infection in the sore, I gave up the experiment, trusting more in my own medicines. Still it took six weeks and a lot of penicillin powder and plasters before my leg was completely healed.
Both Pos Ee and Krai Tamata had also given me leaves to chew, instructing me to drink the juices and spit out the fibrous remains. Though this was on two different occasions, my ailment was the same both times: diarrhoea. Krai Tamata put a spell on his leaves before giving them to me. He sat quiet for a short while, then spat six times at the little package in his hand. I never saw if Pos Ee did the same - he just came through the front door of Lisa's house, walked straight up to where I was languishing on my mat and handed me the roll of leaves, with instructions.
Though I had not seen much healing performed, I often heard about it in connection with my own curing activities, as when Usa Pon refused my offer to have a look at his son who I had heard was throwing up. Usa said that he had already "sung" over some of the locally made salt and fed it to the boy. Or a parent who had brought me an ailing child would inform me that they had wokem lif (B): "made leaf", when the trouble first started.
Knowledge of remedies indeed seemed widespread, but I also heard of people who never did any healing themselves, always turning to others for assistance when in need. And these others were not just the kleva. Some were older men, credited with greater knowledge in general, owing to their longer life - like Usa Pon, charming leaves for Noti Pelo and taking Maitui's coughing daughter into his home for treatment.
2.11 Usa Pon on kleva
I asked Usa Pon about his curing activities: was there any difference between his magic and the kleva's?
Yes, he told me. His spells were traditional. He had learned them from his father, and he assured me that he also intended to teach them to his own sons. But the kleva's spells were secret: they learned them from a devel, and could not reveal them to anybody, or the spells would lose their efficacy.
A devel. I didn't know whether Usa meant the spirit of a dead kleva from the past, or some other kind of spirit. The devel would appear to a man and teach him the spells, giving him kleva powers with instructions to look after the sick in his home area.
The kleva all knew how to "see" what was wrong with their patients, Usa explained. Because of this they always knew which spells to use, and recovery would be quick. It was harder for Usa Pon himself. He knew many spells - for headache, backache, stomach ache and so on - and it was difficult to know which one to use on each different occasion.
You try on, said Usa. If it doesn't work, you try another. And so on, until you hit on a spell emi stret long sik ia (B): "it suits that sickness." Then the sickness ends at once.
So the kleva had advantages over other healers: they were able to make accurate diagnoses, and they had access to special charms - all thanks to contact with spirit beings. Vezeveze too was taught in a similar fashion, I had been told. These spirits seemed to be a source of much useful knowledge.
2.12 Tamate and malaria
If spirits were the source of secret powers and the superior ways and means of combating disease, they were also held responsible for some of the ailments of the people in the valley.
The first indication of this was when I visited Mol Sale's home at Zinovonara on a request for medical attention. I treated a case of acute malaria and was explaining about the disease when one of Mol Sale's grown sons, Andi Laman, commented that malaria (B) was a devel living in the bush. Mosquitoes were pikinini blong em (B): "its children." They made people ill. He had heard about this from Dr Ratand, a French physician he had met on the coast, he claimed.
Then one night at evening kava in Maliu's house I heard that Lisa's little Maritino was ill. The cause was devel blong ol man oli kilim bifo (B) "the spirits of people that they killed in the past". They lived antap (B): "further inland", I was told, with a gesture towards the high peaks west of Truvos.
I brought this up with Lahoi a few days later. He then told me about what I understood to be the spirits of the dead: he translated the Bislama word devel into tamate, and I knew mate to mean "dead" in Kiai. Yufala kolem malaria (B), he added: "You lot call them malaria."
In the past the tamate used to kill a lot of people, said Lahoi. You couldn't even go outside to urinate on your own at night. People always had to travel together, in pairs or groups. If alone, you were likely to be taken and eaten by the tamate.
Fortunately things had changed since then. When firearms were first brought to the island the tamate were frightened by the noise and left. Lahoi thought they had fled down to the sea. But he knew for sure that there were no more tamate left in the mountains: he had slept alone unhurt many a time in garden houses in the bush.
If one of these spirits toktok long (B) a child, said Lahoi, the little one becomes ill. I took him to mean that the spirit talked to the child, as if a communication from the tamate brought on the sickness.
Lahoi went on to tell me a few stories about people's encounters with the spirits. They were stories from the past, he said. He had heard them from other people. Mi mi no luk (B), he said: "I did not see it" - as if he wanted to leave room for skepticism. The stories were traditional and not from his own experience.
All the tales that Lahoi recounted that afternoon had a similar plot: a devel terrorizing an area and murdering people until some resourceful person managed to kill it. They reminded me of the fairytales of my Swedish childhood: stories about terrible trolls who came to an untimely end owing to the ingenuity of some intended victim.
2.13 Maitui on aviriza, ria and tamate
It is easy to delude yourself into thinking that you know more than you do, and to make what you hear someone say fit into a pre-conceived notion of what you think he is talking about. After that conversation with Lahoi I thought all spirits were tamate; that they were all of one kind. When he introduced one of his tales by talking about a devel called bolongro - big, like a cattle beast, making a grunting noise that Lahoi had heard many times in the bush - I thought that he was only telling me the proper name of a particular tamate. Later it appeared that I had been mistaken, as I was told about a number of different kinds of spirits, all making their presence felt by causing illness.
It was Maitui who told me about this. He had come to see me in Maliu's house in Vorozenale, where I was busy with my notes as usual. Maitui wanted me to come with him to Matanzari, where some children were ill. I offered him food, and as we sat there together eating, he spontaneously started telling me about how in the past, when people walked about on Patlakavenue and Patunlapevus (two mountains due west of Truvos, close to the source of the Ari) they would hear the sound of children crying for their mothers, and trees being felled in garden work. Then they would run away quickly. What they heard was the aviriza, the spirits of the people who had been killed in warfare in the past. They live on those two peaks, said Maitui. They are red. There was another name for them, but he couldn't tell me what it was, as the name was bad and would attract the aviriza if spoken out loud. He had heard the name from men of the older generation: they knew spells to ward off the aviriza and could utter the name with impunity.
If you say the name out loud you will hear a whirring sound - like someone throwing a piece of bamboo, said Maitui - and the aviriza will strike you as you stand. Only a man who knows the right spells can cure you. If no one knowledgeable is at hand, you will die there and then.
Like the tamate, the aviriza also made people ill by "talking" - Maritino must have been one of their victims the other day, I realized. And they could shoot people. Memei's wife had been shot by aviriza, somewhere on the bush clad mountainside below Tonsiki, on the opposite side of the valley from Truvos. They also used to "take" Merei Tavui, Usa Pon's elder brother, now living alone in an isolated house at Loari on the high plateau beyond Tonsiki. The aviriza would be holding him, Maitui explained. Eventually someone would bring him back by saying spells over a conch shell or a lenght of bamboo, and sounding it by blowing into it. The spells contained lists of names of aviriza: as you struck the name of the particular aviriza that had taken the person, he would be returned. He would be walking as if he was drunk, and his eyes would be red. Then they would put spells on leaves, hold them in a fire and pass them over the body of the afflicted. Only afterwards was it safe to touch him - if touched before that he would die
I asked Maitui if the aviriza spirits were the same as the tamate - they were both called simply devel in Bislama. No, he said, they were different. And there was another kind of devel too, called ria in Kiai, malaria in Bislama and bolongro in Tohsiki - Lahoi's native tongue. They were to be found close to streams and rivers, where they lived inside huge boulders. They made people ill, again by "talking": the afflicted would shiver and shake with fever. All of a sudden what Andi Laman had told me about malaria seemed less far-fetched.
Maitui then told me a story about two children captured by a ria and imprisoned inside a rock. Only the ria knew the magic words that would open and close the entrance to his home. But while their captor went off to invite some others like him to the impending feast, the children tricked the ria's own offspring into opening the passage, and they fled, leaving their unwitting accomplices to be the likely replacement menu when the ria returned with his guests.
2.14 Devel tales and Memei on Krai Vurombo
Interested to hear more tales, I put out a general call for "custom stories", and for four consecutive days, on lazy afternoons and by the evening kava bowl, I recorded fifteen of them, as obliging villagers and visitors took turns speaking into the microphone of my tape recorder.
The majority of the tales were about spirits in one way or another - only three tales did not mention them at all. In more than half of the tales the plot was essentially the same: a devel harassing some people until a solution was found - usually the killing of the menace.
A few characteristics of the weird creatures reappeared in several of the stories. They were man-eaters, they were able to assume the shape of people, they lived inside rocks or malavu tree-ferns. and at least some of them were purely night creatures, being deathly afraid of daylight.
All the storytellers spoke Bislama, and so finer distinctions between the creatures were obscured by the devel label, but one of the tales, in which a band of them were trapped and burned inside a hollow tree-fern, ended with a song wherein they were called tamate.
Memei, my Duria acquaintance, had come to Truvos looking for medicine for some ailment. Though less than thirty years of age, he seemed to know more stories than most. Nine of the tales I recorded were told by him.
One of Memei's tales involved what I suspect was some kind of spirit, appearing as kingfisher and teaching a spell to a kleva. One hundred men left Usieve (a village on the far side of the Peolape), crossed the river, and went bat-hunting in a cave in a rock named Porovete: "Dreamspell". A devel who lived there tricked them by taking the shape of a small boy that they had left behind at home, and trapped them inside the rock - all except for one man who was warned by the devel to leave the cave early. He had shared his food with the devel, believing him to be the child. One by one they died in there until only one man remained.
Krai Vurombo was still alive. Like, he was a kleva. Like - like Sulu. He was still alive, and his old wife kept coming. She stood outside, saying: 'I think you are alive, Krai Vurombo.' Then she heard Krai Vurombo blow a conch shell.
Time passed, and he slept again, and dreamed of a kingfisher. It taught him a spell, told him to use it the next day, and the kingfisher would come and break open the rock.
Well, he looked through it like this. (Memei made a circle with his thumb and forefinger and raised it to his eye.) When he heard his old wife come call him, he just looked through that hole, and blew the conch shell.
She kept at it for some time, until one time when she went and called out again and again to no avail. Krai Vurombo had died.
"The rock is still there today," Memei added. "Nowadays if we go there to kill bats, you can see that rock open. You know - long ago! That's all."
2.15 Mol Santo's rain
A few days later Memei added still more flesh to these bones. It was raining heavily as I made my way down the steep path from Truvos to the big river, difficult in parts under any circumstances, but that day made extra slippery by the masses of water thundering down from a dreary sky. It formed rivulets in the trampled clay, in some places merging into a small stream in the centre of the track. I was on my way to Vunpepe with medicines - it had all been arranged the day before and I felt obliged to go in spite of the appalling conditions.
Memei met me half way down to the river. He commented on the wet weather, suggesting that wan man i mekem (B) -some man he made it. Routinely I asked who it might be, hoping to learn something new and interesting. Memei didn't know, but suggested that the culprit was to be found at Truvos. They were supposed to be moving three cattle from Paten and across the Zari that day - two of them to Truvos proper, and one to Kavten's paddock on the way to Vunpati. Whoever hadn't gone to help was bound to be the rainmaker.
I had come across similar reasoning before then. It seemed to be the standard comment on anybody who reneged on a communal enterprise in bad weather, as if the stay-at-home was intentionally trying to sabotage the endeavour. Now I asked Memei if there really was somebody at Truvos who knew how to make rain. "Mol Santo", came the reply: maybe somebody had taken over Mol Santo's rain. Or maybe not yet.
I had heard a lot about Mol Santo. Dead only a few years before my arrival he had been the illustrious old chief of Truvos, known and feared all over the mountain region. He was the last of the group of brothers that had fathered what was now the oldest generation of men living at Truvos: Popoi Trivu of Kuvutana, Trivu Ru of Matanzari and Usa Pon of Vorozenale. Our new chief, Mol Paroparo, was his stepson - though Mol Santo had had several wives he had no children of his own.
How could this old man pass on his rain magic when he had already died? Memei explained. Someone would see a light, like a flame burning on his loincloth, or on a rock. But it wouldn't be fire, it would be Mol Santo's spirit giving a sign. Then, during the night, he would come to the man in a dream and teach him the way of making rain - what leaves and maybe stones to use, and the necessary spells.
This time the magic was for making rain, but the way it was taught was starting to sound familiar. How handy, I thought with smug materialism: secret powers of dubious substance conferred individually on people in a way hardly amenable to inspection. Spirits assigning power to the few, or the few assigning power to spirits?
2.16 Totonos and vavaulu
We struggled on up to Vunpepe after a hair-raising river-crossing that I wouldn't have survived if Memei hadn't been there to haul me out of the water as the current started to carry me off. It was not until four days later that I would be able to return to Vorozenale. The rain had swelled the river so that it was impossible to cross - the slow-running ford had been replaced by foaming brown rapids.
One of my patients at Vunpepe was Zeklin, a boy of about five. He had an eye infection - his eyes were pink slits under swollen lids, the eyelashes caked with dry secretions. His much older sister was looking after him while his widowed father was away working down on the coast.
Totonos blong papa blong em (B), suggested Memei: "His father's totonos."
I had never heard the word before and didn't know what it meant. Memei explained totonos: if you have illicit sexual relations with someone, and hide it, you or your children will get ill. But if you valaulu, confess your misdeed, the disease will come to an end. It was the same for me. If I were to take a clandestine lover at Truvos, my children in New Zealand would suffer from the totonos caused by this. Memei speculated that Zeklin's father had found himself a lover on the coast, hence the eye infection.
If you didn't confess your sins, the consequences could be drastic. One of Mol Sale's grandchildren had died recently at Zinovonara. When news reached Vorozenale Maliu Tin and Lahoi expressed the opinion that the cause of the death was one of his unmarried brothers - who had mekem trabol wetem woman (B): "made trouble with a woman." A lady from a different part of the mountain with a reputation for having fleeting affairs with many different men was visiting Zinovonara at the time; I suspect that the rest was gossip or guesswork. You shouldn't have secret affairs, my companions told me, or sickness or death would strike. Things like that should be done openly - first you should obtain the consent of the woman's parents and so on. You shouldn't hide it.
2.17 Dysentery at Vunpepe
During my second day at Vunpepe I had a bad attack of dysentery. My companions were quick to assist me. Twice Piloi roasted a taro in the fire by his mat, scraped off the charred skin, and gave it to me to eat. I don't know if he had spat a spell into the food, or if it was considered therapeutic anyway - it was dry and hard to swallow, and I had no appetite, but I persisted.
Memei brought me some rolled-up leaves to chew and spit out, as I had done in the past. Twice that day he gave me some, and twice the day after. Finally I asked him what kinds of leaves he was using, and he took me to a large mountain-apple tree a bit further along the ridge past the hamlet, and showed me the procedure. You pick some leaves and tear each of them in two along the stem down the middle, throwing away one half and keeping the other. You make sure that you have an even number of half leaves - two, four, six, eight or ten; it didn't matter how many, as long as the half leaves all formed pairs. Roll them up together and they are ready to be chewed. There were no spells involved. Memei told me that the leaves were effective against both diarrhoea and cough.
My illness as usual gave rise to some discussion, though most of it was over my head, being conducted in the guttural Tohsiki of my Vunpepe hosts. Eventually it was suggested to me in Bislama that perhaps wan man i ded emi tok long kakae blong yu: "a dead man talked about your food." This was not unusual - children were often ill for that very reason. There were spells to counteract it, I was assured, but no one offered to try them on me.
2.18 Sulu and Mol Kleva on spirits, illness and dream cures
Less than a week later I again found myself at Vunpepe, this time attending a mortuary feast for a dead child. Uili's daughter had died in Sulu's house at Kuvutana. Uili had brought her there after a long and debilitating illness, and neither Sulu's nor my efforts at curing her had helped. They had buried her in the rear of Uili's house at Vunpepe. Now, ten days later, he gave a feast to end the customary period of mourning.
The feast brought all our Tohsiki-speaking neighbours that were not away from the valley to Vunpepe, and also many people from Truvos. Thus I found myself facing both Sulu and Mol Kleva in the kava crowd, and decided to ask them about spirits causing disease. If all these spirits made people ill by "talking", how did it work? What did they say?
I asked my questions in general, but the reply seemed tailored to fit my own situation. If you go and stay at a strange place for a long time - a year, or two or three months, were the suggested examples - the dead of that place my talk, saying things like "this man has stayed here for a long time" and "it is not his place". This will make you ill.
By then I had been at Truvos for four and a half months, and lately my health had been growing steadily worse. Were Sulu and Mol Kleva suggesting that I had overstayed my welcome, and now the local ancestors were trying to drive me away with disease? Or maybe it was the kleva themselves who didn't like the competition? My services were much in demand - perhaps they felt threatened by my success in a field where they were supposed to be experts.
But, they added, you may see the spirit responsible for your illness in a dream. Once the source of your troubles is revealed; once you know who caused your ailment, you will recover spontaneously.
I had already realised that the locals sometimes took a dream as a sign of some event otherwise concealed by time or distance. Once Maliu Kalus went to Palakvenue in the Peolape valley to help the Duria people carry meat home for a feast. He didn't return home on the expected day, and we speculated about whether or not he had yet killed the promised cow. Maliu Tin was of the opinion that they had. Long naet mi luk, oli kakae buluk (B), he said - his wife Vevozileo had "seen" it during the night. And today at Vunpepe Uili had told me that I would be bringing my family with be back from New Zealand when i returned to Santo for my second field trip. His wife had dreamed it that night.
I now learned that if a man is ill and there is no one there to treat him, he may stay ill for a week, and then suddenly dream the cause of his plight - like a rat stealing a piece of his food, or another man taking a bit of his food, presumably for sorcery. Disclosure of the cause meant recovery. Or else the dream could be simply prophetic: someone may come to you in a dream and tell you what day your sickness will end. Then, when the day comes, you will get well.
2.19 Memei vs. Lahoi over Patua's marriage
Patua hadn't come to the Vunpepe feast - he had left the valley and gone to stay at Usieve, a village on the far side of the Peolape, where his brother lived. I knew about it since the day they buried Uili's daughter at Vunpepe.
There was something about large gatherings of people in Santo that seemed to spark off argument and confrontation. Perhaps it was simply the opportunity to air controversial issues when most of the interested parties were gathered together anyway. The fact is that the aggressive tones of some indignant rhetorician was an intrinsic part of the kava ambience at public events.
On the day of the burial it was Lahoi, firing away at Memei in rapid Tohsiki, waving one arm in the direction of his adversary while emphasizing his speech with chopping movements of his hand. Memei's replies were more subdued - they sounded less aggressive, though I couldn't understand what he was saying either, as it was all in Tohsiki.
Someone else explained that the issue was Patua's marriage. Patua had gone off to stay at Usieve and left his wife Voitrivu behind. She was with us there in her father's house at Vunpepe. This wasn't the first time either - didn't Patua want her as his wife?
Lahoi argued Voitrivu's case. He was her father's elder brother; another of her "fathers". He was also a pos at Truvos, one of our chief Mol Paroparo's three assistants, well practiced in oratory and the way of disputes. Voitrivu's father, Pos Non Kot, said little, perhaps deliberately avoiding taking part in the confrontation, as he was from the same community as Memei. The latter spoke for Patua - they were "brothers": their mothers had been full sisters, both from this valley.
At the mortuary feast ten days later there was a repeat performance of the argument. Patua was still away; Lahoi and Memei were again the chief contestants. I sat close to Lisa in the background, listening to them going on. He commented to me that it would be better to leave the talk until Patua had returned. Then they could just ask him whether or not he wanted his wife, and act accordingly. It was useless to talk when he wasn't present.
Two weeks later I left Vorozenale, finally on my way home to New Zealand for a break from the trials of fieldwork. I wanted to spend some time with my family, regain my health, and collate and analyse the more than four hundred pages of notes that I had accumulated during my six months in the Santo mountains.
I didn't pay much attention to the kleva material during my four months away from the island. Most of my analytic energies went into writing a two-part report on social organisation in the mountain communities, and wrestling with a phonological analysis of the Kiai language.
My understanding of the kleva was rudimentary. I saw them primarily as expert healers, like other local healers relying chiefly on leaves and spells to cure their patients. Their distinctive skills appeared to me elusive: faultless diagnosis through paranormal vision, special secret spells, and the ability to extract pathogenic substances from their patients' bodies. These all derive from personal encounters with spirits, seemingly the conventional way in the area to other extraordinary powers also, like rain magic and vezeveze sorcery.
There appeared to be a twofold connection between the kleva and the unearthly domain of spirits. Apart from supplying them with their tools, the spirits also provided the kleva with work, by causing illness in the community - aviriza, ria and tamate alike; talking about people.
The kleva also appeared linked to another equally shadowy realm: that of malevolent magic. Focused on Patua, the young Duria kleva, the nature of that connection was still obscure to me. His name recalled the deadly witches' familiars that had so drastically reduced the local population since their introduction by the white people. Powerful, he removed vezeveze objects for all to see, confirming their existence and instilling awe and fear of his powers in his neighbours. Yet he was rumoured to be the victim of food-leavings sorcery, ill for months on end.
One of the kleva was a mol. Unsure of the importance of that coincidence, I now at least had a better idea of what being a mol entailed. Taking their title from the highest rank in the now defunct mele graded society, they were little more than dispute settlers, appointed or acknowledged by the coastal authorities, intermediaries in an informal system of indirect rule. A mol was supposed to hear disputes and arrange settlements, or else report the trouble to the gavman. People referred to them as jif in Bislama, but they had little chiefly authority: their powers seemed limited to the context of disputes. At the same time it appeared that most of the mol were important men in the area, though not all of the important men were mol, and not all mol were important. In general there seemed to be only one mol per settlement or group of settlements, except in a few cases where the son of an ageing mol was said to have replaced him, both of them being referred to as mol at one time or another.
I could see two themes running through my material. The first I tentatively called "disclosure", seeking to sum up under one label a variety of seemingly related phenomena. To identify correctly the spirit responsible for pranks or disease was part of the remedy - whether through a revelatory dream, by reciting names of aviriza until you hit the right one, or relying on the "seeing" powers of a kleva. To vavaulu, confess, brought illness caused by the totonos of your transgressions to an end. And for a kleva to divulge a secret charm would destroy its potency. It appeared to me as if these powers all depended on secrecy, and to disclose a hidden cause rendered it powerless. The emphasis on the kleva being able to "see" the causes of illness seemed to make sense in that context.
The other theme I had noticed was the remarkably empirical orientation of my hosts, even towards the elusive realm of spirit beings. Maitui had introduced his account of the aviriza by talking about sounds that people heard on the slopes of the westward hills: the noise of tree-felling and crying babies, testifying to the presence of the spirits. Lahoi had told me how many times he had heard bolongro - i.e. ria - grunting in the bush, and had pointed to sleeping alone unhurt in garden houses as evidence that the tamate really had fled the mountains on the introduction of firearms. He had also expressed his past doubt about the existence of vezeveze, so thoroughly dispelled by Patua's display of tree-fern spikes when curing Mol Paroparo at Vorozenale. Conversely, Lahoi had stressed that the stories that he told me about spirits were just stories. Mi mi no luk (B): "I did not see it." The common emphasis seemed to be experience: the evidence of the senses.