CHAPTER 3: TRIP II 26.3.75 - 1.9.75
3.1 Sulu's sickness
3.2 My illness
3.3 Instant diagnosis at Vunpati
3.4 Nautalapa story
3.5 Sulu the dreamer
3.6 Patua's illness
3.7 Usa Pon on health, morals and mataioro
3.8 Maliu Kot on Pos and Noti names
3.9 Maliu Kot on Kinglu in marriage dispute
3.10 Kinglu in the rain
3.11 Pos Vea on Mol Kleva, Mol Sahau, and tapu
3.12 Krai Tui on tapu and kleva
3.13 Mol Sale
3.14 Vunapospos host on kleva
3.15 I eat malino
3.16 More diagnoses
3.17 The death of Krai Kule
3.18 Varavara at Vorozenale
3.19 Eilili on lulu
3.20 Valavala at Taskoro
3.21 Sulu to New Zealand
3.1 Sulu's sickness
During my second field trip I learned more about the kleva, repeatedly stumbling upon clues that marked them off as special in one way or another. It was by no means my main focus of interest, but along with other material I dutifully recorded all information that seemed relevant to a sympathetic understanding of them and their part in everyday life in central Santo.
My circumstances were changed. Instead of staying on with Maliu Kalus at Vorozenale, I had moved in with Lisa and his family at Kuvutana. This brought me closer to Sulu: his enormous new house, built during my four months absence in New Zealand, lay on the opposite site of the clearing from Lisa's and we saw each other often.
Early one morning, less than two weeks after my return to Truvos, Lisa's brother-in-law Krai Tamata appeared at Kuvutana and invited us to a feast at Vunpati. The day before he and some others had caught one of his cattle, a calf, part of a small herd of beasts kept on the grassy east side of the river, not far from the ford on the main track between Vunpati and Truvos. Their intention was to walk it all the way to the South Coast and there sell it for some easy money. but the poor animal nearly died of exhaustion when being dragged uphill in the searing midday sun. Seeing the handwriting on the wall they killed it - if the calf had died on its own it would have been deemed inedible. But they acted quickly, and the sudden surplus of meat now warranted a small feast - today.
This was short notice, but we abandoned our plans for the day and went to Vunpati - all except Sulu, Eilili and Meriulu who had already left for their day's work, and so didn't hear about the feast.
Just on dawn the next morning an anxious Eilili shook me awake inside Krai Tamata's crowded house at Vunpati. He must have left Kuvutana while it was still dark, I reflected, peering up at his face in the half-light. Eilili looked serious and talked quickly. Sulu had been sick during the night, vomiting with bad stomach pains. Could I come with him home to Kuvutana - now?
I thought it rather inconvenient, having planned to stay at Vunpati until the other guests went home. But Eilili seemed so worried that I started to collect my things, and soon we were on the steep track down towards the river, walking fast in the cool, clear morning.
Eilili now went over the night’s happenings in greater detail. When he told me that he had sat up with his .22 rifle, watching for fowl and lulu: "owls", I began to suspect that there was more behind his concern than simple gastritis. The owl was the favourite animal shape of witches when out hunting with their patua, and any fowl afoot at night was bound to be a witch - decent chickens sleep from dusk to dawn.
We found Sulu in the rear of his cavernous home - by far the longest and most voluminous at Truvos - lying on his sleeping-mat looking weak but cheerful. I questioned him about his condition and he assured me he was much better. The pain had gone and he had not thrown up again. It all seemed much less urgent than Eilili had led me to believe.
But there was more to the story, and I suspect this is what shook Eilili up. Sulu told me that he had discovered a small crab on its way through the front door of the house. His initial reaction had been to pick it up and put it in a saucepan with the lid on top. Later he changed his mind and threw it away in the bush behind the rear of the house. He said it was a devel and was making him ill.
Wondering what kind of spirit was hidden behind that vague Bislama label this time I took a lead from Eilili's tale and asked Sulu if he meant patua. "Yes", he replied, but with some hesitation, so I queried him again - I had put words in his mouth; maybe he really meant something different. This time he affirmed so strongly that I couldn't very well ask again. But he left me feeling dubious. If he had really thought the crab was a witch in animal shape, why didn't he kill it? Those were my doubts as I later entered the incident in one of my notebooks.
3.2 My illness
A week later Sulu had an opportunity to repay me in kind for my attentions. It started with a slight headache and a queasy stomach as I returned at noon from two days away visiting my friend Krai Tui at Duria. I lay down for a rest on my mat in Lisa's house, feeling cold all of a sudden, teeth chattering with an oncoming fever.
At first I thought it was malaria - I had had attacks in the past in spite of prophylaxis - and treated it accordingly. I must have been wrong - attacks of acute malaria only last a few hours; this lasted the rest of the day and all through the night, as I lay there, hardly sleeping at all, partly delirious, looking at my watch often discovering only five minutes had passed when I thought it was at least an hour.
In the morning I felt a bit better and ate a little, but threw it up again shortly after. The fever continued throughout the morning while every muscle in my body ached with pain, making it impossible to rest comfortably and sleep. It was murderous; in the early afternoon I finally knocked myself out with some of the contents of my medical stores.
I woke up at dusk, feeling much better, and tried eating, but threw it up again. I was lying back on my mat, feeling exhausted and abandoned when Sulu came through the door. He squatted down next to me and told me he had come to treat me with a spell - just like Popoi at Miremire, he said.
I remembered: that was at the very end of my first field trip. In spite of a prolonged illness I had overstayed my planned departure in order to visit a feast at Zinovonara, to witness the culmination of a land dispute that had been brewing for some time between my hosts and their neighbours to the east, the Moris-speakers.
I could have gone home and saved myself the discomfort: by the time the feast began I was so sick with dysentery that I spent most of the time asleep or just lying down, too weak to keep track of what was going on or muster up the energy for enquiries. After a few crowded days in Mol Sale's home I retired to Lisa's garden house at nearby Miremire. By this time my hosts were really worried about my health, and Popoi Trivu approached me with an offer of help.
He squatted beside my mat and told me to sit up. I propped myself up with my arms behind my back. Popoi reached out and started scratching at the sides of my stomach with short, quick movements of his hands, while rapidly mumbling a spell in the same rhythm. I couldn't make out the words, except for one: zalo - "ill" or "illness", depending on whether used as a noun or a verb. Then, without interrupting the recitation, he made a semicircular movement with his hands, starting at my sides and bringing his thumbs together at the solar plexus, where he pressed hard, for a long time, until he ran out of words and spat a few times at my stomach. Then back to the scratching and the rapid mumbling again, and so on until he had gone through the performance three times.
Sulu did it differently, though. His actions today were the same as Popoi's then, but Sulu remained silent throughout - he didn't even move his lips, but looked absently to the side when not pressing his thumbs into my stomach and spitting. I watched his face, so close to mine in the half-light, and wondered as I had that first time at Ariau whether he really ran through an incantation in his head, or if it was just an act.
When he was through I asked him what he had done, hoping to glean some further insight into his methods of healing from his reply. But instead of explaining the therapy, he without a moment's hesitation voiced a diagnosis of the cause of my ailment. Devel blong man i ded long Duria mekem yu sik (B): "The spirit of a dead man at Duria made you ill." This devel had talked about me, said Sulu.
I was puzzled. I recognised "talking" idiom from my first field trip, but I couldn't see how Sulu had been able to arrive at that conclusion so quickly. There had been no examination, nor had he questioned me about my symptoms - it was as if the matter was already settled when he came in through the door. But I also remembered what Usa Pon had told me: it was the kleva's ability to "see" the causes of illness that marked them off from other healers, and ensured the success of their remedies.
Later that evening I heard old Vepei use the word aviriza in an interchange with some of the women in the rear of the house. I didn't understand the rest of what she said - brought up at Tonvara on the far side of the Ari she still spoke her childhood Tohsiki. I thought she may have been talking about me - had Sulu perhaps told her that the "devil" behind my suffering was one of the aviriza?
That night I slept soundly, and in the morning I felt all right again, save for a residual fatigue that lingered for another day.
Sulu had blamed my illness on one of the spirits of the dead - much as he and Mol Kleva had proposed at the feast at Vunpepe, half a year into the past. Months later, as Lisa and I were discussing my by then chronic dysentery, I suggested a similar diagnosis: perhaps one of the dead at Truvos was the cause of my plight. Much to my surprise Lisa dismissed my suggestion with a laugh. It was not likely, he said, as I was not a child.
3.3 Instant diagnosis at Vunpati
One morning Krai Tamata brought the news to Kuvutana that his father lay ill at Vunpati. "As usual", I thought to myself - old Linsus seemed to me by then a bit of a hypochondriac. But both Lisa and Sulu were married to daughters of his, so I could hardly refuse to help. I packed my bag and set off to Vunpati with Sulu.
It turned out to be a false alarm as far as I was concerned. Linsus didn't want my services, only Sulu's - perhaps fearing another injection like the one I had given him two months previously, sending him into a big display of suffering. But he willingly sat up on his mat next to the oven stones in the rear of his narrow home, and told me about his ailment. Stampa blong em long bel, emi go antap long hed blong mi (B): "It started in my stomach, then it moved up to my head."
While I quietly wondered if it was malaria, staring as it does with body chills and ending with a splitting headache, Sulu announced his diagnosis: a rat had eaten some of Linsus' excreta and then a bit of his food - a piece of banana. He asked his father-in-law where he could find a certain kind of tree nearby. The old man explained and Sulu disappeared off in search of those leaves to use with his spells.
Again I offered Linsus my assistance, but he declined. A trifle annoyed at having come all the way too Vunpati in vain I bade him farewell and turned back down the track. I didn't stay and watch Sulu deliver his spells, as I had urgent matters to attend to at home. But the incident triggered a resurgence of my doubts about Sulu and his instantaneous and self-assured diagnoses. I couldn't get over it - it all seemed too easy. I found it absurd that this young man, younger than I was, should be doing what he was doing. I felt he was a con man - that he was insincere, cynically making things up to surround himself with the air of a healer, pretending to administer "cures" that according to my own understanding of the aetiology of diseases were spurious. The fact that I myself had recovered from a violent sickness after his attentions I had all but forgotten, having explained it away as a coincident.
3.4 Nautalapa story
Though I didn't see Sulu perform his healing craft again, I did hear a story about a past success of his. It was told to me as background to an agitated kava discussion of a proposed marriage - the past, as so often, gaining its relevance from present concerns.
We were drinking kava in Sulu's house that night. With us was Kavero, the son of one of Popoi Trivu's dead brothers, grown up at Truvos but since resettled at Namoro on the South Coast. He had arrived for a visit a couple of days back.
The discussion among my companions seemed to revolve around women and marriage, though I didn't know who they were talking about - the names were strange. Nevertheless the intent was clear: a particular marriage should be arranged for some reason. My curiosity aroused, I asked Lisa to explain, and he told me the following tale.
Some time ago Sulu went to Nautalapa, a village in the Tazia valley, the heal a man there whose limbs had swollen up so that he could not move. His arms stood straight out in front of him; at night he slept with them in a sling. Sulu did his work - they called it maumau in Kiai - and the swelling subsided. The man was cured. Sulu then announced that henceforth, should the people of Nautalapa want his services again, they would have to pay him ten paun (B): twenty Australian dollars, each time.
This was not remarkable; I was later told that it was common practice among the kleva to charge a fee for their services. But in spite of this a Nautalapa man named Maliu Esea had come to Sulu for maumau while I was away in New Zealand, and then left without paying the fee.
Because of this, he must give a woman to Truvos, said Lisa. There were several unmarried women of age at Nautalapa, all Maliu Esea's to give away, but he was "hard" and would not let them marry. He should give one of them to Truvos, to be given to Kavero.
Kavero was single in spite of being years older than his Kuvutana "brothers" - a tinge of grey at his temples betrayed his age. I believe it was his presence at Truvos that had triggered the discussion. They were trying to find him a wife, seizing on Maliu Esea`s fault to further their cause.
3.5 Sulu the dreamer
I walked into Kuvutana after a week away treating sick people at Vunpepe, Duria and far off Toravonggu overlooking the Peolape valley. With me was Lisa, Vekrai and their children - I had met up with them at Tonvara, where we had spent two days together at a feast for Pau Sikel's little boy who had died.
Sulu must have heard us arrive, as Lisa was still busy with the padlock on his front door when his brother called out to me, hurrying across the clearing from his house in our direction. I put down my knife and medicine bag and waited for him, wondering what was the matter. Sulu walked up to us and immediately launched into a tale about how Lisa's dead daughter had come to him in a dream while we were away.
I had heard about the girl. She had been Lisa's eldest child, killed in an earthquake a few years before I first arrived at Truvos. One morning, just before dawn, a strong tremor had shaken the settlement. This was not unusual - we were in a belt of seismic activity with three active volcanoes on other islands in the group, and tremors were common, always starting suddenly without warning and rocking the houses back and forth with a rhythmic creaking of timber and lashings. Immediately someone would shout: Mo mui! "It's quaking!" Then everybody inside would run for the nearest door. The firewood racks above the fires along the walls were held with lashings of vines which had been known to break in earthquakes, filling the house with rolling logs. So as soon as Lisa and Vekrai felt the beginning of the tremor they grabbed the children and rushed outside.
Just outside and to the left of the front door of the house they lived in then stood a huge dead tree. Lisa had thought of felling it a number of times, but had not got around to it. The quake did it for him. The ancient grey pillar of dead wood toppled, fell right across the clearing immediately in front of the house and landed on the girl, pinning her body to the ground, Vekrai still holding her hand. They tried pulling her out from under the tree, but had to dig to free her in the end. By then she was dead.
The gist of Sulu's tale was this: the girl had told him in a dream to go to Lisa's house and push his hand into the sago thatch, where he would find a tobacco stick. In the morning he had followed her instructions and indeed found the promised tobacco. Sulu took us around the corner of the house and showed us where. It was just above my sleeping place. Had I put a stick there, he asked.
I couldn't remember putting any tobacco in the thatch, though I sometimes hid my supply on top of the firewood rack under the roof next to my bed, just a little to the left of where Sulu claimed to have made his find. I also occasionally kept a few sticks handy away from my main supply, so as not to reveal the embarrassing extent of my riches when giving some to a visitor. It was common practice to keep smaller personal items stuck in between te layers of the ceiling - I kept my small knife for peeling taro in the thatch above my mat - but I honestly couldn't recall putting any tobacco there, and I told Sulu so.
Lisa suggested that it probably was his dead daughter's doing: she had placed it there for Sulu to find. And Sulu assured me that he had only tried in the one place indicated to him in the dream.
By way of background I might explain about Sulu's smoking habits. He never used any of the locally grown tobacco - like me he found it too harsh on his throat. He only smoked plug tobacco - an indulgence made possible by my giving it away for free. I only gave the sticks away one by one, though, and Sulu always came for more when he ran out. But this time I had been away for a full week, and there was no other local source of plug tobacco for him to turn to.
Having myself one been a habitual smoker I knew what it is like to find yourself without tobacco. I can imagine Sulu, desperate for a smoke, perhaps having seen my main supply on top of his firewood rack in the past, trying to reach it through the leaves. Or perhaps I had indeed put the stick in the thatch and forgotten about it, and Sulu, having seen it, remembering and trying for it when he ran out? I couldn't think of any other explanation, short of Sulu's own - which of course left him blameless: he had only done what the spirit had told him to do.
It was not so strange to hear Sulu talk about his dream-life. Often at evening kava sessions he would tell us about dreams he'd had, reading them as indications of events to come; a preview of the future. Neither was he the only local to have prophetic dreams, or to take them as prophetic - it appeared to be commonplace. Often the connection was not made until after the event, as when following a mild earth tremor one night Vekrai told me and Lisa that she had had a warning. Na poroporo inia "I dreamed it." At other times they were genuine predictions, as when newly arrived back from my stay in New Zealand, I was waiting at John Alto's plantation at Nakere on the South Coast for a party of men from the mountains to come and pick me up, to help carry my baggage up to Truvos. I had waited for a week already when one morning Lulu's brother Tom who was working there as a labourer assured me that my friends were sure to arrive that day. Long naet me luk Memei (B), he explained: "During the night I saw Memei." Mi go luk, mi luk plante man (B):"I went looking, and saw many men."
Even so, Sulu had a special reputation for his dreaming. As a kleva he was known to have been taught his healing spells by some spirit come to him in a dream. This was different. Anyone could have prophetic dreams from time to time, but the kleva gained more subtle kinds of information from their dreamed encounters with spirits - or at least their neighbours seemed to think so. When I asked Eilili from whom his brother had learned magic to protect his wet taro gardens from the constant hazard of pollution by some careless passer-by ruining the crop, he told me that Sulu had probably learnt some from their father Popoi Trivu, and also dreamed some. Olgeta oli no olsem yumi (B), was Eilili's comment on the kleva: "They are not like us."
3.6 Patua's illness
I didn't see much of Patua during this field trip, but one day he turned up at Kuvutana. With him was his "brother" (MZS) Memei, and two other young men from across the Ari: Rara Tanisi and Pos Mol. They had just come from the south Coast, arriving early in the day after having spent the night in the bush halfway, in a small leaf shelter that they quickly put up as it became evident that they wouldn't make it to Truvos before nightfall. They were held up by Patua, who only walked very slowly, they said. They were bringing him home after a stay at a hospital at canal, where they had pinim long botel (B): "pinned him with a bottle" - intravenous drip by the sound of it - and discharged him after a week, saying there was nothing wrong with him.
His companions left him at Kuvutana, for old Popoi Trivu to treat him with spells. As in the past Patua showed no outward signs of being ill, though he seemed withdrawn and didn't say much. As I felt I could not improve on the treatment delivered by trained people at the hospital, I didn't press my attentions on him, but left him alone.
Patua's arrival at Truvos triggered some discussion of his long and mysterious illness - it had been going on for a year at the time. Kavten told me his own suspicions. It was because Patua had not vavaulu: "confessed", that he was ill.
Kavten elaborated: Patua had first changed his name from Muramura to something else - I do not remember exactly what, except that it contained the stem sui, meaning "bone".
Emi go lukaot bun blong man i ded (B): "He went and got a dead man's bone", said Kavten. With this Patua could "steal" any woman. Invisible he could enter her house at night and make love to her, and not even she would know about it afterwards. That was the cause of his illness. Patua was committing adultery all over the place, but didn't confess. He wouldn't dare, according to Kavten. By now he must have had a go at just about every woman in the valley - if he confessed, he was likely to be beaten up by irate cuckolds.
He told people to call him this sui name. Then, later on, that he was now to be called Patua. Just like patua - Kavten clarified by using the Bislama word for witchcraft: nakaemas. I asked why. Yumi no save (B): "We don't know", Kavten replied. Maybe he has patua.
Apart from that time at Truvos I only saw Patua briefly, twice: first at a feast at Taskoro, high on the mountainside across the river from Truvos, then at another feast at Usieve, on the far side of the river Peolape. Besides exchanging greetings we didn't talk to each other, and I didn't get any further explanation that trip of his rather allusive appellations.
3.7 Usa Pon on health, morals and mataioro
Breaches of the moral code, particularly illicit sex, seemed to be a stock explanation of illness in the area. The Nautalapa man with swollen limbs was reaping retribution for a murder there in the recent past, according to Sulu. It was totonos, or panis blong em (B): "punishment for that." The murder also accounted for the ulcers that plagued the Tazia people, though Lisa had jokingly urged the crowd of young Nautalapa women who once came to me for treatment to vavaulu, drawing a lot of giggles from the rear of the house at what I heard as an oblique reference to secret lovers. It may have been funny, but it was also serious. If they didn't vavaulu their sores would not heal, I was told.
Usa Pon gave me the most elaborate account of this link between health and morals, though he left me still mystified by his explanation.
I had spent three days at Taskoro, working on some extra houses that they were building there to accommodate the many guests expected at a feast that Pune Tamaravu was planning to give in the near future.
On the morning that I was going back to Kuvutana Krai Tamata appeared at Taskoro, looking for me. His children lay ill at Vunpati, so instead of heading straight home I made a detour to his village, to see what I could do to help.
As we were about to leave for Vunpati two boys left Taskoro along a different track, headed for Vorozenale. Nosey as usual, I asked why. Rulali nasa, replied Vohia Oloran, Pune's eldest son: "Just for a walk."
When I finally arrived hime later that day, I learned differently. The boys had come to Vorozenale to fetch Usa Pon, who had gone with them back to Taskoro to treat Pune's youngest with maumau.
I was surprised. I didn't know that the child was ill - no one had told me so at Taskoro. That, and Vohia Oloran's deception, made it seem as if they had deliberately tried to hide it from me, preferring Usa Pon's maumau to my medicines. I wondered why - everybody else in the area seemed only too keen to make use of my services.
Pune had given me a basket full of food as I left. The basket belonged to Usa Pon, so when I heard that he was back I walked up to Vorozenale to return it, hoping to also find out more about the sick child, and why they had kept so quiet about it at Taskoro.
Usa said the child was ill with something called mataioro, and Pune hadn't told me as he didn't think I had any medicine for it. He was probably right. From Usa's description it sounded like epilepsy: fits of cramp in fetus position, with foaming mouth.
Mataioro was sik blong fis (B), said Usa when I asked him to explain: "fish disease". A man following a stream would see a fish swim up to him, touch his leg and die. Then he or one of his children would get ill. But it only happened to someone who stilim woman (B): "stole a woman" - committed adultery - and didn't talemaot (B): "confess".
I asked Usa if it was a gudfala fis (B): "real fish", or a devel. Mi no save (B): "I don't know", came the reply. Emi no gudfala fis (B): "It is not a real fish."
Further probes yielded this account. A man stilim woman and doesn't talemaot. Then one day when walking in the bush he sees a gecko or a snake lying on a rock somewhere. Then sickness will strike him, maybe even kill him, or one of his children.
The man sees a snake, but it is not a snake. It is the thing that he did that he hasn't confessed, said Usa.
I suggested to him that it was totonos that caused the illness. Usa told me he didn't know the word; he had never heard it before!
3.8 Maliu Kot on Pos and Noti names
Though I still didn't know all the names of all the people at Truvos, let alone in the upper Ari valley, I had realized that most of them had more than one name. My former host Maliu, for example, was also variously known as Kalus, Marau and Pos Zuzuru. Lisa was also called pos Zuzuru or Korian, but had given his name to Maliu when applying for a gun license at Canal - I had seen the papers. Krai Tui of Duria had the added name Pos Loloran. Usa Pon's wife was called Semei Tintin or Noti Kerekere. Vuro Kiki's wife was Noti Pelo or Vekrai.
These are just examples. Underlying this proliferation of names I had by now discerned a measure of order. Except for twins, who were simply called Avu (males) or Veavu (females), everybody had, if only by implication, what could be called a "family name". These were names associated with the bearer's father's clan, like the names Maliu and Semei respectively for sons and daughters of men of Vunu Maliu, the Mushroom clan, or the names Krai and Vekrai for sons and daughters of men of Vunu Krai, the Flying Fox clan, and so on for all clans.
In addition to this most people had a personal name, either used on its own, like Kalus and Lisa, or else in conjunction with the family name, like Krai Tui, Krai Tamata and Semei Tintin. Some people had nicknames, like Marau, meaning "left hand" - he was left handed - or Matavuso, "white eye". Additional names were sometimes inherited by a "shoot" from his "shell" - Korian is an example.
On top of all this many people in the valley had names starting with Pos for men and Noti for women - Pos Zuzuru, Pos Loloran, Noti Kerekere and Noti Pelo in the examples above. I had enquired about these, and had had a number of different replies.
Noti was synonymous with pita, which meant "woman" in Kiai. Pos was used to refer to people in charge of some endeavour - most likely it came from the English word "boss" and had entered Kiai via Bislama. Pos was also Kiai for a chief's representative, supposed to do much of his debating for him and assist with settling disputes and keeping the peace. Our chief at Truvos had three such pos: Lisa, Lahoi and Pos Ee, but there were far more people with Pos names than there were representatives of chiefs. I had been told that the Pos names were given to people who excelled in oratory at the varavara - the local court sessions where disputes were settled. Later I found out that this was true only for the combination name Pos Zuzuru. Others told me that the Pos and Noti names had no special significance - they were just names. Then one day at Tonvara Lulu's eldest brother Maliu Kot told me that they were names given to people by Patua.
I had been fetched to Tonvara for the usual reason: to attend to sick children. Having performed my medical chores I relaxed in Maliu Kot's house, conversing with my host. Though a native speaker of Tohsiki he politely responded to my Kiai efforts in the same language, but when he asked me how my garden was doing he didn't use the word varea, the common Kiai word for "garden". Instead he called it sarilan.
When Maliu Kot saw that I didn't understand he quickly substituted the synonym with which I was familiar, and when I asked he confirmed that sarilan was the name for garden in mamara noni Zek: "Zek's mamara". This was a whole language of substitutes for common words, invented by the leader of the Naked cult a quarter of a century back. It had survived until today as a host of synonyms for common words, used readily by people in the area, regardless of native tongue. I jumped at the opportunity to check on a list of words that I suspected were part of the cult vocabulary - at Truvos they were reluctant to talk about the movement, but Maliu Kot didn't seem to mind.
When I ran out of synonymous pairs to ask about, it occurred to me that the Pos and Noti names may also have originated at the time of that movement, so I questioned my companion about this. It was then that he told me that it was Patua who had renamed the people in the valley.
Intrigued by this revelation I asked why. Maliu Kot didn't know. When I persisted he told me it was because Patua was a kleva - another explanation that just posed further questions. But Maliu Kot seemed as genuinely mystified by the name changes as I was, and in the end I dropped the subject. Perhaps the ways of the kleva were as puzzling to him as they were to me?
3.9 Maliu Kot on Kinglu in marriage dispute
If you follow the track from Kuvutana to Truvos and take the right-hand path after the cattle stop close to the summit, it will take you down to the Zari next to where it flows into the Ari. Ford the stream and another few minutes' walk across a low ridge will take you to Lisa's garden house at Miremire.
Large and airy with walls of plaited bamboo the house sits on the edge of a low bluff overlooking a grassy glade, centred on a stream and bounded on one side by the big river. Here Popoi Trivu's generation planted coconuts, brought back into the mountains after work on European plantations on the coast. Their tall trunks have turned the little valley into a hall of pillars, roofed by the perpetual rustle of their lofty foliage and carpeted by lush, green grass, trimmed short by a small herd of cattle - a park like paradise in the midst of tangled jungle growth.
Outside the front door is a small yard, partly shaded by ornamental trees and bordered by a barbed wire fence to keep the cattle out, should any of them manage to negotiate the bank that slopes down to the valley floor. Here I sat on a rock, breathing in the peace of my surroundings after a hectic week.
It was not long since my arrival back at Truvos after four months in New Zealand. My head, like my jotter, was full of new information, but there had been little time for recording it. I had been too busy working off a four months' backlog in medical attention, facing new crowds of visitors with sores, pains and fever every day, as the news of my return spread through the bush. When Lisa and Vekrai had announced their intention to spend a few days at Miremire to see to their gardens in the area I had thankfully come with them, hoping for a few days' break form pills and syringes. After a morning in the chilly waters of the Ari, learning to shoot little fish with an arrow tied to a piece of elastic, I had just got my books out to start working on my notes, when I noticed a man fording the river and heading up towards where I was sitting.
It was Malui Kot from Tonvara. He was on his way to Kuvutana to see me, to obtain some medicine for one of his children who lay sick at home. By chance he had taken the route past Miremire. He thought himself lucky to have found me there, saving him the steep climb up the track to Truvos.
I offered him cold taro and the few koro river fish that were the result of my morning's effort in the river. Lisa and others were away gardening, so I had to act the host.
Maliu Kot ate and we talked. I discovered to my relief that his medical needs could be handled by proxy - I gave him pills for the child. In the usual fashion of visitors he stayed for a while, asking me about my time away from the area and passing on news and gossip from his part of the bush.
In the course of our conversation I asked him about his brother Ravu Puepue, resettled at Namoro on the South Coast. He had come back with me into the mountains, helping to carry some of my stores to Truvos. Then he had proceeded further inland, planning to visit his native Tonvara, and perhaps also Patunpangga, where his wife was staying with her aging father Pau.
Maliu Kot told me that Ravu had returned to Namoro with his wife. I was surprised, as I had heard that Pau was against her settling on the coast. Was it all right then after all for Ravu to take her back there?
Mifala jenisim finis (B): "We have replaced her", came the reply. Pau had no say in the matter anymore, as another woman had been given to him in exchange for his daughter - only a little girl, in fact, who was now being brought up at Patunpangga. If Pau persisted with his objections they would have to mekem kot (B): "make court", to settle the matter, explained Maliu Kot.
Later the same day, after my visitor had left and the others returned, I brought the matter up with Lisa, hoping to find out more of the background. Now I learned that Kinglu, the Vatroto kleva, had played a part in the controversy.
Ravu's wife had been ill. Kinglu had cured her. After performing his maumau he had warned her not to go back to the coast; if she did she would kasem wan sik i no save finis (B): "catch a disease that can't end", according to Lisa. This was now Pau's argument against his daughter's moving back to the coast. It would mean risking her life, therefore she should stay in the mountains.
3.10 Kinglu in the rain
That was the only time during that field trip that I heard about Kinglu's activities as a healer. Perhaps not surprisingly: he lived two rivers away, and my hosts had little contact with the people of his home area. There was only the occasional reference to his mastery of rain and sun. When it rained in our valley while there was good weather across the ridge in the Peolape valley, the local people gave him the credit.
I only saw him once again. This was after I had ventured into his part of the mountains, revisiting the area around Tombet after more than a year away. The old chief, Mol Zuzuru, staged a velu - a feast with dancing - at his newly founded settlement at Punoro. I had gone there to witness the polo susulu, the "fire dance" - one of the traditional dances that I had not yet seen performed.
Feasts were often ruined by rain. The houses got overcrowded as everybody sought shelter indoors. The naked red clay turned to sticky mud with the constant treading of feet as the visitors moved from house to house with umbrellas or big leaves over their heads. After a while it got everywhere.
This time we seemed to be in luck with the weather, though many people commented that it was Kinglu`s work. The sun baked us during the day and at night the moon shone down on the dancers from a virtually cloudless sky.
In the afternoon on the second day it started raining, and most people headed for the houses or the vale i vos: "kava shack". This was a bamboo structure with a roof of green Heliconia leaves covering a long table with benches on both sides, also of bamboo, where a crowd of men sat preparing and drinking kava in copious amounts.
I took refuge under a thatched verandah, together with a couple of friends from Duria and Tonvara - the only people from the upper Ari valley that had come to the dance. Presently one of them pointed towards the central clearing. There I saw Kinglu, looking slightly incongruous in loincloth, straw hat and umbrella, shaking a twig of leaves in the air with his right hand, while walking with his crooked old man's gait around on the dancing ground in the drizzle.
3.11 Pos Vea on Mol Kleva, Mol Sahau, and tapu
Though we were relatively close neighbours I didn't see Mol Kleva practice his craft again. Neither did I get to talk to him about it. But I heard a tale about his exploits in the past. Pos Vea from Vunpepe told me that Mol Kleva had killed Mol Sahau - Maitui's father - the old chief of Tonvara, who was reputed to have taken many lives there and at Duria with his patua. One night Mol Kleva had shot a strange cat, and together with another man had cooked and eaten it. But it wasn't a cat; it was Mol Sahau in animal shape, out hunting with his deadly familiars.
I asked Pos Vea how he knew that it was Mol Sahau's spirit that had died with the flesh of that cat. He replied that news had reached them soon after that Mol Sahau was sick with diarrhoea, and a few days later he died. Apparently that connection was close enough to count as established.
We were talking inside Lisa's house. Pos Vea had come to Kuvutana carrying a cooked taroa pigeon wrapped in leaves with some taro in a basket. About two weeks before then I had given him some .22 calibre ammunition. Now he brought me a bird shot with one of the bullets.
I offered him food: prawns with taro this time. To my dismay he declined the prawns. Sulu had lifted the taboo (tapu) on fish, but Pos Vea wasn't allowed to eat prawns, for his daughter's sake.
3.12 Krai Tui on tapu and kleva
Krai Tui's little daughter had a swelling on her neck. He crossed the Ari and fetched me home to his house on the lower side of Duria, where I gave the girl a shot of penicillin.
The next day Krai Tui presented me with a festive meal, consisting of uri ipu "five-leaf yam pudding", drenched in coconut milk and served on a large wooden plate. He served it to me outside, even though a slow drizzle was falling. Krai Tui apologised. It was because of the coconut milk. He was not supposed to take coconut inside the house. Patua had forbidden it because the girl was ill.
This was not the first time that I ran into people from the Duria side of the river avoiding coconuts in similar circumstances. A month back, when Pos Non Kot brought me his sick daughter to Kuvutana I had to examine her outside as there were some coconuts kept just inside the door of Lisa's house. Tabu blong em (B), explained her father: "Her taboo."
By now I was really curious about this, so I asked Krai Tui what was so special about coconuts. Did they somehow bring on illness?
He didn't know - olgeta nomo, oli drim (B): "only they that dream", they knew. It was the kleva who sometimes tabooed coconuts for their patients. All except for Mol Kleva - he never did, said Krai. But when a kleva gave you a taboo, you kept it.
I also asked Krai Tui about maumau. Who could do it? I had never seen or heard of a woman doing maumau in central Santo - was the skill restricted to men?
No, said Krai, there was no such restriction. Some old women also knew spells, and anyone who knew them could use them. Krai Tui had himself been learning some recently himself from his illustrious stepfather: Mol Kleva was teaching him. That was how people usually learned spells - from each other, down the generations, father to son. But some men learned their spells in dreams, and they had the most powerful maumau. Krai listed Mol Kleva, Patua and Sulu - and Popoi Trivu, Tokito Meresin, Maliu Kot and Mol Sale. Clearly there were more people laying claims to special powers than I had known about up until then.
That Popoi Trivu was on the list of kleva came as no surprise. It was he who had treated Patua at Kuvutana recently, and in the past I had frequently heard of people going to him for maumau. One example was Pos Ee's son who died in Popoi's house shortly after my first arriving in the valley, nearly a year ago. But I had always put the expertise attributed to Popoi down to his age: being one of the oldest men in the valley he was regarded as a repository of knowledge - knowledge of things not known to a younger generation grown up since the demise of feuding and the mele pig festivals.
Neither was Tokito Meresin's being one of the kleva completely unheralded. At the outset of this my second stay on Santo I had got to know him well when spending ten days at John Alo's plantation at Nakere near the end of the road that runs east from Canal along the South Coast. I was waiting there for my mountain friends to come to pick me up and help me carry my medical stores up to Truvos. Muscular and lively, as if to contradict the evidence of his grey hair, Tokito Meresin spent almost all his time working for John Alo at the Nakere plantation, only occasionally visiting his former home at Tonsiki. It was his name that had suggested to me some involvement with healing: "Doctor Medicine".
Maliu Kot was my acquaintance from Tonvara. Krai Tui said that he had become a kleva only recently, but I heard nothing more about this during the rest of my stay on the island.
3.13. Mol Sale
That Mol Sale was a kleva seemed to me somewhat incongruous. I already knew him as a man of powers, though they were not of the healing kind, according to what I heard, and for some reason the two parts seemed to me incomprehensible: the curer and the killer. True, I had seen Mol Sale in the capacity of healer. When I lay sick in his house during the Zinovonara feast at the end of my first field trip, he dissolved a headache pill bought on the coast in a cup of water, spat a spell into the cup, and gave it to me to drink. And when Varalapa had mata ara: "red eye", and eye infection, I heard that she went to Zinovonara for maumau by Mol Sale - for aviriza.
This was well overshadowed, though, by the tales of his witchcraft and suspected sorcery that I had noted during my first field trip. There was also the following story, tok to me by the "stockman" at John Alo's plantation - a Melanesian cowboy named John Avu, originally from Big Bay on the north side of the island.
John Avu once went to Zaraparo in the Vailapa valley, in the company of my old friend and guide Lulu, and his older brother Ravu Puepue. Lulu had a terrible headache - he had had it for a long time, and nothing seemed to help. Now they were going to visit a kleva at Zaraparo, to see what he could do about it. I don't know who the kleva was - we had little contact with the people in the Vailapa valley, and I knew very few of them. The old man told everybody present to close their eyes, but John Avu peeped, watching the healer pluck a stone right out of Lulu's cheek. The man said it had been planted there by Mol Sale; it was his vezeveze. Since then John Avu felt very reluctant to venture into the mountains again, in spite of invitations to feasts in our valley. Sorcery had died out on the coast with the coming of skul (Christianity), but the interior of the island was apparently still unsafe.
John Avu added that he had heard that Mol Sale also had ruined the eye of a man. He had made it go white and blind. Remembering Mol Kleva's affliction, and the tale of Mol Sale's being forced off Duria land after living there for a while, I asked if the blinded man was Mol Kleva. Yes, said John Avu, Mol Kleva was the man.
Later Ravu Puepue, visiting the Nakere plantation from Namoro on a lazy Saturday afternoon, confirmed my suspicions. It was indeed this deed of Mol Sale's that had precipitated his having to move again.
Though his evil reputation appeared to have made him the victim of ostracism, it seemed to also have boosted Mol Sale's influence over other people. They were reluctant to go against his wishes for fear of deadly retaliation.
A young woman from Patunvava brought me her sick child for treatment. After they had returned home, Usa Pon volunteered the information that she was not married. Originally she had been promised to Mol Sale, for him to give as a wife to one of his sons. As none of them wanted her, the people of Patunvava gave her to another man. This angered Mol Sale, so her husband left her again. By then she was already pregnant; the child was born not long after they split up.
I wondered at Mol Sale's having such an influence over the lives of people in a different settlement. Usa Pon explained: Oli fraet. Emi gat na patua (B) "They are afraid. He has patua."
He elaborated: in the past Mol Sale had lived in a large settlement at Moruas, further down valley on our side of the river. But at night he took the shape of an owl and killed several of his neighbours. Many times they tried to shoot the winged animal creatures, but without success. Finally an old man named Maloi who knew the right charms put a stop to the nocturnal butchery. He weaved a spell to trap their attacker; one more attempt and they were sure to kill him. Somehow Mol Sale found out about this and didn't come again. But after all this his neighbours didn't want him around anymore, and he moved away from Moruas. Now that he was a known witch, people treated him with circumspection, careful not to draw his anger unnecessarily. Patua witchcraft was not a matter to be taken lightly.
Later, as I was writing an account of my conversation with Usa Pon, it occurred to me that Mol Sale was not the only mol reputed to have patua. I had heard similar allegations about Mol Zuzuru of Punoro, close to Tombet in the northern interior. And there was also Mol Sahau, Maitui's father, though from what I knew he may only have become known as a witch posthumously. Perhaps this association was no mere accident: a reputation for having patua, however defamatory, would well be an asset for a mol in settling disputes. The parties involved might be less inclined to quarrel with his arbitration or ignore his decisions, if they thought it within his power to kill them or their children in revenge. I made a note of this hypothesis in my papers.
3.14 Vunapospos host on kleva
Vunapospos: a tiny hamlet high up on the north-eastern slope of Santo Peak, with a breathtaking view of the jungle-clad folds and crevasses of the upper Peiorai basin. I had gone there with a party of Truvos people, led by Mol Paroparo. It was his wife Voimapu's home area, and we had come to attend a velu - a feast with dancing.
We had journeyed for two days in good weather, spending the night at Tavimol in the Peolape valley, but the day after we arrived at our destination the weather turned bad. Dull grey clouds drizzling a constant rain closed in on our hamlet, obscuring the magnificent surroundings and forcing the guests inside overcrowded houses.
Dancing was delayed for a day owing to the rain, and so the seven pigs that were set aside to feed the dancers on completion of their all-night feat were not killed as planned. Because of this we ran out of meat to eat with the mounds of taro provided, and the guests complained.
On the second night there was a lull in the weather and the dancing started, but renewed rain soon broke up the crowd. Our host was beside himself; the intended festivities were turning into a disaster. That night he staggered into the house where I was staying with my Truvos escort. We were crowded into a corner next to a bamboo alcove where some enterprising local people sold drink - a source of much criticism from the guests. Oli rab (B): "they steal". A can of beer cost five silin, 50 cents, but only three silin, 30 cents, on the coast: 20 cents was profit.
The feast giver first approached Krai Usus, the mol from Tavimol, who had come with us to the feast. He wanted to ripotem (B) the man who had ruined his feast by making rain - report him to gavman. Our irate host insisted that the man must kalabus (B): "go to prison". He knew who it was: a brother-in-law who had neither paid for nor replaced his wife with another woman, but still had taken her away to live with him. Now he hadn't even shown up to help with staging the feast.
I heard about it when they came over to me together, Krai Usus and our host, wanting my opinion on how the case might fare if they took it to court ac Canal. I guess they thought I might be better able to interpret the strange customs of my fellow Europeans on the coast.
I wasn't sure what to say at first. Then I remembered what Maitui had told me about gavman's reply to allegations of witchcraft, and passed this piece of information on to the man, so confident that he knew who lay behind the bad weather. When gavman asks: Yu luk? (B): "Did you see it? - what is there to say?
The counter was illuminating: the man proposed contacting a kleva, who would testify to who had made the rain. So the kleva were not just expert healers but also diviners, revealing the hidden also in the realms than that of disease. Our host seemed to take it for granted that the word of the kleva would be accepted, and no doubt raised as to its validity, as if the power of a kleva was a fact beyond question. Did he perhaps take gavman's objection literally? A kleva could, presumably, "see" who was responsible to the downpour.
Nothing came of it in the end. The feast giver got progressively more drunk as the night wore on, apologising loudly in Bislama to this guests for the way things had turned out. He cried, raged and eventually collapsed in a snoring heap among the guests crowding the floor inside his house.
3.15 I eat malino
I returned to Kuvutana with a bad cough. It had started, mildly, before we even left for the velu; now it was severe enough to cause me considerable discomfort. I blamed it on the damp conditions at Vunapospos.
Lisa, though, was of a different opinion. Ku ani malino e ku toma? "Have you eaten malino or what?" he asked me, as I was catching my breath on my mat inside his house after a particularly bad fit of coughing.
The word malino was new to me so I asked him what he meant. Lisa told me that I might have eaten food dreamed by a tamate, a spirit of the dead - this could be the cause of my cough. There were spells to cure it though, he assured me.
Someone else added that it was likely to have happened at the feast at Vunapospos, as the meat we ate there had been kept outside. A platform had been erected, five feet off the ground, where raw meat was laid on leaves after a beast had been butchered, to keep it away from the multitude of dogs that had followed their owners to the feast. In that case my cough would be hard to cure.
Lisa elaborated, the appropriate spells contained the names of the dead, but no one here knew the names of the dead in the area that we had visited. If a Vunapospos tamate was the cause of my cough, we were stuck for a remedy.
3.16 More diagnoses
With by now a full-blown case of bronchitis I coughed my way through many a kava evening at Lisa's house, giving cause for a fair deal of comment from the people assembled, who offered a variety of suggestions as to what might be the source of my trouble.
A couple of young women had vusi ("whitened") me at the velu: thrown white powder at me from a shaker of Johnson's Baby Powder. They were popular items at feast. A white dab of powder in your hair was fashionable, and putting it on others a common joke.
Between single men and women it may also have been flirtatious, as generated a lot of talk, both while we were still at Vunapospos, and back home in Kuvutana afterwards. Oli pleplei long paoda olsem, oli lukaot wanem? (B) "What are they after when they play with powder like that? Maybe they want a kiss?" He had the whole house laughing at his teases.
This affair now provided an explanation of my respiratory troubles. Maybe one of the women who put powder on me had been thinking about wan samtin (B): "something'. That would be enough to cause my problems. But if she valaulu I would soon recover.
A variation on the same theme was the suggestion that my wife was being unfaithful back in New Zealand.
Others sought the cause in something I had eaten. Several people offered the opinion that the cause was my eating salt at the velu. This was when we temporarily ran out of meat owing to the rain. We had had to resort to salt for something to eat with the taro, much to our host's disgrace.
Eilili blamed some yam pudding I ate at Vunapospos. It had been drenched in coconut milk. He suggested that I stay away from coconut foods until I was well again.
Sulu, too, saw the cause in my food. I had eaten some yam grown by Popoi Trivu. He put spells on his yam to make it grow better, Sulu explained. I had swallowed some residual maumau - this was what was making me cough.
When I mentioned to him Eilili's suggestion that coconut milk was the agent, Sulu dismissed it. There was no call for me to keep from eating coconut because of my cough. Only if a kleva ordered me to abstain from some food, like yam, coconut or fish, need I bother.
3.17 The death of Krai Kule
Two Patunvava men showed up at Kuvutana one morning, looking for me. They wanted me to come with them back to their village, to see if I could cure a man who had been ill for two weeks.
I had met the prospective patient; a well-built healthy-looking Patunvava youth named Krai Kule. He had come to Kuvutana once in the past, in the company of an equally young woman with a nasty boil on one of her breasts. Very shy, they had waited outside Lisa's house while I boiled my equipment to give her a shot of penicillin. They were both dressed in European clothing: he wore long trousers and a shirt, she a long dress. They looked very clean and a bit out of place next to my Kuvutana friends. From the gossip in the rear of the house immediately following their visit I gleaned that she was Vemaliu from the mission village Ravoa much nearer the South Coast, and that her liaison with Krai Kule was a very recent affair.
Since then I had heard that Krai Kule was ill. Only yesterday another Patunvava man had passed through Kuvutana on his way to Zinovonara to get Mol Sale to come and heal him with maumau.
At first I was reluctant to go, preferring to spend my day with my notebooks. Apart from my usual backlog in note taking I was only part of the way through an account of a varavara: "talk" - a local court session, held at Vorozenale only three days back. I wanted to finish writing the account while the events were still afresh in my mind.
I asked the two men about Krai Kule's symptoms, hoping that he only had malaria or something equally simple - something that I could treat by proxy, by sending him some pills back. No such luck. Grandma Vepei, noticing my lack of enthusiasm for the journey, cleverly interfered on behalf of our visitors.
Ku pai sa? she asked. "Will you go?" - and immediately after pointed out that Krai Kule was mapini Popoi: "Popoi's grandson" - his sister's daughter's son, in fact, and so also a clansmen of his.
Makopa, ka to komiapa, I replied, stalling: "Wait, I'm thinking about it first." But Vepei just repeated her question, again stressing the kinship tie, making me feel as if the request came from her and Popoi personally, in which case I could hardly refuse. She kept up her performance for a short time, and I rapidly gave in, saying yes, I'd go.
Once decided, we were soon on our way, one of my companions shouldering a bag of medicines that I had packed in a hurry.
Patunvava lies about two hours' walk south-east of Kuvutana. For most of the way there you follow the same track that we used to take to and from Narango and the South Coast; eventually a fork to the left will lead you to the village. We were way past the crossroads and getting close to our destination, when from around a bend in the path obscured by vegetation an old man and a small boy appeared, headed the other way. We had scarcely halted when the man spoke. Mo soena. Mo te mate: "It is like this. He has died."
I was truly astonished. Krai Kule had looked in such good shape when I had seen him less than six weeks previously - well fed and groomed, he had seemed to me like a Melanesian version of the All American Boy. Now he was dead - gone - with us still hurrying up the path to his aid. Too late, all in vain.
Not completely in vain, though, it seemed. After a quick consultation there on the track we decided to continue on to Patunvava anyway - there were other sick people there waiting for me, said the old man. The news had spread in the neighbourhood that my companions had gone to Kuvutana that morning to fetch me and my medicines.
We continued down the track, as it wound its way through the perpetual gloom under trees growing ever bigger and taller with the gradual drop in altitude - more than two hundred metres between Kuvutana and Patunvava, with a noticeable difference in the surrounding vegetation. Presently we could hear faint crying from among the tall trunks ahead of us, growing louder and stronger until a short rise brought us to the edge of the village clearing. We headed straight for the sound coming from inside one of the houses, ducked through the front door and joined the mourners around the body, squatting with heads on hands resting on our bush knives propped vertically in front of us - a peculiar posture I had first learned when crying at the burial of Mol Sale's grandson during my first field trip. The wailing rose to a crescendo in acknowledgement of our arrival, and for the next few minutes the atmosphere inside the house was imbued with overpowering grief. Eventually the crying subsided some, and we retreated out the door and into another house, where I was treated to some tinned mackerel with cold taro.
I asked what Krai Kule had died of, hoping for a description of his symptoms. A veia, came the reply: "They did him". He had been killed by patua. I queried this, asking if he hadn't just died of zalo: "illness"- after all he had been ill for two weeks before he died, so I had heard. No, only one week, I was assured, and there was no doubt about it: A veia.
Then it came time to attend to the sick. One by one they came to me with their complaints - men, women and children with boils, open sores, aches coughs or diarrhoea. I questioned and examined them, dispensing pills and dressing ulcers as needed, while keeping a mental tally of the number of hypodermic needles I would need to sterilize for penicillin injections. But when the time came to boil the equipment I couldn't find the syringe - in the annoyed haste of my departure I had left it behind! I was quickly reassured that it wasn't my fault. I had come on a ran tei: a "bad day". It was quite appropriate that I forget the equipment as I was going in vain anyway: Krai Kule had died before we had even left Kuvutana that morning.
We soon agreed that I would go home, taking the news of the death to Truvos, and return the next day with some of my friends for the burial - of course also bringing the syringe, to complete my medical chores. It was especially important that I tell Trivu Ru and Popoi Trivu, I was told, as they were clansmen of Krai Kule's. They had to be informed of the burial.
After another meal - chicken pieces and yam, with my host Paia Maravu emphasizing that in future I should always come to Patunvava with medicine when asked, as they fed me so well - I was off again, another two men accompanying me up the track. The escort seemed to me superfluous, as there was only one path and little opportunity for getting lost, so when we joined the main track I persuaded my companions to return home to Patunvava. I knew the way home from there on my own. They seemed reluctant to leave me at first, but I insisted: I would take the news of the burial to Truvos; it was just a waste of their time and effort to come with me any further. Eventually they gave in, we parted, and I trudged along happily on my own.
The path to Kuvutana runs past Trivu Ru's settlement at Matanzari. I halted briefly outside his house and spoke to his daughter Varalapa, who came and stood in the doorway.
Had I come on my own, she asked, after I had told her the news. Ku kai matatau ini na nora matea? "Are you not afraid of their matea?"
At first I didn't understand, but then she translated matea as patua - it was simply a synonym I hadn't heard before. I still couldn't see what she was getting at. Admittedly the Patunvava people had a reputation for harbouring both witches and sorcerers among their numbers, but this hadn't stopped us from using that track in the past.
I crossed the Zari, climbed up the last steep rise to Kuvutana, and soon found myself inside Popoi Trivu's house, telling my story to him and Eilili. When Eilili heard about my leaving the syringe behind, he commented much as they had done at Patunvava. It was because Krai Kule had already died. Maurina, "his life", made me forget it. This sort of thing was only to be expected when a man died.
Eilili then likened my experience to something that had happened to him the same morning. He had gone bird-hunting with Lisa’ shotgun. He had fired on two birds sitting close together in a tree and seen them both fall to the ground, but when he went to retrieve them he could only find one. He said that he had seen feathers and blood on the ground where the other one had fallen, but that bird was gone - disappeared. This made him think that Krai Kule had died. He got scared and kept the shotgun at the ready all the way home.
On hearing Eilili tell his tale, Popoi added one of his own. He had been looking for his knife that morning, unable to find it where it was supposed to be. Only later did he discover it, somewhere else. This, too, was an obvious portent of Krai Kule's demise, judging from what Popoi and Eilili said.
Later, when Lisa arrived home, he too commented on my going home alone. It was bad of the two Patunvava men not to come with me all the way. I explained that it was my own fault; I had sent them home at the crossroads. Lisa told me I was stupid to do that. I had risked my life. After a death in a village the local witches will be out looking for someone - anyone - on whom to vent their angry grief, seeking to zeni ("counter") that death with another one, Lisa explained. Under such circumstances it was not safe to travel alone.
Eilili, hearing Lisa scold me for my carelessness, added that this was the reason why he had returned home with his shotgun ready after his own premonition of the death.
The next day we went to the burial at Patunvava, as arranged: Popoi, Vepei, Eilili, Meriulu and I from Kuvutana, and Kavten and Lahoi's grown-up daughter Vetrivu from Vorozenale. After we returned home I discussed with Eilili the allegation that Krai Kule had been killed by patua.
Eilili was of the opinion that it was Krai Kule's liaison with Vemaliu from Ravoa that had precipitated the killing. The couple were not formally married, yet she had gone to stay with him at Patunvava. Her relatives interfered and brought her home again, asking a bride price from Krai Kule. The matter was still unresolved when he died. A veia matana, said Eilili: "They did him because of that."
We also discussed another possible interpretation. Krai Kule's sister had also fallen victim of patua - their grief-stricken father had told me so at Patunvava. She had married a man in the Vailapa valley. Later her husband took still another wife, and the two women argued. They even came to blows, her co-wife hitting Krai Kule's sister. When the latter died, the former got the blame for killing her with patua, and was forced to pay compensation for the death. Perhaps it was she who had killed Krai Kule, in revenge. Anybody with a grievance outstanding against the dead man or someone close to him was likely to be the killer. Patua appeared to be the expected form of retaliation when other avenues of redress were closed.
3.18 Varavara at Vorozenale
This became increasingly clear to me over the next couple of days, as the sequel to the recent court session at Vorozenale gradually unfolded.
It was a complicated affair with two of Mol Paroparo's wife Voimapu son's from an earlier marriage arriving at Truvos together with Mele Vete, an older clansman, demanding one of her daughters while invoking an old custom whereby a man can obtain the right to give away a clanswoman's daughter in marriage through a series of gifts to the girl's father while she is still little. If not, they wanted four hundred dollars in bride price for Voimapu, retroactively. Mol Paroparo had neither paid for his own wife nor replaced her with another woman, when he married her many years before.
In the kava discussion the night before the varavara, the general opinion seemed to be that it was a good idea for one of Voimapu's daughters to return as a bride to the place where her mother grew up. This was kaston, and it would leave open the possibility of a return of one of her daughters in the future, as a wife for some local boy. Mol Paroparo was not there to hear this though, having gone to Lotunae to fetch Voimapu, who was there for maumau by the old man Maloi.
Contrary to public opinion Mol Paroparo stubbornly stood his ground the next day at Vorozenale, refusing to give up the girl. The gifts they had received were just gifts by Voimapu's sons to their sisters - Mol Paroparo had never promised a daughter in return. And though he hadn't paid for Voimapu, it was not for her sons and Mele Vete to demand payment anyway, owing to the peculiar circumstances of her previous marriage.
Mol Rarau, the chief of Namoro, who had come with Mele Vete to further his claims in public, had to agree with Mol Paroparo on both counts, and his client was displeased. Then Voimapu brought out an old leather suitcase containing clothes, towels, blankets and twenty dollars, and placed it on the ground in the centre of the rough circle of men seated in the Vorozenale village clearing. She also tied a pig to a stake in the ground nearby. This all was intended as a return of the disputed gifts.
Mele Vete first refused to accept the repayment. He continued making angry speeches long after the end of the varavara had been announced, and it was only on the repeated command of Tavaliu, Mol Rarau's pos, that he finally, very reluctantly, walked over to the suitcase, bent down and picked it up. No one seemed very happy about the outcome. I heard several people make the comment varavara mo tei: "the talk was bad".
The day we went to Krai Kule's burial at Patunvava, Lahoi returned from a visit to Namoro, bringing news of further complications. Mele Vete was dissatisfied with the contents of the suitcase. The things were old and worn - he wanted eighty dollars instead, bringing the total sum paid up to one hundred dollars. The reaction at Truvos suggested urgency: the next morning Eilili and Lisa went to inform Mol Paroparo at the varavara.
Later that day I heard Vekrai and Vepei berate Voimapu over the way she and Mol Paroparo were handling the matter, as she passed through Kuvutana on her way to their garden house at the mouth of the Zari. The two women told her about Mele Vete's reaction to the contents of the suitcase, about the demand for another eighty dollars, and about Lisa and Eilili going to see the two mol. Varavara mo kai iso tau, they said: "The talk is not finished yet." And if Voimapu and her husband veia mo kilan: "make it hard", Lahoi would move down - a gesture in the direction of his garden house at Daiere - and we to Miremire, to Lisa's large garden house there. Inkomeu kome pai lukaot zarain: "You will have to look after this place."
The two Kuvutana women repeated their threat to abandon Mol Paroparo and family at Truvos and go and live elsewhere. I heard it as an oblique reference to patua - if Mele Vete wasn't appeased he might turn to witchcraft for revenge, though this was never said outright. But I remembered the story of Moruas, the former large Moris-speaking settlement further down valley. When one of the villagers eloped with a married Duria woman, the others fled the place in fear of witchcraft, and didn't return - a grassy area visible from Truvos was the only memento that remained of the settlement.
3.19 Eilili on lulu
Eilili and I were squatting in the darkness, huddled against the corner of Lisa's house. I held Lisa's shotgun, Eilili a powerful battery torch. We were waiting for flying foxes to come and feed in a fruiting tree, planted for the purpose just inside the pig corral that formed the edge of the Kuvutana clearing nearby. Earlier in the evening we had heard a couple of them fighting in the tree from inside the house, where we had been drinking kava together with Sulu and Kavten - Lisa was away on the South Coast. Now we were hoping to get a shot at one, for a late night snack.
Suddenly an owl cried out from somewhere in the bush on the far side of the house. Eilili answered, repeating its cry. After a moment's silence he whispered to me that it was patua.
How did he know it was not just an ordinary owl, I asked. It hadn't replied to his answering cry, said Eilili, and it had cried out close to the house in the first place. Wan long yumi nomo (B), he added: "Just one of us."
Eilili had heard the owl the night before, but didn't have any cartridges for the shotgun. This was their pattern: when a man was away, like Lisa, and only women and children remained in the house, witches may come and kill a child. If I ever saw an owl at night I should shoot it.
Then man blong em (B): "its man", would die.
We didn't hear the owl again, though we listened quietly for some time. Emi go luk ol fren blong em (B): "He's gone to see his friends."
Whether or not Eilili was right about the pattern of attack, it certainly seemed to be the pattern of precautions. When on their own at night the local men would often arm themselves, trusting to a rifle or shotgun for their protection.
I had seen Mol Paroparo take his shotgun when setting out one evening for a night in a clearing on the ridge up above Vunpati netting flying foxes. It had seemed superfluous to me - a good night with the net at high season would yield more than enough meat, so why take the firearm? Usa Pon put me right. The shotgun was for patua. If our mol saw something suspicious, he could shoot it.
Another time, when some of us were absent at a feast, Popoi had Sulu fetch Lisa's shotgun to his house. Senai lulu, Sulu explained: "For owls', as many people were away.
3.20 Valavala at Taskoro
Another crowded evening by the kava bowl: Pune Tamaravu's feast to feed those who had helped him build his and his son's houses at Taskoro had drawn two hundred and forty people to that tiny settlement. Another two thatched houses, one leaf hut and a kava shelter had been added to the two existing dwellings in order to accommodate all the guests, but there was still a shortage of room to sit or lie down. Some of the male guests had spread cooking leaves on the floor in the front part of Pune's house and stretched out there.
Two nights had gone by with vos ran: "kava-drinking until dawn", but no valavala singing. Now Supe Rave, an Usieve man married to Pune's sister, came through the front door of his brother-in-law's house shaking a rattle and wailing a song. Presently he finished singing and put the improvised tin rattle on the floor for whoever wanted to take up the game. It sat there for a while, the crowd of men in the house seeming not too interested, or responding to questioning glances with grimaces or movements of the head, saying no, not me.
Krai Taktin from Tavimol, a tall man who had grown up in our valley, eventually took up the challenge. He bent down, picked up the tin in his right hand and started working it back and forth, simultaneously starting another song and aiming his steps out the front door. A shout from one of the women in the rear of the house interrupted him.
Na kai male na valavala tei; aviriza i pai somai! "I don't want any bad valavala songs; the aviriza will come!" Vematailulu, one of Trivu Ru's married daughters, living at Duria since her liaison with an old man named Aru Tun, loudly voiced her objection from where she was sitting with their infant daughter in her lap.
Krai Taktin hesitated, then started singing again and disappeared out the door. I don't know if he changed the song or not - I only knew and recognised a handful of valavala songs; a dozen at the most.
I asked Lisa, sitting next to me, about the interchange. What was bad about the valavala, and why would the aviriza come? He said it was because blad blong olgeta i mekem pikinini i sik (B): "their blood makes children ill." There was a word in the song that would attract the aviriza if they heard it - Lisa repeated the word to me, quietly.
I recalled what Maitui had told me about a secret name for the aviriza spirits, not to be used, and asked Lisa if that was it. No, he said, the dangerous name for aviriza was ape - he whispered it in my ear, perhaps relying on the overall din inside the house to drown out what he was saying enough not to disturb the beings referred to.
I cannot remember today what Lisa said was the offensive word in Krai Taktin's valavala. It sounded to me like the name of a man - perhaps a man killed in the past and now himself one of the dangerous spirits? I knew that some of the songs told of events that had taken place in the past. And I recalled being told during my first field trip that Sulu had forbidden valavala singing at Truvos. Now I could see why.
3.21 Sulu to New Zealand
About halfway through my second field trip I had word from home that I had received a grant from the University Research Fund towards bringing an assistant from my field area to New Zealand, to help me in my studies of his language and culture during a three-month stay in the country. In addition to that I had been granted some money for a third trip to Santo. This would enable me to bring my friend safely back to his mountain home, and pursue further studies for a few months. The plan was for me to bring him with me home to Auckland at the end of my current stay on the island.
The background was this. In one of my many conversations with Lisa during my first field trip, after I had again tried to explain to him why I had come to Santo and what I was doing studying their customs, he said rather pointedly that it was all very well for me to come and learn about their ways, but how about if one of them went to New Zealand to see how we lived there?
This was not the first time that Lisa had played on the many glaring inequalities between us - it seemed to be a favourite them of his. And it so happened that in the ensuing conversation I agreed to ask a "big man" back at my skul kaston for money to enable someone from the valley to come to New Zealand with me.
When I returned home I remembered my promise and asked Professor Ralph Bulmer, then one of my supervisors at the University of Auckland, if it would be possible to get financial assistance from the university in aid of bringing home a language informant at the end of my next field trip. With his aid that dream was now coming true, and I was pleased to be able to tell Lisa about it.
We now had a problem: who was to come with me? First I offered Lisa the opportunity. He seemed to me knowledgeable, and since I lived in his house at Kuvutana I thought it would be nice to return the hospitality. And it had after all been his idea in the first place.
To my surprise he declined. He had a family to feed - if he went away for three months they would be short of food a year later. Only by continuous clearing and planting of new gardens were they able to ensure an unbroken supply. I then offered him the choice of who was to go in his stead, but his only wish was for it to be someone from Truvos - or else from Duria, as mifala saed wetem olgeta finis: "we have sided with them".
Next I asked Eilili - he was my closest friend in the mountains, and he had no children, so I thought it would be easier for him to get away. But he too said no, and left me with the impression that the prospect awed him. I hadn't thought about that. I heard a few stories that painted the homelands of the tasale, "white people”, in rather dubious terms. If taken seriously I imagine they were strange enough to make a prospective visitor think twice about going there. The idea of flying there in an aeroplane didn't seem to appeal to the local people either.
The issue of who was to come with me remained undecided until it became urgent. Two nights before my intended last supply trip to Canal before it was time to leave for New Zealand, Lisa called me to a varavara, a "powpow", in Popoi Trivu's house in Kuvutana. I had to arrange travel documents at Canal for whoever was going to come with me overseas. If things went as planned, then next time we went to Canal it would be for our joint departure from Pekoa airfield. It was high time to decide who was going to come.
The meeting in Popoi`s house that evening seemed very ordinary. It was the usual gathering around the kava bowl, perhaps with few more people there than usual - most of the Vorozenale men had shown up for the occasion. Lisa brought up the topic: we had to decide on someone that night. He again excused himself with reference to his family. He had many children to care for. Eilili also stated to the assembly of men that he couldn't go - he had too many gardens to attend to, including his parents': Popoi and Vepei were getting too old to be self-sufficient, and Eilili, being childless, had taken it upon himself to look after them.
Then our own chief, Mol Paroparo from Vorozenale, offered himself. He was an older man, very much a product of the less domesticated past in my estimation, and I thought he might have difficulties adjusting to my Auckland haunts. I quickly decided against it and politely declined, pointing to the fact that he spoke Merei, not Kiai - he had grown up in the Peolape valley and only came to Truvos when his mother married Mol Santo, the old chief of Truvos, after his own father had died.
Next Sulu spoke up and said he would go. Na kai matatau, he said: "I am not afraid." Levtoro would look after their gardens. If some of them got a bit overgrown Sulu could weed them when he returned.
Again I was taken by surprise: it was only just over two weeks since Levtoro had given birth to a daughter, and in view of his brother's reservations I didn't expect Sulu to want to go either. But there were no objections from the gathering, and that settled the matter.
I felt a little dubious about the choice myself, though I didn't say so. I had not got as close to Sulu as I had to his two brothers. Partly this was because I didn't know what to make of him and his mystical powers. I had wondered about his integrity, at times suspecting him to be a fake, deceiving his fellows for his own gain. Now I wasn't sure how well we'd get on, or if I could trust him. At the same time I was pleased at the prospect of having one of the mysterious kleva to work with me in Auckland. Perhaps this would give me an opportunity to get a better understanding of his talents, whatever they were.
A month after my supply trip to Canal I had to leave Santo in a hurry because of a family emergency back home in Auckland. Sulu was left behind because I departed two months ahead of schedule, and his papers were not yet ready.
This time I felt that I had come away with a deeper understanding of the kleva, and a fuller appreciation of their place in the mountain community.
This was at least partly due to a growing comprehension of the world within and through which they practiced their craft. I now knew more about the causes behind the sickness that led people to seek their aid, and about the various remedies employed in restoring health.
I had heard illness attribute to eating salt or coconut, or else food mad unwholesome by residues of old maumau, by being tasted by a rat, or dreamed or talked about by the dead.
Some sickness was blamed directly on spirits talking about people. Indeed there was little mention of spirits at other times than when illness was concerned.
Other diagnostic speculation traced illness back to immorality - chiefly extramarital sex in thought or deed - with dire consequences threatening not only the offending parties, but also their spouses, children, and possibly also other close relatives.
Sometimes symptoms were blamed on other people: sorcerers wielding vezeveze or working harm with food leavings. And when illness led to death, this suggested that patua lay behind it from the start, having consumed the innards of their victims - or else led their hunting host to be shot in animal shape, as had happened to Mol Sahau in the past.
The main therapy used by the kleva on their patients was the maumau, sometimes followed by a tapu: dietary restrictions. The maumau charms were either spat directly into the body, or into a liquid to drink. But though charms were supposed to be effective in curing illness, they could also inadvertently cause it. Eating charmed yam was enough to bring on a cough, according to Sulu.
I knew little of the verbal content of the maumau in use, except that his charms used against illness caused by aviriza and tamate contained lists of names of the local dead.
Another remedy used by the kleva was the direct removal of pathogenic material from the body of the patient, be it food or vezeveze.
In the case of illness caused by immorality, the way back to health was through vavaulu. The patient, or someone close to would have to confess their misdeeds before a cure could be effected.
But the kleva were more than just healers. They also figured as diviners, revealing not only the causes of illness, but also the identity of magicians responsible for rain and vezeveze - or locating hidden tobacco. Disclosure indeed seemed to lie at the core of their art.
I had gradually come to think of the kleva in dramatist's terms - as skilled performers continually engaged in maintaining an image in the eyes of their audience, by making displays of their craft: the instantaneous diagnoses, playing on the power to "see" the causes of disease; the food taboos that nobody else seemed to understand, but that were still followed; and the frequent talk about dream experiences. Not to mention taking vezeveze out of peoples bodies, the reputed feat of Patua's that first set me to thinking along these lines. Vezeveze didn't fit into the world as I understood it, consequently Patua must be resorting to trickery.
This view of the kleva was reinforced by the reactions their audience. Maliu Kot, though himself said to be a kleva, seemed to me genuinely mystified that Patua renamed people. Krai Tui, and others that I asked, seemed equally perplexed by the taboos imposed by the kleva - no one could tell me the reason why, which made the proscriptions seem like just more props in the production of their air of secret knowledge and power. And Eilili too seemed honestly convinced by the otherness of this brother. Oli no olsem yumi (B): "they are not like us" - dreaming their magical charms. There was also Lahoi's reaction to seeing the vezeveze objects, mentioned above, and Kavten's comment on Patua's name change. If the kleva were playing with powerful symbols, this didn't fail to have its effect.
Perhaps this also accounted for the seeming ambiguity of some among their ranks. The claim to power entailed in presenting oneself as a kleva also helped focus my attention on their audience. Were there then more people with claims to special powers than some of their neighbours were prepared to acknowledge?
Simultaneously, I had seen some examples of the use of kleva powers seemingly for purposes other than just healing the sick or identifying malevolent magicians, like Kinglu intervening in old Pau's quarrel with his son-in-law over the young couple's place of residence, or Sulu's talents being used as an asset in marriage politics, trying to obtain a wife for Kavero - not to mention finding a solution to a craving or tobacco.
I now also knew one more kleva to be a mol - or one more mol to be a kleva. This too painted kleva as a mask worn out of self-interest: if a mol like Mol Sale gained political power by becoming known as a witch, perhaps a reputation for kleva powers would work in a similar fashion? It all implied a measure of artifice on the part of the kleva, leaving me wondering about the extent to which they took themselves seriously, and how much of their "expertise" was sheer pretence.
While I had difficulties accepting the kleva at face value, there were also many other discrepancies between the way I usually understood everyday phenomena and their causes, and the way people spoke about them in the Santo mountains. In local discussions strange cats and owls became witches on the prowl, illness revealed illicit sex or ghostly interference, death was traced back to quarrels and enmity, and so on, all alien conceptions to someone schooled in a rationalist tradition.
At the same time I was fascinated by the way my hosts detected the workings of agents like spirits, witchcraft and moral retribution in their everyday experiences - each particular instance itself seemingly confirming their abundant presence in the area. It seemed ironical that what I had at one time thought of as an empirical attitude on the part of my Santo hosts should so easily accommodate otherworldly powers such as those.
But the empiricism was illusory. While on the surface their explanations seemed to move from cause to effect, this was often not the case - many of them really went in the opposite direction. Starting from some observation the local people would infer a prior cause, in accordance with widespread ideas about what were typical agents and sequences of events behind typical phenomena: disputes invited patua attacks resulting in deaths; shooting a were-animal also killed the witch; spirits and immorality caused illness; the right spell always effected a cure; and so on.
The deceptive character of such reasoning - the circularity of post hoc "proof" of the workings of unseen causes manifest only in their effects - made it seem less strange to me that the kleva should be so easily accepted by their neighbours. Simultaneously it suggested the possibility that at least to some extent the kleva themselves may be taken in by their own powers.