KLEVA : SOME HEALERS IN CENTRAL ESPIRITU SANTO, VANUATU
Copyright 2005 Tom Ludvigson. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER 4: TRIP III 12.11.75 - 26.12.75


4.1 Maliu Tin on
masulu and pulana tamate
4.2 Kava and dreams
4.3 Eilili on Patua's marriage
4.4 Sulu on
patua

4.1 Maliu Tin on masulu and pulana tamate

After ten weeks in New Zealand I returned to Santo, to pick up Sulu and take him with me home for three months, as planned.

I arrived on the island in mid November 1975. As this was during the wet season I found myself having to spend ten days at Namoro: the rivers were all running high owing to heavy rain inland, making travel all but impossible.

At Namoro I met my old Vorozenale acquaintance Maliu Tin, proudly displaying to me his new daughter, born during my absence in New Zealand. Already about six weeks old she hadn't been sick once, he told me apropos of nothing. But up in the mountains children got ill when even younger, because up there people were kilan: "hard".

Ku masulu ran i rua, ran i tolu, zalo i pai mai, said Maliu Tin: "If you get angry for two or three days, sickness will come."

I realized that he was hinting at a quarrel that had begun during my second field trip. Maliu Tin had fallen out with his neighbours at Truvos over some marriages that he had arranged - a quarrel that had led to him and his family moving out of Maliu Kalus' large house at Morvari, just across the Ari on the Vunpati track. They would continue living there, he said. Not until the people of Vorozenale were no longer
masulu: "angry", would he move back. This was not yet.

Another day, still at Namoro, Maliu Tin told me something else that I found interesting, partly because it struck a theme that also pointed to the
kleva: powers conferred on people in dreams.

I came across him and his "brother" Maliu Tavaliu, also originally a Tazia man, carving arrowheads out of wood inside the latter's house at Namoro, where he lived nowadays. The ready products looked different from any arrowheads that I had seen in Santo so far. They were heavier, flat instead of round, and had barbs or serrated edges on two sides.

Senai vina na takun, explained Maliu Tin helpfully: "For shooting people." A recent rumour had foretold the visit to Canal of a passenger liner, laden with tourists looking to buy samples of traditional crafts as souvenirs. My two companions were now hoping to finance a visit to the dentist at Canal for Maliu Tin - usually a costly affair - by making and selling some arrowheads of the type that they used to shoot people with in the days of warfare in the past.

Maliu Tin showed me an arrowhead, pointing to the serrated edges. If shot with one of them, you were dead, he assured me. He demonstrated with one of the wooden objects, pointing at his chest, as if he were just being shot in slow motion.

But some men survived, he went on. They had a spirit to protect them from arrows and bullets.
Pulana tamate mo vatilovoia, said Maliu Tin: "His tamate took it away."

The mention of a tamate caught my interest - especially the idea of having one of your own, as his words seemed to imply. Was there anybody nowadays who had
pulana tamate, I asked him in reply, echoing his own words when just referring to it: "his tamate".

Maliu Tin denied this.
Soena skul mo somai, "Like Christianity arrived." People had them in the past, as they were still fighting then - matana nora kilan: "because of their (being) hard."

I asked him how the men in the past acquired their helper. He replied that a man would
ru la pon: "wander at night", and see the tamate. Tentatively I took this to be a reference to meeting the tamate in a dream: I had heard dreams referred to in similar terms in the past. The tamate would show the man leaves to use, continued Maliu Tin. It all sounded close to what I had heard about people learning rain magic, and about how the kleva learned their craft.


4.2. Kava and dreams

I myself was bothered by strange dreams those hot nights at Namoro, waiting for the weather to clear - dreams strange enough for me to comment on them in my diary, which is not my practice otherwise:

(Saturday 15.11) "...I'm having bad dreams these days. The theme isn't horror and death or pursuit or anything along those lines; the horror is "sociological"; it has to do with interpersonal relations. It is the horror of being abandoned and of lack of love; the horror of indifference towards me in people that I love and (in the dreams) should love me. Brrrr."

(Tuesday 18.11) "...It occurs to me that maybe it is the kava that is behind my strange dreams and all my sleeping or semi-sleeping, while reliving memories of the past! Funny that I never thought of this before - it provides an explanation for this that keeps happening to me here in Santo. And I always thought/say that kava has very little effect, except making you sleep heavily! It is perhaps a drug working 'on the mind' after all!"

Both extracts suggest that my dreams at the time were really out of the ordinary. Moreover, the idea that all the kava I was drinking possibly could be a contributing factor seems worth a mention. If kava in fact is instrumental in inducing vivid dreams in the avid drinker, it adds to our understanding of why, in a society of habitual users of the drug, there would be the noted elaboration of meanings of dreams - vivid dreams taken as glimpses of the future, or encounters with spirits, conferring powers on the dreamer for future use.


4.3. Eilili on Patua's marriage

Eventually there was a break in the weather, and I left Namoro at five-thirty one morning together with Krai Tamata, who was heading home to Vunpati after plantation work on the off-shore island of Aore, close to Canal. We made our way inland walking fast along the banks of the Vailapa river, then climbing high, crossing the main divide and descending into the Ari watershed, arriving at Matanzari at two in the afternoon, resting there for two hours before the final ascent to Kuvutana.

I stayed only one month in the mountains this time, before it was time again to leave, for a last few days of arrangements for our journey at Canal. Most of that month I spent in Kuvutana, sharing my time between medical chores, participation in everyday village activities, and note taking. By this time I was able to follow most conversations in the vernacular, and each new evening around the kava bowl left me with lots of fresh information of all kinds to record, sometimes working on my notes from dawn to dusk, leaving me with an ache in my shoulder at the end of the day, from all the writing.

I learned a bit more about Patua's conjugal circumstances from Eilili, one night when we drank kava in his house on our own. A good time for it: I often felt shy about asking personal questions - questions about the details of the lives of particular individuals - when there were many people listening. It made me feel somehow too nosey - as if I were any less so by discussing such matters in a more private setting.

Our conversation had drifted on to marriages, one of the more popular subjects debated on kava evenings under any circumstances. Eilili made some critical comment about how many women from Truvos had gone in marriage to Duria, but only two had married here in return, and neither of them was a Duria woman anyway. Then he listed them, some of them paired with other women in straight exchanges. Among them was Vematankin, Pune Tamaravu's daughter, married to Pos Vea and living at Vunpepe. Eilili said that was a particularly bad case: Pune was
mera i zarain: "a man from this place", but the woman given in replacement for his daughter had gone to Duria. She was Voitrivu, Patua's wife.

I could see his point - it did seem to violate the exchange etiquette. But then Pune had left Truvos and moved across the river to side with the people of Duria. Perhaps he was only displaying his new allegiances in this fashion, I thought to myself.


4.4. Sulu on patua

I made only two trips away from Truvos during my month in the mountains, spending a night each at Duria and a hamlet named Ambolombo, located on the slopes down towards the river Vambut, in the Moris-speaking area east of Truvos. Both times it was on a direct request for me to come and attend to people who were ill - too ill to come and seek treatment at Truvos on their own accord. Feeling more secure in my position in the community my attitude hardened. Only in case of real emergencies would I leave Truvos to visit other areas with medicine. Sick children could be carried - if people wanted treatment they had to come and see me at home.

Having thus limited my sphere of operations I saw and heard little of the
kleva. Sulu only spent two weeks at Truvos, tending his gardens there. The rest of the time he was busy planting yam at Namoro for the market at Canal, working hard to get a lot done before our departure, so that his gardening projects would not suffer too much from his impending absence. But during those two weeks an incident occurred that rekindled my doubts about my guest-to-be.

As usual the source of my wonder was not something Sulu did, but something he said. One evening I heard him recount in great detail the events of that night more than seven months ago when he had been ill and had found the mysterious crab at the entrance to his house, provoking his younger brother's untimely visit to Vunpati to fetch me to his aid.

We were drinking kava in Eilili's house that night for a change. Lisa and family were away weeding a garden on the far side of Paten - the ridge on the other side of the Zari from Truvos - spending their nights in a leaf shelter there until the work was done. I had just returned from my visit to Duria, escorted by Krai Tui and a boy named Rurueli from Vunpati - they were now part of Sulu's fascinated audience. Apart from us and Eilili there were also his wife Meriulu and old grandma Vepei - they were in the rear with us men in the front of the house as usual, all listening, wide-eyed, to Sulu's tale.

A wind had swept the house. A basket hanging on a house-post had fallen to the floor. The crab had been put there by the witches who had come to kill Sulu. There were three witches.
Mera i tavtavui nasa: "Just people from close by", said Sulu, naming only one of them: Tavui Pro, an elderly man from the Moris-speaking area further east. Sulu had seen them - he claimed to have gone walking about outside during the night, invisible to his attackers.

I don't know why he brought up the incident - perhaps it was my recent visit to the territory of the Moris-speakers that prompted the story. They were known and feared at Truvos for their witchcraft and sorcery. Vepei, who had come with me to see the patient, a relative of hers, had spoken fearfully about having to spend the night at Ambolombo.
Na matatau ini na nora patua, she said: "I am afraid of their patua."

I sat quietly in the background, content to listen to Sulu's incredible tale. Was he making it up on the spot? Or had he thought it out beforehand, perhaps when telling it to some other audience in the past? Judging from the reactions of the people around me in the half-light they hadn't heard the story before - their faces and exclamations of
Io! and Luleukun? ("Really!", "True?") seemed to suggest both surprise and awe. I took it for granted that the tale was a product of Sulu's imagination - a deliberate construction, intended to perplex his audience and perhaps aid his, as I thought, carefully cultivated image of possessing powers beyond those of the rest of us.

I thought the wind sweeping the house was a nice touch. Memei had explained to me when I visited Duria during my first field trip how you can tell the presence of
patua: they will appear as a gust of wind sweeping close to the ground while the tops of the trees above remain still. And I heard a noise of something falling inside a house commented on as maurini tuape, "someone's life", or "spirit". Whatever its basis, Sulu's tale certainly appeared consistent with notions about like phenomena current in the valley.

In the discussion that followed Sulu said something along the lines of "Well, now they have had a go at me once." The way he talked about it seemed to suggest that the incident was part of an expected series of organised attacks, as if the collective of witches had sent three of their kind to kill him - though he, of course, stood up to their assault. I had never seen witches quite in those terms before. I had heard that they were supposed to hunt sometimes in numbers, but Sulu seemed to imply more than that, though I wasn't sure exactly what.

Next Eilili contributed two tales of his own encounters with witches in the past, both seeming more realistic than Sulu's story, though at the same time less clear cut. Once a pig had made noises outside Eilili's house during the dark hours of night. It had come up to his front door and tried to push its way in. But the next day there were no pig tracks around the house. It wasn't a real pig, said Eilili. It was
patua.

Another time he had seen a strange fowl crossing the Kuvutana central clearing at night, when by rights it should have been asleep. A hen it was, with only one chicken in tow, and Eilili knew for certain that there was no such fowl among the flock that lived in and around the settlement - he knew them all by sight. It must have been a witch.

Eventually I entered the conversation, asking innocently what they were talking about.
Nakaemas (B), replied Eilili - he still retained his habit of speaking Bislama to me, though I now kept doggedly to my stumbling Kiai.

I knew the word meant witchcraft and asked confirmation in the vernacular:
Na patua? Eilili affirmed, and while I feigned ignorance he proceeded to tell me the story of their origin on Santo. I had already heard it told by several other local people, but its seeming popularity just added to its interest. Versions differed in detail, but the essence of the tale was this:

In the past there were no
patua on Santo. Then a man, returning from overseas back in the days of the Queensland labour trade, brought them to the island. They were part of the payment he received from his white masta. His employer had told him to leave them among the roots of a banyan tree.

Nowadays they come and fetch their host and go and
ani na mapeni takun zai: "eat other men's liver", concluded Eilili. And when a man who has patua dies, a rovo sin te takun zai: "they move to some other man." The patua had come to stay.

I pressed on, asking who, then, had patua. Eilili said anybody -
ke kai pinisia, "we don't know." Maybe even some of us here at Truvos. Eilili seemed ill at ease there in the shadows. I think my hosts saw witches much like the plague - I heard several local people blame the decline in their numbers since the coming of the Europeans on the introduction of patua. Witches were killers. Sulu had survived the attack, suggested Eilili, because he was different from inke, takun purono, "us, ordinary men." I agreed with Eilili about Sulu being different, wondering silently just how different he was.

Just over three weeks later Sulu and I flew out of Santo on the ten o'clock plane to Vila, finally on our way. It was Boxing Day, the tail end of 1975. Ahead of us lay three months of late New Zealand summer; by the end of March we were due back again on the island.