Copyright © 2005 Tom Ludvigson. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 6: TRIP IV: 27.3.76 - 30.7.76
6.1 Hiring a carrier
6.2 Patua's mitin
6.3 My illness: maumau and tapu
6.4 Patua's illness
6.6 Memei on Patua
6.7Varavara at Duria
6.8 Patua's patua
6.9 Patua's death
6.10 Patua's mitin. Ria lore
6.11 Vavaulu: Noti Uina
6.12 Secret movements
6.13 Vekrai's warning
6.14 Sulu on Patua's patua
6.15 A bride for Kavero
6.16 Tokito Meresin's leaves
6.17 Children, sex andvavaulu
6.18 Vavaulu: Linsus
6.19 Vavaulu: Krai Tui, Eilili and I
6.20 Ria and Tamate
6.21 Pataika and ani malino
6.1 Hiring a carrier
Sulu and I landed at Pekoa airfield on Santo at the end of March 1976. After three days on the coast, arranging for fresh medical supplies and shopping at Canal, we set off for the hills. Owing to a series of misadventures we didn't get started until late in the afternoon. Because of this we spent the night in Patumariv, the last in a string of relatively new villages along the main track inland from Narango - bush people drawn to the area by the promise of easy money at the market at Canal since the coastal road had been extended to Narango.
There were six of us now. Apart from Sulu and myself there were four people from our valley whom we had picked up on the coast. Returning home from plantation work they helped carry my baggage: notebooks, gifts and medicines. They were all Tohsiki-speakers from the other side of the Ari from Truvos - Tokito Meresin and his grandson Timol from Tonsiki, Memei from Duria, and a young man from further down the valley, named Maloi - the "shoot" of the kleva from Lotunae. He had just returned to Santo after six years away at work - five in New Caledonia and one at Vila. The others seemed to know him well, though I had never seen him before.
The following morning we left Patumariv with one more carrier added to our party. Alo Koro who had put us up in his house for the night came with us.
Sulu and I discussed the arrangement. Our track up to Patumariv from Narango had shown that we were a bit overloaded and could do with more help to carry all my luggage.
Sulu told one man wasn't enough: I had to hire two. This was an area where many people were reputed to have patua and vezeveze. If there was only one extra carrier and he returned home on his own and was attacked on the way, we would run the risk of getting the blame. But if there were two of them, they would both be all right. Safety in numbers.
Reluctantly I agreed, wondering if this perhaps was a scheme to relieve me of a few extra dollars for easy work. But when Sulu put the proposition to Alo Koro it all seemed straightforward.
Inku asem mo tei, said Sulu: "You on your own is bad". There was no further explanation - though the rest was left implicit Alo Koro seemed to know what Sulu meant. Arrangements were then made for an extra man to accompany us.
When that man didn't show up in the morning as we were about to leave, Alo Koro came with us on his own, after all. Not all the way - he left us resting among the weathered remains of an abandoned village at a place called Urepul, and turned back down the track we had come up - alone. Perhaps Sulu's suggestion that he take a companion had convinced him of our good intentions.
6.2 Patua's mitin
Back again in Kuvutana I was pleased to find my language practice with Sulu in New Zealand paying off. I was now finally able to follow the kava conversations with ease, and contribute my own comments and accounts in Kiai when called for. As a result I was flooded with information - so much of what I heard said around me seemed pertinent to my investigation, deepening my understanding of topics until then obscure, or simply adding texture to familiar themes.
I had only been in Kuvutana for a few days when a rambling kava conversation touched on a matter still opaque to me: Patua's "meeting". This time we had gathered to drink in Sulu's spacious new house. In addition to the local die-hards there were a few guests in the assembly: Maloi had stayed on at Kuvutana since the day we arrived; Piloi's older brother Kavero was visiting from Namoro and Pune Tamaravu had come from across the Ari - they all slept in Sulu's house where there was plenty of room.
Our guests had been helping with the preparations for two new houses about to be built at Vorozenale. For three days they had been sewing thatch up there - first one day for Kavten, then one day for Lahoi, then another day for Kavten again. By now most of the recent news and important matters for discussion had been dealt with, and the kava talk moved aimlessly from topic to topic in a series of loose associations.
One of our Moris-speaking neighbours to the east had refused some travellers a roof for the night recently, as they had arrived at the house at dusk, on their way to Vanafo. They had had to continue to the next nearest habitation at Lotunae, where they were given shelter for the night. Takun tei, "a bad man".
He is getting old, said someone, and the topic shifted to the plight of the aged: "hard" men who had been feared in the past were becoming "soft" with old age. An example was Lisa's "shell" Korian. Reputed to be the oldest man in the valley - they said he had even eaten human flesh in his childhood - he was now all but housebound at Tonvara, looked after by his younger clansmen, Maliu Kot and his brothers.
Life was harder for old men these days; more so than in the past. Nowadays young men wouldn't follow the custom of days gone by and garden regularly for their fathers-in-law. Here Pune raised his voice in a short speech: as long as there are old men at his wife's home a man should go there and garden for them! Pune was himself just reaching the age when this matter became relevant. One of his daughters was married to Pos Vea at Vunpepe and another one was old enough to marry off - perhaps to get a wife for her brother, Vohia Oloran. I got the impression from what Pune said that your wife's village should be like a home away from home, with a lot of time spent there.
Someone pointed out that there were a few old men at Truvos, but none at Duria. Someone else added that though there were many children at Truvos, there were hardly any at Duria. Juxtaposed, the two statements seemed to paint our neighbours as less fortunate - another settlement threatened by extinction - and I thought I could detect a note of self-satisfied glee in the comparison. Zara i pai koro, "the place will dry up."
It was the women's fault, of course. Some of them had "leaf" to stop them getting pregnant. They lesia la lolo i pon, "saw it during the night." A childless woman was mentioned by name as probably having dreamed herself some contraceptive charm.
Now someone elaborated on the plight of our neighbours at Duria. Because there was so few children there, it was hard to get wives for their young men. Especially for Pos Mol - a tall but shy boy in his early twenties, sharing a house with his widowed mother at Duria in between bouts of plantation labour on the coast.
It was then I heard mitin noni Patua, "Patua's meeting", mentioned, as if there was some implicit connection between those mysterious "talks" and our neighbours' misfortune. I pricked up my ears, hoping for some new revelation about the activities of this strange wizard, but all the talked about was the Pos names that he had conferred on people. Maloi had not been given one - perhaps he had been away from the valley at the time of Patua's mitin? It started at Duria, said Lisa, then it came here to Truvos, then it proceeded further inland - he gestured with an arm towards the hills at the head of our valley. Komikomi lavul, he added philosophically after a moment's silence: "Many ideas".
6.3 My illness: maumau and tapu
A week after my arrival back in Kuvutana Lisa left the hamlet, going with little Riki and our visitor Maloi to the Peiorai valley, about a day's walk north of our area. They were going to visit Patua, who lay ill in a house at a place called Vuties, close to where he had been born on the eastern side of the Peiorai gorge. Then they were going on down to the forested flatlands between the hill country and Big Bay to the north - free of settlements and harbouring both pigs and cattle gone wild off European plantations it was a choice area for hunting. There they were to join Maitui and Ai Rovo from Palakori who were catching calves with an eye to selling them to raise money for an overdue brideprice. Ai Rovo's younger brother Kila, resettled at Namoro, had eloped with a girl from the Vailapa valley while Sulu and I were away.
So I learned that Patua was ill. As usual, I noted with sarcasm - he had been ailing at least in rumours throughout my stay on Santo, but not obviously suffering when I met him.
While Lisa and Riki were away at Peiorai I got ill. A bout of diarrhoea in the early hours of the morning left me feeling rotten, unable to sleep until just before dawn, and then with a nightmare. Next I had to go through the tedious rigmarole of sterilization and infection, as Varalapa came to me from Matanzari with a sick child.
She brought me some plantains. I roasted a few of them in my fire and ate a small meal, but still didn't feel up to writing fieldnotes. Instead I finished a book I had brought with me from New Zealand, spending most of my day around the house, feeling miserable.
As the day drew to a close, they started drinking kava over at Sulu's house. Two old "brothers" of Popoi's from further south were visiting Kuvutana: Krai Vosavosa from Moriulu and Krai Poporo from Tataikala, both villages in the upper Vailapa valley.
Vosavosa had come to me with an eye infection a few days back. As I was a bit short of the little tubes of ointment required to treat his condition I didn't want to give him one to take home. Instead he stayed on at Kuvutana for some days, coming to me twice a day for treatment, and long, rambling conversations. At night he slept in Sulu's house.
Poporo had only just arrived that day. He had come to usi Kuku, I was told, to "ask for Kuku" - the teenage daughter of Vuro Kiki and Noti Pelo, sharing the first house on the Kuvutana side of Vorozenale.
Their presence in Kuvutana attracted both Kavten and Mol Paroparo from Vorozenale, apart from Popoi Trivu and temporary Kuvutana resident Kavero, to an evening's kava talk in the spacious front half of Sulu's house. Though I didn't feel much like drinking any of the brew in my condition - I had more than once wondered if perhaps all the kava I had consumed during these interminable nights was the cause of my persistent alimentary disorders - I too went up there, drawn by the many voices coming from the other side of the hamlet.
It turned into a lively evening, with Vosa making lengthy speeches about both the Nagriamel movement, and voli pita: "paying for women". The latter practice was currently being revived in a number of hamlets closer to the coast, after a temporary demise in the wake of Mol Valivu's efforts in the fifties to replace it with straight exchange of women. A kai rono vosai! "They don't take heed!"
Maybe my own misery was clearly visible to all the assembled, or perhaps someone who knew my condition mentioned it - in any case my recurrent dysentery was eventually brought up for discussion. In response I myself attempted a short speech on the topic. I blamed the people coming here from far and wide, bringing me their illnesses, wanting medicines. Often they were complete strangers, sometimes even from villages fairly close to the South Coast. They should to Vanua instead, the "dresser" stationed at Vailapa village on the coast. I was thoroughly fed up with the incessant requests for treatment at the time and spoke strongly, using second person as if the people concerned were with us inside the house, as I had often heard others do, for emphasis, when speaking out against something.
I got my share of Ee! Sabo! and Luleukun! in agreement - "Yes! Just so! True!" Then Vosa replied that it was just the same with him - his eyes had gone bad from people coming to him for maumau.
A vati na nora masulu, nora taitai stil, nora varavara tei mo somai, said Vosa: "They bring their anger, their secret sex and their bad disputes." I heard it a list of causes of disease, brought to the healer by the afflicted evildoers.
It was the same with Mol Sale. Matana mo vuso, "his eyes are white", for the same reason. I hadn't yet heard about this. Since I last saw Mol Sale he had contracted some eye disease that had all but blinded him, leaving him housebound at Zinovonara.
Vosa added that he had warned dresser Vanua of the same thing - people bringing him their diseases and going home well, leaving the sickness with him.
Next Popoi and Mol Paroparo came over one by one to where I was sitting, and placed spells on my stomach. This was fair exchange - mo tuenika, "he helps us", said Vosa, so they would help me.
Ka kavu na panem, said Popoi, "I'll hold your stomach." What he did looked very similar to his performance that other time at Miremire - stroking my abdomen with one hand while running through the formula, then gripping me around the waist and pressing his thumbs into my stomach while spitting the spell into my insides. He did this four times.
Watching his lips I listened carfully to see if I could make out what he was saying. The first two cycles Popoi didn't form any words at all with his lips; he just whistled through his teeth, a barely audible melody, over and over again. The last two cycles he mumbled. I couldn't make sense of any of it - I could hardly hear him - but I noticed a rhythm to his mumblings, much like the rhythm of the melody he'd whistled. His hand mimicked the same rhythm in short fast but gentle strokes.
Mol Paroparo in his turn just pressed his thumbs into the centre of my stomach from the outset, and held the grip around my waist all the way through his repeated mumbling and spitting.
As I arrived home in Lisa's house later that night Voimapu was there, spending the evening with Vekrai while Mol Paroparo drank kava. When she learned that he and Popoi Trivu had placed spells on my stomach she warned me to avoid certain foods, because if I ate them it would spoil the maumau.
One was olo, coconut, by now a familiar item for avoidance. Two of the others I had already been warned off in the past when ill with diarrhoea: the common oke leaves, "island cabbage" - because when cooked they were takolas, "slippery" - and viso, "cane shoots", a frequent ingredient in puddings when ripe at the end of the wet season. The remaining two were more of a refreshment for when in the bush than a part of the staple diet: mol, the local variey of orange and tovo, sugarcane.
The following day the treatment continued, first in the morning when Popoi and Vosa came to me and "pressed my stomach", then at evening kava in Mol Paroparo's house at Vorozenale, when he too repeated the maumau of the night before. And the morning after that all three of them came and renewed the spells again.
It was soon common knowledge among the local people that three old men were treating me with spells, and they were all very supportive, particularly regarding my diet. No one offered me any of the foods I had been told to refrain from. Instead they took special care to help me abide by the rules, as when Popoi Trivu brought some steaming plantain pudding wrapped in a leaf to me on Lisa's verandah, where I was sitting writing as usual. It was my share of the pudding - Popoi had taken it aside as they were about to drench the rest in coconut milk over in his house, and I wouldn't be able to have any of that.
Vekrai roasted me taro in her mat-side fire - it was hot food, and better for me than the taro from the ovens that we usually ate cold. if I wanted oven taro I should eat it when fresh off the stones and still hot. Someone else gave me via ara, a reddish variety of Xanthosoma, to roast and eat. It was particularly good for me, I was told, as it was kilan, "hard".
The next day my health returned, whether as a result of the maumau, the diet, or the tablets from my own stores that I had been taking. I approached Kavero with a query: how long would I have to keep my food taboos, now that the maumau was over and I was well again?
Another week, he told me, much to my dismay. I was already tired of the strictures - oke leaves were frequently the only food available to eat with taro, leaving me to eat boring taro with salt - like Pos Vea on the day when I offered him yam with fish. And I liked coconut milk on my pudding, a sweet treat in a rather stodgy and monotonous diet.
Vekrai told me after that it was only korekorei noni Zimtas: "Zimtas' bluff" - Zimtas was another of Kavero's several names. I needn't wait for another week, she said; I could eat whatever I wanted to from now on - and I did.
6.4 Patua's illness
Lisa and Riki returned late one afternoon after nine days' absence, bringing beef and pork sealed and cooked in half a dozen sections of bamboo. One they left with Lisa's in - laws at Vunpati; the rest was to be shared out to all the householders at Truvos. They also brought a calf that they had caught at Peiorai, now belonging to a proud Riki - it was his first beast.
That night we drank kava in Lisa's house again, listening to news and hunting stories from his trip away, while a heavy rain thundered down on the thatch above our heads. Lisa had been to Vuties. Patua was there, he was really ill this time, and none of the maumau done to cure him seemed to do him any good.
The next day Sulu left for Peiorai, in spite of the continuing bad rain. I asked him if he was going there to treat Patua with spells, but Sulu told me no - both he and Popoi Trivu had already tried that in the past, to no avail. He was only going there to visit.
During the days that followed I heard a lot of talk about Patua's illness. It was now one of the main topics being churned over at our nightly gatherings, with Lisa the main source of information on the sick kleva's precise state of health, and the treatment being applied, while others suggested different remedies that might be more successful in effecting a cure.
Someone commented on the rainy weather: was it perhaps usa noni Patua, "Patua's rain"? I knew he wasn't talking about weather magic - a heavy rain could be a sign of a death somewhere. Perhaps Patua had already died, in far-off Vuties?
There was also talk of his wife Voitrivu, again left behind at Duria, going to Vuties to valaulu isina, "confess to him", whatever transgression of hers might lie behind his affliction. This in turn triggered a discussion of his shaky marriage: if Voitrivu were to divorce him, what then about Vematankin?
I had heard it all before - inevitably the failure of one of two exchange marriages put the other one in jeopardy. If one bride's relatives took her back home, the other one's kin were likely to retaliate by doing the same. Even though Pos Vea and Vematankin had settled down amicably together at Vunpepe and now had two small children to look after, the trouble between Patua and Voitrivu constituted a potential threat to their marriage.
A few days later Lahoi told me that he had heard what sounded like a crying sound from the other side of the river - he thought Patua finally had died, and our neighbours were crying over him. When I mentioned this later at evening kava, my companions again brought up the recent rain - more "evidence", though as it turned out these suspicions were wrong. Patua was still alive.
Another rainy day I was sitting on Lisa's verandah, writing as usual, when a neighbour from further up river walked into Kuvutana at the far end by Sulu's house. It was Aliki from Tapunvepere, on his way home in the downpour with a load of taro in two well-balanced bunches one at each end of the pole carried on his shoulder. When he got close he put the load down and ducked under the verandah thatch for shelter, with a comment on the weather. Perhaps this was usa noni Patua: "Patua's rain"?
Savai zalo paravu soena, I retorted. "What a long illness like that!"
Aliki must have heard my comment as a question, judging by his reply: Vara kiai nona vanu tei tauae. "Perhaps he has bad things."
We had no more news of Patua for several days. The time went by with some people preparing the new house sites at Vorozenale, and me working on my notes, battling with a fresh backlog that had gradually accumulated since my arrival back on Santo.
After some days of dedicated writing and new interruptions I finally had it all up to date again, and decided totake a short holiday from my books among our neighbours on the other side of the river. Memei had built himself a new house at a place called Tonokara, only couple of minutes' walk from Duria, and had invited me to come and stay for a few days whenever I could tear myself away from my paperwork. Now seemed a good time for it. Though it was near dusk I packed the obligatory bag of medicines and started down the Vunpepe track.
Later that night, at Tonvara, I learned from Memei of further developments concerning Patua. A crowd of Duria people had returned that day from a hunting expedition to the flatlands further north, where Lisa and, later, Sulu had gone. They had brought news: Kinglu, the kleva from Vatroto, had expressed his view of Patua's illness. Tuape mo veia ini na vanu tei, "someone did him with a bad thing", explained Memei in fluent Kiai. Married to a Kiai-speaking woman, Voimano Revrev, he ahd a better command of the language than most Tohsiki-speakers - they usually adressed me in Bislama, knowing that I didn't understand their vernacular.
I queried Memei's euphemism, but the reply remained vague: someone had taken a bit of Patua's loincloth and put it somewhere.
In a tree-fern trunk, maybe, I suggested.
Vara Kiai, countered Memei: "Perhaps."
Just two weeks before then i had learned the details of this form of maleficent magic from Eilili and Tavui Pulupulu. It was the night before Lisa returned from the hunt. The three of us were drinking on our own in Eilili's house - we used a minimum of water and made the kave really strong that night.
We ate some Patunvava taro. They were a strange shape - oddly elongated, but widening at the stem; a bit like old-fashioned grenades. A contingent of Patunvava people had presented me with six cooked taros and a length of bamboo stuffed with cooked prawns, when they came to me for medicine earlier that day. Old Vepei had fetched me from my by now no longer secret writing hideout in the paddock where the Vunpepe track runs downhill from Truvos. I was annoyed at the interruption, but in the face of the food gift I held my tongue. Later I distributed the food - a portion of taro and prawns to each household in Kuvutana. We were now eating some of Eilili's share.
My companions warned me never to eat Patunvava taro if the stem was missing. It could have been broken off deliberatley, to be used for sorcery. They were known to do this in that village. All they needed to kill you was a bit of your food, or some other object intimately connected with your person: a necklace, a piece of loincloth or a towel, or some of your hair.
This was why we always took great care to hide our taro peelings when stopping for a half-way meal at Urepul on our way to and from the coast, they explained. It was the people "down", the Moris-speakers on the south-eastern fringes of the mountains, that practised these arts - like the people of Patunvava.
The sorcerer picks up the object, without touching it - Pulu demonstrated with a bit of taro peel, wedging it between two sticks of dry cane kindling and lifting it off the floor. Then the sorcerer chops a standing malavu tree-fern off in the middle and puts the object inside the soft core of the trunk, still standing. As the tree dies, the victim gets thinner and thinner, wasting away.
That indeed sounded like Patua. He was getting worse, said Memei. Sulu was with him now, according to the returned hunters, stopping at Vuties for a few days on his way back from the hunt, to maui Patua, "treat Patua with spells."
Memei told me that a varavara ("talk") had been called at Duria for the next day. The purpose of the meeting was to get the alleged sorcerer, whoever it was, to call a halt to his slow killing of Patua.
6.6 Memei on Patua
Memei was Patua's "brother"; their mothers were full sisters. The following morning - spent fetching taro from Patua's mother's garden nearby - I took advantage of that special relationship to find out more about the sick kleva. I questioned Memei about Patua, and he told me of his background.
Patua's mother, like Memei's, come from Morkriv, where our Tohsiki-speaking neighbours used to live before they moved a bit further down the ridge to Duria. She married a man from further inland and went to live with him. He was a Merei-speaker named Krai Tui - the "shell" of my Duria friend by the same name. Patua and his brother grew up speaking Merei, at a place called Lametin, far away on the main ridge separating the Peolape and Peiorai watersheds.
Eventually their father died. Later, as another man at their village was dying of leprosy, he warned the widow and her two sons not to stay on at Lametin any longer, but to go and live somewhere else, or else his sickness would move on to them. Patua's mother now moved back home to Duria, together with Patua. His brother settled at Usieve in the Peolape valley.
I asked about mitin noni Patua. Memei said he had cured people, first at Lametin, and later at Duria, where they were glad to have him owing to his special skill.
I asked about the Pos names - were they really given by Patua? Memei affirmed that this was the case. When people were ill and Patua treated them with spells, he would give them a new name. Their old name was not to be used anymore - I got the idea that it was somehow connected with the disease.
He gave an example. His own name was Memei - his "shell" was the long dead father of Krai Kines, a mutual acquaintance of ours from further inland. Then Patua had replaced this name with a new one, Pos Evrol, after treating him for some complaint. And Memei's son was the "shoot" of Tion Trivu, now at Namoro, but Sulu had changed that name to Semis.
All of the matalesi changed people's names after maumau, said Memei - Mol Sale, Sulu, Patua, Kinglu and Mol Kleva. It was the latter who gave Patua his ominous name; before then he had been called Muramura.
Memei didn't mention Maloi that time, though only a few weeks later he told me that the Lotunae kleva was the source of new names beginning with Merika for men (Merika Pro, Merika Lotu, etc.) and Meri for women (Meri Tamata, Meri Plaklin, etc.), common among the Moris-speakers further down river.
6.7 Varavara at Duria
On our return from the garden I wrote down what Memei had told me in a notebook, while he and Revrev prepared the oven to cook our haul of taro. Then it was time to go, said Memei. The varavara was about to start.
We left Revrev minding the oven at Tonokara. Five minutes' walk took us to Duria, where we squatted down at the edge of the red clay clearing and took in our surroundings.
On our right were the remains of Memei's old house, stripped of re-usable building materials - posts, beams and rafters were gone, leaving only a heap of old plaited bamboo that once had made up walls and gables, plus a few tattered lengths of rotting thatch, blackened by soot and too broken up to restore.
Across the clearing from us stood the under-sized dwelling where Patua and his mother had fed me on my first trip to Duria, now a long time ago, when I was still a stranger to the valley. This was flanked by a stand of trees that arched forward to the right, obscuring the building further down the gentle slope, where I knew most of the Duria villagers now lived.
Immediately to the left of us lay the only dwelling in this the older part of the village that was still in use- the home of Memei's scrawny old uncle (MB) Aru Tun with his young Matanzari wife and their children.
Mol Kleva sat on a log by the front door, looking out over the clearing. A score of men was gathered there, sitting on bits of wood or squatting on their haunches in groups of two or three, conversing in the rising heat of the late afternoon sun.
The majority of them were close neighbours of his: the people of Duria, Venpepe, Tonsiki and Taskoro, who acknowledged him as their chief and shared meat with him as befitted people of one place. Others had come from Tonvara and Toravonggu, autonomous in their more populous past but since the decline in their numbers loosely incorporated with their Duria neighbours into one large Tohsiki-speaking alliance. The air was buzzing with the harsh tones of their common tongue. I also recognised a few visitors from further afield - I suspect most of them just happened to be at Duria visiting their in-laws, but Patua's older brother would have come from Usieve especially for the varavara.
Memei and I were just in time. Shortly after we arrived Mol Kleva started talking in a slow voice, and everybody went silent, listening to what he had to say. The varavara had started.
The first concern was getting the facts about the accusations: who had heard what from whom; what exactly had been said. Mol Kleva directed the enquiry, following up all allegations by asking for comment or confirmation from people mentioned by others in their statements, tracing the path of the accusations back to their source and weeding out the rumour and speculation that inevitably accrue along the road, as it were, as news travels from one place to another by word of mouth. A lot of the detail of what was said escapes me, as most of the talk was in Tohsiki, but Memei whispered to me translations and explanations on demand.
These were the findings: Patua had dreamed that Meah from Vunpepe had taken a bit of his food - a part of a taro - and was using it to kill him with sorcery. When questioned by Mol Kleva, Meah denied this. He stood by himself close to the ruins of Memei's old house - taller and blacker than most of his fellows and with a tinge of white at his temples - looking serious but otherwise unperturbed, as he again and again negated the accusation in his calm Tohsiki: Merei! "No!"
Kinglu in his turn had "seen" that someone had taken a bit of cloth belonging to Patua and was using this to kill him.
Pune: Mo poroporo inia? "Did he dream it?"
Ai rovo: Mo matalesia. "He 'eye-saw' it."
Kinglu allegedly knew who the sorcerer was, but hadn't revealed his identity - only that it was a mera i zarain, translated Memei: "a man from this place". Perhaps this accounted for the full attendance of the varavara, nobody daring not to come, as it could invite suspicion.
A sombre silence now fell over the gathering. Someone in the crowd was a sorcerer, slowly killing one of his fellows with evil magic. I looked around the clearing. Some of the men were looking around at each other,.like me. Others stared silently into the ground in front of them.
Vavaulu! "Confess!" urged a voice from the other side of the clearing. No one volunteered. Time passed again in silence, broken only now and then by short comments and repeats of the exhortation to confess. I followed the example of some of those around me and sat down on the ground, resting my legs which had gone numb from squatting for so long. Mol Kleva remained silent on his log, presumably waiting for someone else to make the next move - for the sorcerer to own up to his ill-doings. The sun beat down on our heads from near zenith. We seemed to have reached an impasse.
I don't know for how long we sat there, waiting for someone to take the initiative and reveal himself as the sorcerer, but as time went by and the heat kept rising, forcing most of us into the shade under the trees and the eaves of Aru Tun's house, it became increasingly clear that whoever the sorcerer was - if indeed it was anybody - he didn't intend to let it become public knowledge. Presently Mol Kleva started talking again, followed by others.
Memei summed up what was being said. Vara mo vatilovoia, mo kun, "if he took it away, it would be good." If the evil-doer wouldn't reveal himself, he should at least stop the sorcery. A number of speenes stressed the same point - the speechmakers painting themselves innocent by implication.
Eventually the varavara petered out, losing its focus as conversations sprang up on all sides. Someone had made kava in Aru Tun's house. Thirsty men filed in and out, some remaining inside to eat, leaving fewer of us in the clearing. Pos Non Kot from Vunpepe, seated a short distance away on my right, not so much announced as summed up what was happening, in Tohsiki that even I could understand. Varvar me sur no: "The talk is finished."
6.8 Patua's patua
Te ese mo soroa. "Someone's shot him." Lisa's verdict on Patua's worsening condition sounded final; more so than all the previous diagnoses I had heard from time to time. Eilili and Tavui Pulupulu, the remaining members of our small kava assembly inside Lisa's house in Kuvutana, appeared to agree, and indeed there seemed little to argue about. Sulu too had now finally returned from his expedition to the Peiorai area, bringing back with him a calf that he had caught, and fresh news from Vuties. He had stayed thee for two days on his way home, trying again his maumau on his wasting colleague.
Patua was in a worse condition than Sulu had ever seen him before - defecating indoors, thinner than ever, in fact emaciated, and beyond observing even the simplest niceties. Mo kai te lo. "There are no rules." Patua didn't even keep the food taboos given him by the many people attempting to cure him with their spells. Va ese i mate. "He is dying."
Sulu was not with us. He had come a long way, after spending two weeks away, and stayed home with his family that evening. I had not seen him since his return, having myself only just arrived back from my stay with Memei at Tanokara. Now Lisa, Pulu and Eilili were filling me in on the new developments at Vuties, as reported by Sulu.
Someone had seen Patua talking to two little children, late one night when everyone else was asleep. The implications were obvious, but my companions seemed keen to spell them out, and I wasn't about to interrupt. They were his patua, Lisa explained. Already when Patua took his new name he had suspected as much: that the kleva had acquired some familiars and was now a witch.
But once you get yourself some patua, your days are numbered. Every time your familiars take you hunting you gamble your life. Your body stays behind on your sleeping mat (rurum purono: "just your shell") while maurim, "your life", moves about as a spark of light, talking to the air in the shape of an owl, a hawk or a falcon, or stealing about the place as an innocent-looking cat, dog, fowl or pig. Then you are vulnerable - if spotted you are at the mercy of people who will shoot any of those birds or animals for their meat, if they come across them in the bush.
If someone kills a witch in animal shape, the witch will die. He may survive the first time, but if it happens two or three times, the witch will die for sure. The hunter should eat the were-animal too, and not tell anyone afterwards, as there is maumau that can be used to restore the witch, if the killing be known.
They had killed a witch as recently at John Alo's plantation at Nakere on the South Coast, said Eilili. A rooster had flown up on to the roof of the rickety old Nissan hut that served as labourers' quarters. It crowed, though it was night time. Tokito Meresin killed it with a knife. He, Eilili and a third man cooked and ate it on their own, without waking any of the others up to share the meal.
This was what had happened to Patua. Someone had shot him, once too often. His rapidly deteriorating condition now made sense - Patua was going the way of Mol Sahau in the past, dying the untimely death of a deadly hunter turned victim. We spent the rest of the evening talking about witchcraft and sorcery on Santo, contemporary and in days gone by. Lisa, seemingly not aware that I had already heard a great deal about the topic, spoke to me about patua, with Eilili and Pulu adding their own comments and illustrations.
The witches often work in flocks, Lisa told me. As they approach a house they place a spell (talinovo) on the people inside, so that they won't notice one of their number being taken outside and cut. A novoika. A varai na ezeka, kamalai ririu. "They bewitch us. They say our names, so we can't wake up."
After removing their victim's innards and replacing them with leaves, they put him back on his sleeping mat, and the next day he won't be able to remember or reveal the night's events. But three or four days later the victim will die - when exactly is in the hands of the patua. A pai varai na ranena, "they will name his day", said Lisa.
If patua attack you in the bush, you will first notice that matam mo vapete, "your eye is short" - you can only see things close to you and can't see things far away. Then you know that they're near. The trees and hills around you will seem to close in on you, and eventually matam mo pontuvu, "your eye is dark" - you will black out. Then they'll cut you.
If, as you first notice your sight blurring, you say the name of the witch that is attacking you, you are safe. That is your only way out. It has to be the correct name, but if you are not sure you can say the names of many people you suspect. Then, Na pinisiku tau! Ku pai toma iniau? "I know you already! Now what will you do to me?" Lisa heartily mimicked the aggressive speech of a prospective victim confronting a witch with his name, loud in our small gathering.
Never travel alone, my companions warned me. Never tell anybody your travelling plans - when you are going to see them in another village, or when you are going to leave, after visiting a strange settlement. They'll lie waiting for you along the trail.
In the past, said Lisa, the people who sailed away from Saurik (the mouth of a far-off west coast river where legend had it that labour traders used to anchor their sailing ships when loading or unloading their human cargo) all brought patua when they returned to Santo.
Every worker was given a trunk full of things by his masta in payment for his labour - rifles, matches and knives were some of Lisa's examples. Na tuai mo kai te mania, "in the past there was no money", he explained. The returned traveller then sent for people from his village to come and help him carry the trunk home. Toana, tasina. "His elder and younger brothers", clarified Eilili from among the shadows on my left. When they arrived home they would open up the trunk and distribute the contents.
The patua were kept in a box by themselves inside the trunk, to be opened when there was no one else around, according to instructions from the masta. They were for the homecomer personally.
In this way patua came to Santo, and started to kill people. Before then things were different. A kai mate, a to sasari. "They didn't die, they ran out of power." Central Santo was full of people - there were no areas without settlements then, like the hill called Patui across the lower Zari from Truvos, or the ridge half-way down to the Ari where the track to Vunpepe runs past Mol Paroparo's gardens, both of which had been settled in the past. Even Truvos was then the home of a different group of people, now extinct - my hosts' own ancestral land was at Patuntampon, further up valley along the Vunpati track.
Lisa has a theory about it: the white people first had the patua, but saw that they were bad and decided to get rid of them, and so gave them away to the black men who came to work. When I told him that I hadn't heard about any patua either in New Zealand or in Sweden, Lisa told me to ask the old people back home, and tell him if I ever came back to Santo again. Inku natui mera. "You are a child" - he didn't expect me to know. Ask vokai vunama, "the older men".
My companions also told me more about sorcery, explaining to me a variety of techniques that they attributed to the people in the Tombet area to the north of us, and the people down around Patumariv, the lowland village where we had spent a night on our way from the coast to Truvos only a month back.
Lisa called it sasau. The sorcerers use a bit of your food, for example the stem of a taro that you have eaten. There were three different methods.
They could leave a bit of food in a hole in the ground in a special place, a zara i tataui, "follow-place". There was no such place nearby, but the people closer to the coast had them.
They could tie up the bit of food in string, and hang it over a fire. As it dries out and turns black, you die. A lizikoro iniku, said Lisa: "They tie-dry you."
They could cut the top off a malavu tree-fern and put the piece of food inside the trunk at the top, then ringbark the tree at the base. As the tree dies and the soft core rots away, the material moves further down inside the trunk, and the victim gets ill. When the core is gone, leaving only an empty shell, and the bit of food reaches the base of the trunk, the victim dies. A kore malavu inia, "they put him tree-fern."
6.9 Patua's death
The next day, as we were working on the new houses for Kavten and Lahoi at Vorozenale, I heard that it was Sulu who had seen Patua talking to his incriminating familiars. Mo matalesia, "he eye-saw it'. Sulu himself also told another story from his visit to Peiorai, as a group of us took turns digging postholes for Lahoi's new home:
Ravu Liorave, a Penggie man, walking alone in the bush near Vuties, looked behind him to see a cat following him down the track. Next the cat did something strange: it attacked him, trying to bite him. Ravu Liorave killed it with a stroke of his bushknife, chopping its head off. He took the carcass home and ate it. But the next day he went and told the people at Vuties.
Mo lolono, commented a bystander, "he is crazy". He should have kept it quiet. The tacit assumption seemed to be that it wasn't a real cat; it was Patua, still out hunting with his patua while his body lay near to death in the house at Vuties.
Halfway through the day it started raining. We took shelter under the roof of a nearby shed, built to protect the stacks of prepared thatch lying ready to be used to cover Lahoi's new house, one the framework was completed. It was not long before someone wondered aloud whether this was usa noni Patua, "Patua's rain".
Three days later we were working on Kavten's new house, levelling the ground for the floor-to-be, when Maliu Kalus brought the news: Patua had died, two days back. Maliu had heard about it on the other side of the river that day.
Eilili mentioned a photograph I had of Patua, taken at Pune's feast at Taskoro, nearly a year ago. What was I going to do with it? Perhaps I could look at it from time to time, a last memento of the dead man, he suggested. Or I could burn it. Maliu proposed that I keep it until I returned home - then I could give it to Patua, if I saw him over there.
It made two deaths in one day - an old man had died at Zaraparo that same day. Vunu Krai mo rua, "two of the Flying Fox Clan". It had rained heavily all day, with a strong wind blowing. Now we knew why: Patua's rain had fallen, finally.
The obvious discussion ensued. Patua's death took care of the problem over his marriage. Pos Non Kot had been threatening to take his daughter back, as Patua never spent any time with her, leaving her alone at home while he stayed away from Duria. Krai Tui had warned that in that case Pos Vea's wife, Vematankin, Voitrivu's opposite number in a straight exchange of women, would also be taken back. Now that Patua had died, the people of Vunpepe would give a wife to Vohia Oloran, Vematankin's brother, instead. Or else they could replace Vematankin some time in the future with one of her daughters, yet to be born. There were many solutions possible. Vematankin mo te lae, said Lisa, "Vematankin is married". Sosorana mo te iso. "The dispute is over".
There was another dispute left, though, still unresolved. Memei and his mother's brother, Aru Tin, both clansmen of Patua's, were still concerned about the claims that he had been killed with sorcery, pointing the finger at the people of Vunpepe - the home of Patua's disenchanted in-laws.
6.10 Patua's mitin. Ria lore
Nona panis. "His punishment". Mo kai oloolo. "He didn't bow down" - he wasn't humble. It was Lisa, again voicing his judgments over an evening bowl of kava, with Mol Paroparo, Kavero and me providing the audience. This was still another version of Patua's demise. It was his own fault. He had got his illness further inland, and vezeveze were involved – so Lisa had heard. Patua had been knocked down by some sorcerer because of his pride.
Routinely I asked about his “meeting”, and for the first time I got a fuller explanation of what that had been about. Patua had urged people to come and vavaulu to him; confess to him their hidden sins and grudges – and their patua. Then he would cure them. He claimed to be able to take away peoples’s patua – people who had patua could come to him and confess, and he would rid them of their deadly familiars. He could see them, and would remove them; kill them. He chose his new name because of this, back in the days of his mitin activities. But it was all korekorei nasa, “just lies”. He had patua himself, said Lisa. Mo ve tau na takun mo visa? “How many people has he killed already?”
Mol Paroparo asked me about myself and patua:
A pinis veiku? “Can they kill you?”
Ku pinis lesira? “Can you see them?”
Perhaps this had become a matter for public speculation. Only a few days previously Vekrai had revealed to me that she thought I was immune to their attacks, as I didn’t seem afraid of them – I didn’t take normal precautions, traveling alone in defiance of a possible ambush.
I could see her point. Lisa’s lecture after Krai Kule’s death at Patunvava was still fresh in my memory. And recently I had gone to visit Memei at Tonokara on my own at dusk, lighting my way there in the dark with a torch - foolhardy behaviour, but perfectly reasonable if the patua couldn't hurt me anyway.
As in the past I blamed my ignorance. I hadn't realised that there was any danger - I hadn't grown up with witchcraft in the neighbourhood and was not used to taking steps to counter it.
That topic exhausted, we talked about ria. I don't remember how it started, but once begun, my companions, responding to my keen interest, kept on adding more and more detail and comments, filling in the picture with further elaborations. Though I had been in similar situations in the past - a kava "seminar" exploring some aspect of Santo existence mainly for my education - I had never had the benefit of this sort of treatment of the elusive disease - inflicting ogres of the Santo bush. The composite picture emerging from that one night's discussion was something like this:
Ria - "ogres" is perhaps the best translation - are larger than people. They have long arms and legs. They have tails and long hair. Lisa imitated their call - it sounded somewhat like cattle lowing. We agreed after comparison that they were very similar to the trolls that had haunted the deep forests of my childhood Sweden.
Koma kai lesia, said Lisa: "We have not seen it." They had only heard ria described by vokai vunama tuai, "the older men of the past". But there was little doubt about their existence: Lisa often saw tufts of ria hair hanging where it had been caught on low branches in the bush, a memento of a passing ogre. He said he'd bring me some to show me one day - later he indeed brought me a few long, black strands of what I took to be some form of arboreal lichen, looking like horsehair.
No one had seen them, but there had been some close brushes with ogres. One night Trivu ru had met one on his way between Vorozenale and Truvos - it was back in the days when there were still houses up on Truvos, before they started building at Kuvutana. He fought with it, and escaped unharmed. But he didn't see it, as it was dark.
Lisa told me how he and Vekrai once almost met with a ria on a night when they were netting flying foxes in a clearing by the main track to the South Coast. They could hear it approaching along the track, lowing menacingly. They sat tight in their little leaf shelter, very afraid, hardly daring to breath for fear of detection. But the ria went off in some other direction, and they were all right.
Mol Paroparo too had had a narrow escape from an ogre. He and Kavten were night-fishing, lighting their way with torches up a small stream on the far side of the Zari, hoping to spear some eels. They heard the ria coming at them along the stream, and ran. They never saw it, but they could hear it coming after them along the track as they fled. When they got to Palakori, where Mol Santo had a garden house in those days, they ran inside and barred the door. The ria didn't try to enter the house, but they could hear it rummaging around in the clearing outside.
The ogres used trickery to catch people in the bush. If you stray off your track they try to disorient you by placing obstacles between you and the track. So, if you can't see your way back, but see a big log or a tangle of bracken, just jump over it, and there will be the track.
Na tuai, "in the past", people couldn't go outside at night, unless there were several of them - maybe five; two were not enough. The ria came close to the houses then. Now they don't - when the firearms came to Santo and the ogres heard the sound of gunfire, they fled. Nowadays they live inside big rocks, hiding.
In the past old people didn't die. They just gathered up their belongings one day and disappeared. Perhaps they became ria . . . Komau koma komia soena, "we think so", said Lisa.
He gave as an example an old woman who just disappeared one day. Her mat was gone, the ashes of her mat-side fire had been swept up and the place was left clean.
This called to mind a tale that Lahoi had told me during my first visit to Santo. There was once an old man at Lotunae who wouldn't die. He lived on and on, until people started talking about it. Then one day when the villagers returned home from the gardens he had disappeared. He had taken his walking stick and left. They looked for him everywhere, but couldn't find him. In time they gave a feast for him, assuming him dead. But later two men, spending a night in a garden house in the bush, heard the old man outside, grunting - Lahoi illustrated. They followed him, keeping well-hidden, and saw him disappear into a cave where an underground stream emerged from under a rock.
We also talked about ria and illness. They make children ill, I was told. They vara inira: "talk about them". Or, when the parents are working a garden, with the little one asleep on some leaves nearby, the ria may come close and touch the bedding. A tikeli na rau epana. "They touch his/her mat-leaves." In either case the child becomes ill with zalo i ria, "ogre-sickness", easily recognised by its symptom. The child will sarsaramariri, "shake", "quiver".
There is maumau that will cure the condition. First the parents must explain carefully where they have been with the child recently - what places they have visited, which paths they have walked. The ria have home territories - they live inside boulders down by the streams that criss-cross the landscape, all draining into the Ari and eventually into the Peiorai and Big Bay. The precise habitat of the guilty ria is of great importance - the name of the place must be part of the maumau. If you have the right ria, the child will become well. If not, you try another place.
Were there places known to be frequented by ria, then? Yes, came the reply, one ria used to live at Vorozenale - a small stream at the far end of the village, for which the latter took its name. And another one lived by a small stream not far from Kuvutana, where we used to fetch water. But not anymore.
At the time I was quite surprised at all this detail about particular ria - I hadn't realised that they existed as individuals known to live in particular places. It makes sense, though: a tradition of localised ria is a likely product of curative spells for malaria that attempt to pinpoint a ria in a particular place as the cause of the illness. The successful cures would confirm the existence of ria in special places - henceforth to be high on the list of suspicion in future cases of illness, and so on, until some places were well known to be haunted by ria.
6.11 Vavaulu: Noti Uina
Another day . . . Tomas, ku somai! "You come!" Vekrai's call from inside the house penetrated through even to the realm of field notes and brought me back to the present. Interrupted again! I left my books on my table on Lisa's verandah, stood up and went inside to see what was the matter.
There were many people inside, mostly women with small children. They had stayed behind talking to Vekrai after a festive meal on savisavi ipu - mashed five-leaf yam pudding with coconut milk - eaten when the oven was first opened up. In the light from the back entrance I could make out some of them seated by the still warm oven stones in the rear of the house.
Vekrai directed me over to where Noti Uina from Tapunvepere was sitting in the shadows half-way along the wall on my right, her next to youngest daughter on her lap. Old Linsus, squatting next to her, held the girl around the waist in a firm, two-handed grip, half-way through some remedial spell. She had just thrown up in the middle of an attack of fever. There was a note of panic in her mother's voice, as she told me about it.
I could understand Noti Uina's dismay - the girl felt very hot to the touch. I took her little hand and felt for her pulse with the tips of my fingers. It was incredibly fast: looking down at my wristwatch I counted sixty beats in fifteen seconds. I could hardly believe it - how could she survive a pulse rate of two hundred and forty? I looked at the girl, half expecting her to pass away there and then, before my very eyes.
It was probably malaria. Earlier that same morning Noti Uina had brought me the child, saying that she had become ill with a fever every day shortly before noon. I had given her two Nivaquine tablets, but not in time to prevent on last, violent attack of ague. If my diagnosis were correct, the girl would be all right tomorrow - the anti-malarials never seemed to fail to do the job. But would she make it through to tomorrow? Would her barely three-year old body stand up to the strain of that fever?
I hesitated. I had been called inside to help, but there was not much I could do. All I could think of was something to get the fever down, though the seeming futility of salicylic acid as a life-saver only increased my all too familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of acute illness. Still, I put some water in the bottom of an enamel cup, added half a tablet of Disprin and pushed my way through the small crowd now surrounding Noti Uina and the girl.
Linsus had finished his maumau. Now it was Krai Mak, the girl's father, doing what to me looked essentially the same - the grip around her waist, the intermittent spitting. I gave the cup of dissolved Disprin to Noti Uina who promptly lifted it to her lips and drained it, then bent over and sprayed the contents into the mouth of her barely conscious daughter.
Through with my own contribution I got out of the way, content to watch from my nearby mat the growing commotion. The news had spread - shouted - to Vorozenale, and more people kept coming into the house all the time, adding to the confusion. The din rose with the questions of the many curious and the agitated explanations of those in the know. Within minutes Lisa's house was crowded.
In the midst of all the turmoil I saw Lisa sip water from a cup and blow clouds of spray at the girl from different directions. Next Lahoi, just arrived from Vorozenale, followed Linsus and Krai Mak with still another stomach-pressing bout of maumau.
Meresin no rasia, suggested a voice in the ongoing discussion of the proceedings: "The medicine has struck her." By now it was common knowledge that I had given the girl some pills that morning.
No, retorted Linsus. Lotuna, “its base", was a longstanding quarrel that had threatened to flare up again that morning. One of Vevozileo's children had returned home to Vorozenale after playing at Kuvutana, bearing the tale that Noti Uina mo ripot isini Pos Zuzuru, "Noti Uina made report to Pos Zuzuru." Pos Zuzuru was Lisa. As one of Mol Paroparo's assistants he was used to being approached by people with a grievance, as a first step towards formal settling to the matter through chiefly arbitration.
Noti Uina denied reporting anything to Lisa - though in fact I had heard her talk to him about the quarrel when she came to Kuvutana for medicine that morning. The child must have overheard her. Now she took a different attitude. If the quarreling continued they - herself, Krai Mak and their six children - would move away and sakele la zara zai, inkomau asemau: "settle somewhere else, by ourselves."
Little more than a year ago Krai Mak's younger brother Aliki had married Vevozileo's daughter Vemunimuni Tavui. In return Aliki's father had provided Vemunimuni's brother Tavui Pulupulu with a bride - a girl named Viona, obtained in exchange for Aliki's sister had eloped with a Namoro man not long before then. The marriages took place at Maliu Tin's garden house at Morvari. Some of Krai Mak's fowl had been killed to feed the guests, though the owner himself was away at the time.
Maliu Tin and Vevozileo drew a lot of fire from their neighbours at Truvos over the marriages. They had been arranged more or less clandestinely, and several interested parties were not informed but simply presented with the fait accompli. They were offended, angry. As a result Maliu Tin and Vevozileo stopped coming to Truvos, living instead full time at their Morvari garden house, together with their children, and Pulu and his new bride.
Krai Mal and Noti Uina were good friends with them then - they didn't live far from each other, and mutual visiting was frequent.
Since then things had turned sour, gradually alienating the two families from each other. The newlyweds were not getting on too well together. A jealous Pulu had told Viona to vavaulu. She didn't, and he hit her across the arm with a stick. Viona ran away and there was talk of dissolving the marriage.
This put Aliki's marriage in jeopardy, and in fact he too was having problems with his spouse. Vemunimuni kept going home to her parents at Morvari. She complained to her mother that there was not enough food at Tapunvepere, claiming that they did not work hard enough at gardening there. A sensitive issue as Maliu Tin, widely regarded as a poor gardener, had fed his own family on Krai Mak's via plantations further up river, when they were short of food at Morvari following the marriages. Krai Mak was still away on the coast at the time.
Then, just recently, Viona had admitted to an affair with a Zaraparo boy down at Namoro some time back. Pulu had beaten her with a longbow, and a varavara over compensation for the adultery was pending at Vorozenale. In the meantime speculation was rife about the likely repercussions, and the possible annulment of the marriages had again become topical, in spite of the fact that Aliki and Vemunimuni now had a child together.
In addition to the strife over the marriages there was also the matter of some of Vevozileo's cordyline plants that had been destroyed by a wandering bull belonging to Krai Mak. All the mountain women grew cordyline to wear the leaves, their traditional mode of dress. Mo kai te mani, kiai, ka te korea isina, said Noti Uina, "I have no money, or I would have given it to her" - in compensation, to end the talk.
It was these quarrels with the Morvari people that were the subject of Noti Uina's monologue. She spoke at great length, addressing Maliu Tin and Vevozileo with rhetorical questions as if they were present - a practice I had noted in angry men's speeches by the kava bowl. Never again were they to bring their sick children to Krai Mak for maumau.
There was the occasional comment or question about details in her angry lament, but for the most part she spoke uninterrupted. Eventually Noti Uina came to the end of her tirade and calmed down, and the talk again became more general, with others offering their own opinions on the situation. Lisa's comment, filled with foreboding, brought home to me the broader significance of the situation, as it affected the whole community.
Sari i masmas mo to aliali, zara mo varuvarun soeneto, ran i zalo i pai somai. "Feet of anger are treading about, when the place is hot like that, day of sickness will come."
Eventually the crowd dispersed. Most of them went to eat at Popoi's house – they had just opened up the oven there and put out a call for all to come and eat yam pudding.
I went over to Noti Uina and took her daughter's pulse again. It had dropped to one hundred and eighty, and I told Noti Uina that the girl would be all right.
Yes, said Noti Uina, it was because she had vavaulu isina, "confessed to her". I hadn't realised - that was what her long monologue had been about! Noti Uina had confessed her anger, the ostensible source of her daughter's illness. And - predictably? - the girl was already better.
6.12 Secret movements
The next day Lisa disappeared - that is, he didn't come home at night. Not even Vekrai knew where he was for sure, though she said that he might have gone to Duria.
Those suspicions were confirmed within a day, when Ravu Mak, a Penggie man that I knew from my month's stay in the Tombet area, paid a short visit to Kuvutana. I was sitting, alone, in the shade under Lisa's verandah roof, writing in my books, when he walked into the village. There was no one else in sight. I offered him food, as I had learned to do: taro and some stewed veal, left over from the calf Kavten had killed when we finished his house three clays back. Ravu Mak ate, and we talked. He had been to Palakori to see Maitui about a quarrel over a woman. Ravu Mak had taken a fancy to Maitui’s half sister, recently married to one of Trivu Ru’s sons at Namoro. Now he came to counter a charge of adultery and a demand for compensation to be paid to her husband alleged transaction in pigs in the far-off past - if her husband wanted to keep her, he would have to pay Ravu Mak. A court session was due in a few days at Vorozenale, to resolve the issue. At present he was on his way to Duria, where he planned to spend the night.
Grandma Vepei discovered him there with me. just inside the front door of Lisa's house, eating and talking, and though there was ample food she went and got another taro and a piece of veal. By the time she arrived back with the food Ravu Mak had finished eating, but he still dutifully cut off a small piece of that taro, peeled it, and ate it with a little of that piece of veal, removing the lid from my pot and dipping the meat in the juices, while Vepei watched him from the verandah.
Ravu Mak returned the rest of the food to Vepei, and we talked some more. He had also spent last night at Duria. Lisa was there - today was the day for feasting Patua. This took me by surprise. Not the feast as such; there was normally a feast ten days after a burial - a day more or less depending on whether you counted the days at the beginning and end of the period. I had been to several. Sometimes they were large affairs involving visitors from the whole valley and lasting for days with several beasts killed. At other times they were small family gatherings, as at Zinovonara when I went there with Lisa after the burial of Mol Sale's grandson and found only a few people eating taro pudding and bits of a fowl that they had killed. In the latter case they were inevitably followed by a bigger feast later on, on the fiftieth or the hundredth day.
What surprised me was that we had not had word about it. Usually we would be told well ahead of the day of a feast, so that those who wanted to were able to go. But I had heard nothing about Patua's mortuary feast in advance.
Lisa must have heard about it, though, because he had gone there, but he had kept it to himself. I thought he was being secretive about his movements because of patua.
Vepei followed Ravu Mak to Duria that same afternoon. The next day she reappeared at Kuvutana with Lisa, both of them with pieces of beef. They were the only people from Truvos who had been to the feast. I heard them discuss the distribution of the meat they had brought, making sure that between them they gave some to every household in our group of allied hamlets.
6.13 Vekrai's warning
Lisa and Vanlal had already walked out the door. Kura kai ru komeurua asemeu! "Don't walk about on your own, you two!" Vekrai whispered her words of warning to Riki and little Maritino, as she was getting ready to leave for their garden on Paten. She had Epin on her hip in a cloth sling over her opposite shoulder, and a basket full of more rolled-up baskets suspended on her back by a bunch of braided flax strings tied together in a knot across her brow.
Vekrai added a few words of explanation to me. It was because of the many disputes in progress. The night Lisa and Vepei returned from the Duria feast Sulu had stayed awake all night, watching patua walking around in the village clearing, even snooping about the closed doors barring them from entering the houses.
Ku kai varaia ausaa Voropen, cautioned Vekrai: "Don't talk about it up at Voropen" - another name for the neighbouring hamlet at Vorozenale. Tuenina a vati tau na matea. "Some of them have got themselves matea" - i.e. patua. One of them had killed one of her children with witchcraft in the past, Vekrai confided. Then she was out the door, off for another day’s work, leaving me wondering about the implications of all that.
I knew Lisa had been quarreling with Mol Paroparo in fits and starts over this and that during the last month, and further back in the past too. Was this attendant backbiting, or genuine fear of retaliation? There were far too many disputes going on at the time anyway, with a host of unsettled issues and people bearing grudges - people who could not be relied on to settle things peaceably, but were inclined to use witchcraft against their enemies.
6.14 Sulu on Patua's patua
That same night we had Tokito Meresin and his grandson Timol with us at evening kava in Sulu's house. They were spending the night on their way to the coast, where the aging kleva was to resume work on the Nakere plantation.
The visit elicited the usual exchange of latest news, and there was no shortage of news with the recent proliferation of disputes. Among the many other topics there was also talk about Patua's death. Sulu repeated his story about how he had seen Patua talk to two small children one night at Vuties. He had confronted Patua over this the next day, but mo kai vara, "he didn't talk."
I could see the direction things were taking. Whether or not Patua had been a witch, he was about to enter local legend as one. Would perhaps Ravu Liorave be credited with killing him, as Mol Kleva had killed Mol Sahau?
They also talked about how the other night some patua had moved about the settlement. Lisa told Tokito Meresin that if it wasn't for my staying with him, he would flee Kuvutana and stay in a garden house.
Inau mazi malau ran. Imaku lavul, said Lisa: "I am an overnighter. I have many houses."
This all eventually sparked off a discussion of how to go about getting rid of patua permanently, before the talk rambled on further, to still other concerns.
6.15 A bride for Kavero
Kavero stayed in Kuvutana for most of my last four months on Santo. He slept in Popoi's and Vepei's house and spent most of his days helping his aging "parents" with their gardens, and other strenuous tasks like carrying home taro and firewood. Perhaps in response to this show of loyalty and support some attempts were made to find him a wife.
The first I heard of this was the day after our kava evening with Tokito Meresin and Timol. I wanted urgently to get to Canal. Two days back I had lit a match too close to my face, and a bit of burning phosphorus had landed in my right eye. By now it was red and rheumy, and I wanted it seen to by a physician, so I had arranged to go with Tokito Meresin and Timol to the South Coast that day.
Normally we would leave early in the morning when going to the coast: it was a long, strenuous walk - about twenty kilometres - and it used to take most of the day. Not so this time. The sun rose high and my fellow travellers were still not ready to leave.
Eventually I found out why. We had to wait for Sulu to return with news. He had gone to Matanzari to ask for a wife for Kavero. Verintui, natuni Mol Rarau, explained Levtoro, "Verintui, Mol Rarau's child".
Sulu had told me about her in the past. Long ago when Popoi Trivu was a young man and they lived further up river at Patuntampon, the whole community had fled southward, after Mol Santo had shot a man on the other side of the Ari. They lived away from the valley for years, in a village named Nalulu, before returning to the Art valley. During their time at Nalulu Mol Santo gave away one of Popoi’s and Trivu Ru's sisters in marriage to a local man. Later, when she had a daughter, Trivu Ru gave gifts to her husband - raw taro and ten live fowls, according to Sulu - in order to gain the right to arrange her marriage. But when she grew up her parents gave her in marriage to Mol Rarau, now chief of Namoro. In exchange Mol Rarau had given a daughter to Trivu Ru: Verintui, a girl now in her early teens, living at Matanzari, looked after by Trivu Ru’s daughter Sarikun, and her crippled husband Matai.
Tokito Meresin was an elder clansman of Kavero's – a "brother" of his mother; they were both of the Barringtonia Clan, Vunu Trivu. As such he had an interest in Kaveros marriage, and wanted to know the reply to Sulu's request before we left. If there was to be further discussion of the proposal Tokito Meresin wanted to take part. We might even have to postpone our departure until the next day, I was told.
We were all sitting, waiting, inside Lisa's house when Sulu returned, entering through the rear door - closest to the Matanzari track - and beginning the account of his mission before he even sat down. Sarikun had agreed to the scheme, though her husband had been less clear about his stand, having had a lot to say.
Mo kun, said Lisa: "It is good." I couldn't follow Tokito Meresin's comments in Tohsiki, but my general, impression was that his reaction, along with everybody else's, was favourable, and I thought - mistakenly - this meant that the match was now arranged. There was no need for further discussions that day, and shortly afterwards we set off on our journey to the South Coast, Tokito Meresin, Timol and I.
I heard no more about the matter for more than three weeks. Then one day Tokito Meresin appeared again at Kuvutana, accompanied by his married son Krai Pro, and young Timol. They were carrying rolls of barbed wire that they had bought on the coast, to use to fence in a paddock for cattle.
Those were rainy days. By now it was mid-June, and we should have been well into the part of the year they called ran i alo, "days of sun", but it didn't show in the weather. The ran i usa, "days of rain", continued with few interruptions, and Tokito Meresin was forced to spend several days at Truvos before being able to return again to the Nakere plantation.
This was the setting for another attempt at arranging a bride for Kavero. Sulu and Tokito Meresin set off into the rain, heading for Lahoi’s new house on the far side of Paen, the grassy hillock separating Kuvutana from Vorozenale. They were going to ask for Vetrivu, Lahoi’s grown-up daughter.
They were gone a long time. By the time they returned I had left with Vanlal to gather mape (6) chestnuts, so I missed their initial account of the expedition on returning home. But at evening kava in Popoi's house I learned that the outcome was negative. Lahoi had said no, pointing to the substantial difference in age between his teenage daughter and Kavero.
Sulu and Tokito Meresin had then proceeded to Matanzari, where they had asked the hand of Tinon, the eldest daughter of Sarikun and Matai. Matai had refused.
There was also talk about some leaves placed somewhere by Tokito Meresin, but I couldn't work out what that was all about. Time would tell.
6.16 Tokito Meresin's leaves
One night after dark a worried Memei brought me little Semis, feverish. The boy had fallen ill that afternoon, and fearing for his life Memei had chosen not to wait until the next morning, but set out for Truvos in spite of the late hour.
I thought it was a storm in a teacup. The boy was clearly unwell, but not dramatically so - it could well have been left until the morning. But Memei and I were good friends by now, and I treated his boy there and then. Afterwards Memei, seemingly satisfied and a lot calmer, took Semis up to Sulu's house, where they spent the night.
The day after there was talk about Memei's visit, and Tokito Meresin's leaves. I now got an explanation of that matter. After the recent refusals when he and Sulu had asked for a wife for Kavero, Tokito Meresin had retaliated with a taboo. No one was to come to Sulu again for maumau. Tokito Meresin had tied some leaves to a dead tree outside Sulu's house as a token of the prohibition - they were the leaves I had heard talk about volin vokai rau, "the price of the leaves" - of going against
the ban - was five fowls. Tokito Meresin had stipulated the fine at the time. But last night, after Memei had been to see me with his son, he had also turned to Sulu for maumau, breaking the ban. Memei had zalai vokai rau: "cooked, the leaves". Would he have to pay? No one knew for sure, but it was likely, from what people said.
I went and looked at the leaves - lo non Tokito Meresin, "Tokito Meresin's law", as I had heard them described. Though they were by now shriveled in the sun I still recognised two of them: cycad and coconut. Another two leaves in the bundle were strange to me. They were all tied together with a bit of vine to the top of a small and branchless tree trunk, standing like a signpost on the side of Sulu's house that slopes down towards the rest of the Kuvutana dwellings.
I knew the mele - the cycad - to be a traditional taboo sign. I had seen it used in that capacity at Namoro, tied to a stick in the ground in front of a pile of sprouting coconuts.
Lo blong mi (B), Sulu had explained, "My law". He had put the leaf there to warn people not to carry off his planting material.
Another few days later Ai Rovo brought one of his children from Palakori to Kuvutana in search of Sulu's services. He stopped by in Lisa's house to discuss the leaves, unsure of their significance: did they apply to him too? The general agreement inside the house was that mo kai lo senani sineke: "it is not a law for/of this place." They called it lo senani tavaluni Ari, "a law for/of the other side of Ari." Reassured of local support for his action Ai Rovo proceeded up to Sulu's house with his offspring.
Eventually Memei came to pay - some time later he brought two fowls to Sulu. Sulu, who seemed more than anything embarrassed by this, refused to accept more than one of the birds, sending the other one back with Memei, for Tokito Meresin. But there was never any talk of Ai Rovo having to pay any fowls for consulting Sulu.
I wondered about this affair. Why should one kleva forbid people to make use of the services of another? The reason given by those who told me about it was that Tokito Meresin was masulu, "angry", because of the refused requests for a wife for Kavero. But why did he vent his anger in such a peculiar form? The action certainly wasn't directed against Sulu - the two kleva were good friends, to the extent of sharing a small cattle paddock project. Was it perhaps part of a joint scheme to help Sulu get some material benefit out of his craft - he had had difficulties with this in the past, in his dealings with Maliu Esea, as I had heard. Or was Sulu genuinely tired of the constant stream of patients - an attitude I sympathised with easily - and Tokito Meresin helping to give him a break? I don't know, and there is now no way of telling - these are only my own attempts to make more sense out of what otherwise seems obscure.
6.17 Children, sex and vavaulu
Vekrai had visitors in the rear of the house - some village women, weaving their mats and baskets in the warmth next to the steaming oven in the centre of her floor. As usual, local issues of all kinds were being aired.
Vekrai complained to the others about children and sex. -Someone had overhead little Aki say to Alo Ran’s son Vulu: Kera vano taitai, "Let's go have sex". They had then disappeared up to Truvos and down into the cattle paddock together.
A to reve vokai nora koro, said Vekrai. "They are pulling their cocks." Koro, meaning "riverfish", was so common a euphemism for male genitals that it had become like just another four-letter word. She complained about children who taitai stil, "have secret sex", and suggested that Kala - another one of Alo Ran's sons, well into his teens - mo to male Vetrivu, "he keeps wanting Vetrivu", Lahoi’s mature daughter, still not married.
Indeed, there had been a recent incident one night at a dance feast when Kala had tikeli na susuni Vetrivu, "touched Vetrivu’s breast". He had only reached out to poke the fire according to his own protestations. They would all have to vavaulu. said Vekrai.
When Aki came home later in the day, his irate mother received him with questions about what he had done down in the cattle paddock. Vemala accused him of taitai, her voice stumbling with anger. Little Aki denied this, simply repeating several times a meek Kiai! - "No!"
6.18 Vavaulu: Linsus
Old man Linsus arrived at Kuvutana to attend a small feast in my honour, seven weeks before my final departure for New Zealand. He came into Lisa's house through the rear door, sat down on a guests, mat in the next space along the wall from my own sleeping place, and talked for a while with the other people assembled inside - some of them guests and some of them local People. Then he turned towards me and complained of-a headache.
Accustomed by then to people beating around the bush and rarely speaking a request straight out, I took the cue and offered him some aspirin. As I handed them to him with a cupful of water I told him, half jokingly, that he would have to vavaulu.
Without further ado Linsus fell into a twenty minute monologue, relating two incidents that had taken place at a recent feast at Leasvaravara, a village in the far-off Peiorai watershed.
One of the episodes concerned banter with some of the women present at that feast. They kept calling him over to where they were sitting, said Linsus, urging him to cut up more meat and cook it.
Ku somai vati vai uro! Quoted Linsus, caught up in telling his story to all who wanted to listen. “Come and fetch the pot!” Uro meant “pot”, but it was also a common euphemism for female genitals. Clearly the women had been having him on.
Eventually Linsus had responded: Kai pita! Ka kalikomeu nan! “Women! I’ll swear at you next!” He repeated this line three times for everybody inside Lisa’s house to hear, chuckling loudly at what he obviously thought was a good joke.
The other occurrence that he related was a varavara about a lock forced open and ruined by someone, with money being paid in compensation. It had involved some heated arguments, and Linsus gave all the details, from beginning to end, though he himself had not been one of the protagonists.
Some time later, in a discussion with some local people criticising those who came to me for medicine but didn’t vavaulu, I mentioned that Linsus had confessed to me. Mo vavaulu ini na sava? “What did he confess?” came the response. Nona masulu? “His anger?”
6.19 Vavaulu: Krai Tui, Eilili and I
Krai Tui from Duria came to see me with a cough. Eilili too was coughing. We made a fire on Eilili’s verandah to sterilize my needles for penicillin injections for both of them.
As we sat there waiting for the water to boil, Eilili volunteered a confession. He had danced with a woman at a velu at far-off Malmarivu, at the edge of the northern flatlands, on the far side of the Peiorai river. He had iki na susuna, he said: “squeezed her breasts.”
Krai Tui now offered a confession of his own. His offence was the same as Eilili’s, at a dance at Namoro. Then they turned to me. I also had a cough; I too should vavaulu.
What had I done, they asked. What about that woman I know at Canal – had I made love to her? No, I replied truthfully. They then told me that even the thought of sex was enough – for example, when dancing with a woman at a velu, Ku ronoa nom taitai mo is kilan, ku mas vavaulu inia! “If you feel that your penis is very hard, you must confess it!”
Again I scrutinized my memory for sexual transgressions, and finally came up with an offence in a similar vein to Krai’s and Eilili’s, from one of my last supply trips to Canal. So in the end I too vavaulu to my two companions.
A few days later I again discussed vavaulu with Eilili. He told me that if you don’t vavaulu, maumau will fail.
Conversely, if you treat a sick person with spells two or three times, and he doesn’t get better, you can assume that he is hiding some moral transgression – that he hasn’t vavaulu. In that case you might as well abandon the spells, isei i pai maumau maloko la a kai to vavaulu? Asked Eilili in customary rhetorical form: “Who’s going to tire himself out with weaving spells when they don’t confess?”
6.20 Ria and Tamate
As part of my continual effort to improve my Kiai I made a habit of remembering strange words that I heard people use, in order to ask someone later about their meaning or use, and so keep my vocabulary steadily expanding.
Remembering the word from a past conversation, I asked Kavten about pataika. He answered by translating it into Bislama: devel. Slightly put out by again finding obscured what I thought of as finer distinctions carried in the Kiai terminology of spirits, I asked Kavten whether he meant ria or tamate, or what.
I am no longer able to recall his exact words, but Kavten’s reply left me thinking that he meant that pataika, ria and tamate were just different names for the same thing, echoing Sulu’s similar interpretation of ria, tamate and aviriza during our discussion of these matters in New Zealand.
This brought the issue fresh back to mind. I had suspected Sulu to be deceiving me then, perhaps simplifying things for my benefit, hiding the finer differences between kinds of spirits. With Kavten proposing a similar simplification, things now appeared in a new light. Maybe the simpler account was as prevalent a version of the spirit realm as the more differentiated one, at least in the younger generation – both Kavten and Sulu were still only in their twenties.
Because of my puzzlement I broached Eilili on the same subject. I told him about Kavten’s claim that ria and tamate were the same, and asked if this was really so.
No, said Eilili – younger than both Sulu and Kavten – ria was one thing, and tamate another. Kavten mo korei: “Kavten is wrong”. Tamate were takun a te mate: “men that have died.” They lived in the bush, said Eilili. When we die (mate), he explained, nonoaka a to ru la popa i au: ‘our souls they roam about in the forest.” They were the tamate.
Taleku, he added: “I think.” He told me that he wasn’t sure about these things; this was just his own understanding of what he had heard other people say. Na kai pinisia: “I don’t know.”
I told Eilili that I had heard that tamate lived inside old hollow tree-fern trunks – I remembered this detail from the stories about “devils” that I had recorded during my first field trip. Eilili confirmed this, and added that ria on the other hand lived inside rocks – a difference in their habits, testifying to their difference as kinds of beings.
Only a few days later Lisa quite inadvertently corroborated what Eilili had said about the fate of the soul after death, as we were drinking kava by ourselves in Lisa’s house early one evening.
We had been talking about New Zealand and the Maori people, when Lisa volunteered that in Kiai mauri was the word for when people hear a noise in the bush or outside the front door. Maurini tuape, they would say then: “Someone’s spirit.” It meant that someone somewhere was very ill, close to dying.
Maurina mo te vano la popa i au, said Lisa: “His spirit has gone to the forest. “People would then try spells to rectify this condition. Maumau senana tauae: “There are spells for it.” But if the maumau failed to bring the wandering spirit back to the body of the patient, he or she would die.
In the interchange following this revelation Lisa also confirmed what I had long suspected was the local theory of dreams, but never had heard stated in unequivocal terms – that dreams are the experiences of the spirit, roaming at night while the body lies asleep.
Not long after I asked Lisa about ria and tamate. Were they the same or different? He told me they were different, though they were both basically people. Tamate were the dead. But in the past old people used not to die, they only ran out of power. They would sit, immobile, with their kneecaps high over their heads and their eyes open. Some of them would throw away their sleeping-mat and other belongings, sweep up after themselves, and just disappear. They became ria. Both tamate and ria ate a lot of people in the past, said Lisa. One of their ways was to pose as people; take the shape even of people that you knew well, to trick you – a theme I recognised from some of the tales I had heard about the “devils”.
6.21 Pataika and ani malino
Two weeks before I had left Santo mountains for the last time to begin my journey home, I had another attack of malaria. This was a bit unexpected, as I took the prescribed suppressants regularly. But it had happened before, and my symptoms left little room for doubt about the diagnosis. It started with chills and shivers that turned into shakes as I returned in the late afternoon with firewood from one of Lisa’s abandoned gardens just across the stream Vorokus from the Vunpepe track where it leaves the grassy slopes of Truvos and enters the bush. Bu dusk I had a crippling headache and was sweating with fever on my mat by my fire inside Lisa’s house, too weak and miserable to move.
A visitor to the house asked Vekrai what was wrong with me. Through a haze of pain and fever I heard her reply. Vai pataika mo ese sinetsivo Vorokus mo vara inia, she said. “The pataika down at Vorokus talked about him.”
From the way she said it, I guessed that there was known to be a ria living by the Vorokus stream. Ria were said to live by streams, and to cause malarial symptoms. Vekrai knew I had been there that same afternoon; her diagnosis seemed only to be expected.
Dysentery followed the malaria, and I had barely recovered from this when I developed another bad cough. Lisa, hearing me hacking away from across the room, commented to Vekrai: Mo ani malino e mo toma? “Has he eaten malino or what?”
I recognised the idiom from similar circumstances during my second field trip, and jumped at the opportunity to ask anew the meaning of malino.
Zalo mo to leo la panem, explained Lisa. “The illness is in your stomach.”
Na ani malino, na ani na sava? I persisted, hoping for a more precise answer: “What have I eaten when I have eaten malino?”
Vekrai replied in Lisa’s stead, saying perhaps arivi mo ese mo ani na sube i am: “a rat has eaten a bit of your food.”
I drew the conclusion that to ani malino meant to eat any foodstuff that had been made unwholesome, whether by being tasted by a rat, or “dreamed” by a tamate – the explanation that Lisa had offered last time I queried the word.
Later that day I sought out Sulu, to ask him too about eating malino. His reply reiterated what Vekrai had told me: eating malino was for example eating food eaten by a rat. I then asked if eating food dreamed by a tamate also was to eat malino. Yes, said Sulu – if the tamate had talked about it.
Provided with the opportunity, I tried again to probe this “talking” attributed to ria, tamate and aviriza alike. I mentioned Vekrai’s interpretation of my attack of fever the other day – that a pataika had talked about me – asking what it said. Did it say my name, or what?
Sulu didn’t know. People just called it talking, he said. He couldn’t tell me any more about it.
And here the tale ends: that was the last of the many incidents chosen to illuminate our topic. Only a week later I left Kuvutana. Another four days on the coast and I was leaving Santo. My last memory of my mountain friends is from my cramped seat inside an Air Melanesie Trilander. Lisa, Mol Paroparo, Eilili, Tokito Meresin and many others who had come to see me off were only a throng of dark bodies with arms waving, crowded into the visitors’ enclosure next to the low white painted building that served as passenger lounge at Pekoa airfield, as the plane gathered speed across the grass clad runway and took to the air, bound south for Port Vila; me bound for home.
My thinking about the kleva this last trip was dominated by one theme: revelation. I was gradually coming to realize the special role the kleva played in the production of the unseen.
The unseen: by this I mean that sphere of invisible powers and beings manifest to ordinary people only in and through the impact on the everyday world of their hidden activities. These were matters that people tended to talk about in terms of just such visible signs – what at the time of my first field trip I had taken as an empirical orientation on part of the local people, the most recent example being Lisa’s stunning comment that a mauri was a noise in the bush – stressing that they had not seen it with their own eyes.
But unlike ordinary people, the kleva were able to “see” these things. Kinglu had seen who was killing Patua with sorcery by using a bit of his loincloth, and Sulu had seen Patua’s patua – both feats of seeing referred to as mo matalesia: “he ‘eye-saw’ it”, by others. Sulu had also seen witches snooping around the doors of the Kuvutana houses during the recent proliferation of disputes, which called to mind the attack on Sulu by three witches early in my second stay on Santo that he told us about months later – he had identified one of them as Tavui Pro from the Moris-speaking area south-east of Truvos.
It was also the kleva who removed vezeveze, producing them for all to see; tokens of the hidden work of some malicious sorcerer. And the Zaraparo kleva who plucked a stone from Lulu’s aching jaw had revealed that Mol Sale was the man responsible, compounding his fearsome reputation for “bad things” by adding vezeveze to patua.
At other times they revealed the action – mostly “talking” – of spirits causing disease, like the Duria devel that once sent me into a fit of fever, or the aviriza responsible for Varalapa’s eye condition.
Of course there were other people than the kleva who spoke about witchcraft, sorcery or spirits lying behind everyday events – take for example the many lay diagnoses of Patua’s long illness, or the discussion following the death of Krai Kule. But while other people’s interpretations were known to be only inference and guesswork, the kleva revelations were supposed to be accurate accounts of what had actually taken place, unseen by all but the gifted few.
Not all of this oblique production of the unseen by the kleva relied on their extraordinary powers of perception. Just as ordinary people acknowledged the unseen in their precautions against witches and sorcerers – secret travel plans, not walking alone, carrying firearms, carefully disposing of food leavings, and so on – so the kleva gave existence to these agents in efforts to combat their deadly impact on the community. Patua’s bisnes – calling meetings and urging people to confess their patua so that he could get rid of them – though directed against witchcraft, appears simultaneously as a public confirmation of their existence: their intended destruction becomes also their continued reproduction. It was the same with Sulu’s public speech against vezeveze and other forms of sorcery – and the absence of confessions in response implies that the holders of these destructive powers won’t cast them aside, but persist in their evildoings. Even Sulu forbidding valavala singing at Truvos can be seen in a similar light: a protective measure against aviriza that reflects and acknowledges their power to inflict disease.
There was more. The realization that you had to keep secret the killing of a were animal until the death of the witch had made me reconsider the circumstances surrounding the death of Mol Sahau of Tonvara. Mol Kleva had shot him in the shape of a cat. When I asked Pos Vea how they knew that the cat was Mol Sahau’s nonoa, he told me that the Tonvara chief had died within a few days of the shooting, as if the contiguity of the two events in time was the evidence. But the secrecy injunction indicated a different sequence: did Mol Kleva perhaps not tell people about killing the cat until after the death of Mol Sahau? The onus of the evidence for the dead man having been a witch was then on Mol Kleva – another kleva turning a dead man into a witch through posthumous revelations, as I had heard Sulu do with Patua?
Taken together, it all cast the kleva in a key role in the production of the unseen. They seemed to depend on each other; without a kleva to reveal it, the unseen would remain largely undetected, while conversely, without the unseen to reveal, the kleva would remain undetected. You couldn’t really have one without the other; they belonged together like the revealer and the revealed, emerging simultaneously in and through revelation, the core art of the kleva.
Revelation played a crucial part also in several other circumstances, continuing the theme of disclosure that I had noticed already during my first visit to Santo.
Naming your attacker was your only defense when assailed by patua, just as naming a spirit prankster would make it stop bothering you. And maumau for curing illness caused by the dead also worked through identifying those responsible, whether tamate, aviriza or ria.
The importance of revelation also showed in its opposite: secrecy. You had to keep secret the killing of a were animal – if it were revealed the witch would not die. You had to keep secret your travel plans – if they were revealed a witch might wait in ambush along your path. Not to mention secret charms for vezeveze, rain, curing or contraception, revealed to the few by spirits in dreams, and liable to lose their effectiveness if further revealed to other people.
Revelation was also the substance of vavaulu, the confession of hidden transgressions – a practice whose signficance was now becoming clearer to me.
Eilili had told me that during with maumau will not work if people don’t vavaulu. What a powerful incentive to confess, I thought. If after some maumau the patient hasn’t improved, the implication would be that some immorality remained unconfessed. This had indeed been Kavten’s interpretation of Patua’s illness. Eilili had hinted that in such a situation the treatment may be withdrawn – why bother with charms to cure someone who won’t even cooperated to the extent of confessing? It suggested that you had to vavaulu for a curer to go to the trouble of healing you.
On the other hand, the offender could be someone other than the patient, like a spouse. There had been talk of Patua’s wife confessing to him, suggesting that some indiscretion of hers was responsible for his illness. And when Viona confessed to an affair with another man, she had been beaten by her husband – was this just out of sheer jealousy, or was there an element in that beating of retribution for placing his health in jeopardy? Secret adultery was clearly always a potential danger to either spouse, with suspicion near at hand in case of illness. I remembered that one of the diagnoses offered when I was ill during my second period in the mountains had been that my wife, back in New Zealand, had committed adultery.
It appeared as if the moral breaches that brought on disease and had to be confessed were not limited to illicit sex. Homicide brought disease on the killer – the people with patua had to counteract this magically, by drinking the juices of the mata vine, as taught by their familiars.
Disputes and anger also seemed to call for confession, or else they would cause illness. When Linsus vavaulu to me, he had recounted a dispute from his recent experience. And when Noti Uina confessed over her fever stricken infant, she had described in great detail the quarrels that she had been involved in recently with her neighbours. Lisa’s comments at the time made a clear link between anger and sickness. And Maliu Tin was clearly alluding to the same link when at the start of my third field trip he boasted to me at Namoro about his new daughter’s good health, while putting the blame for sick children at Truvos on his own detractors’ hard-headedness.
I pondered the implications of masulu being a matter for confession. If harbouring anger brought on disease, this made quarrels and disputing doubly dangerous. There was not only the risk of retaliation from a vengeful witch or sorcerer; there was also the direct threat of sickness within the community, attracted by the anger accompanying contention.
Changing your residence under such circumstances now seemed a perfectly reasonable strategy. Lisa had talked about sleeping in garden houses after Sulu saw patua at Kuvutana one night; Noti Uina, and in the past some Kuvutana women, had threatened to move due to disputes; and Maliu Tin and family had indeed left Vorozenale to live at Morvari after quarreling with some of the local people. The story about the sudden abandonment of the old Moris-speaking settlement at Moruas when a local man eloped with a married woman from Duria now seemed more reasonable.
Some of the reforms of the past now also stood out in a new light, particularly the succession of changes to the local marriage regulations. Marriage appeared to be the bone of contention supreme in the area. This last field trip there had been difficulties over finding a bride for Kavero; there had been ill-feeling in connection with two cases of adultery; and at least some people drew a link between Patua’s death and the longstanding trouble over his marriage. Also during my past visits to the island I had noticed disputes over women, like Mol Paroparo’s daughter, Ravu Puepues wife, and the Patunvava woman promised to Mol Sale’s son. And the death of Krai Kule had been blamed on trouble over his liaison with Vemaliu from Ravoa, and an unpaid bride price.
I had been told that Avuavu tried limiting bride prices to three pigs. Zek had abolished them completely, together with the rules of exogamy. Mol Valivu had advocated direct exchange of women. Seen as attempts to simplify marriage, to make it easier and less likely to lead to disputes, these reforms now seemed less strange. Marriages were a major source of contention, and as such contributed to the disease and death that threatened the mountain people with extinction.