Tuvaluans In Fiji

The Power from the Sea


'So you come back then? That's good!'

The greeting came from the handsome young man standing up in the 'put-put' canoe at the Tukuvesi landing. The Fijian driver who had taken me there had raced his Land-Rover along the beach road, waving a towel from the window to attract the attention of the canoe which had already set out for Kioa Island. The canoe had turned back and now here was Kailopa with his curling eyes and wispy moustache handing me into the boat with my baggage. 'You remember me, Neli's son? We got your letter. He is expecting you. Kioa is expecting you! I waited and waited - then I thought you had missed the plane!'

I sat next to an elderly lady in a new orange dress, who took both my hands in hers. It was Nika's widow, resplendent from a visit to Savu-Savu. Other faces smiled round, crammed together in the tiny boat. How was the Ellice, they wanted to know? And the Funafuti people? There was word of welcome from everyone and I relished the unfamiliar role of the returning native. To go back to a remote island always seemed an achievement in the South Seas. Once again the beautiful bay swung into view, the green hills behind, the long beach pale in the twilight. the first lamps were springing u in the village, and I could pick out Neli's tall ship of a house, clouded with purple bougainvillaea. I wondered what sort of a man this island leader would be. People spoke of him in a legendary sort of way. All I had soon was the photograph of a middle-aged man stiffly posed in Merchant Navy uniform. Fat more imposing was the stocky figure with a long white beard who rose up to meet me, wrapping his sarong around him.

'Last time I missed you - today we meet. And since then you have been home, home to the Ellice! They are waiting to hear about it in the maneapa.' The mobile face was full of enthusiasm, square-cut features crowned with a halo of white curls. 'But first you must meet the girls!

The girls were his daughters, Tusi married to an English administrative officer now touring the Ellice group, and Luluta, two beautiful Malayan-looking creatures with black silky hair almost as long as their cotton smocks. They greeted me gaily, with neither Polynesian shyness or Micronesian reserve. 'We get d'kids to bed. Den we eat - okay?'

I made them my presentations of food, and a carefully wrapped bottle for Neli. His eyes lit up as he felt the shape. 'Hey, I think this is Johnny Walker!' He took off the paper, clicking his teeth with pleasure. four tin bowls were produced and we drank each other's health, while Tusi dispatched a fifth cup, disguised with a layer of strong tea, across to the maneapa. 'For the Chairman, Mafulu. He sits next to the Pastor.' When we joined the gathering, Mafulu's cup was empty and he flashed me a gratified smile. there were the usual speeches of welcome from a roomful of born orators, all infinitely shabby and infinitely dignified. I have my account of my Ellice island visit, translated by Neli and distributed the messages and the letters I had brought with me. finally there was a sing-song, a composition about my imagined travels and encounters, ld by a determined-looking lady in pink (te usu, the chief singer).

'Awe! Awe!' came the familiar cry of encouragement from the elders, in between each verse. At the end there were handshakes all round, then the stroll back to Neli's with the night and cold under bare feet and the enormous stars bright overhead. After supper, we went to bed early, everyone saying mysteriously, 'tomorrow we go to the Block.'

'The Block?'
'You'll see.'

Upstairs someone had made up my bed - a pile of brightly-fringed mats and a pillow embroidered with 'Happy Christmas'. It was like going to sleep in a wicker birdcage, creaking and swaying a little in the wind, the talk of the men floating up through the slatted floor boards. In the morning, preparation began for a journey by boat - and went on for some four hours in the Polynesian way, fluid and desultory. first, the travellers were to be Neli and myself only. then, one by one, everyone in the household decided to come, Tusi, her two year old daughter Filista and new baby Robert, Lulu with her three small offspring Roger, David and Jonathan, Neli's son Kailopa and friend Sailani, and another young niece Kaivata. In slow procession we went down the beach to load up the narrow twelve-foot canoe. In the bottom went some ancient suitcases, next, bundles of bedding, mats, blankets and towels and some odds and ends of clothing tied up in bundles of flowered calico, and then a baby-bath full of feeding bottles, water containers and kettles. On top of this were deposited a few final items - saucepans, baskets of yams and tinned meat, pumpkins and paw-paws, primus stoves, drums of kerosene, and a monster tin of cracker biscuits. All that were left now were the passengers. With these, a number of different packing arrangements w3ere tried. In the end, Luka and Kaivata elected to walk.

'It can't be far then?' I asked
'About three miles round the bay.'

With something like envy, I watched the two girls disappear through the trees, the wreaths of last Saturday's dance perched rakishly on their heads.

On board, Kailopa took up his post at the outboard engine. A couple of flicks of the string and we were surging out to sea, the rim of the canoe a good few inches out of the water. Baby Roberts reclined in the bath among the utensils, covered from the sun by a towel. Miss Filista arched and screamed until hung out by her heels over the side. Neli had settled himself next to me and was proceeding with his life story from the point where he had left it last night - his dismissal from school at the age of fourteen, just for having a hole in the uniform singlet.

'And it was only a quarter-in across,' he said, indignation burning on his seventy-year-old face over this oft-recounted incident. "The matter was an Englishman, Mr. Kennedy, and all I could write was the Cat Sat On The Mat.' Neli's father was a carpenter, but Neli had different ideas. He took a job with British Phosphate on Ocean Island where he learned 'English from an Australian doctor who employed him as a houseboy in the 'knock-off' time. ('When he paid me he didn't even look to count the money from his pocket!') Helping in the Clinic they taught him the elements of midwifery as he had been able to deliver three of his daughter's children. Later he joined ship as a fireman, worked at the American base at Funafuti in the war, plying to and from Australian base at Funafuti in the war, finally enrolling in the Merchant Navy as a greaser, then super-cargo, plying to and from Australia and the Gilberts. 

'After all that, the Colonial government made me a Native Magistrate of Vaitupu,' said Neli, with a grin. 'I had a uniform of black sulu, white tunic and a belt with a gold crown on the buckle. And do you know, when I went aboard a government launch to meet old Mr. Kennedy back from leave - he hadn't seen me for years - all he said was "Hello, boy". Neli shook his head, rolling about with laughter. 'That's one thing I can't forget - "Hello, boy!"

Everyone joined in, except Kailopa, who was fast asleep over the engine. No one seemed perturbed by the cloud of blue smoke that issued from it. After a moment or two all sound stopped and we drifted to a halt. Investigation proved it had only run out of fuel. More was found under a basket of yams, and poured in through a rubber tube. A cough and a splutter and off we bounced again, Kailopa returning to sleep. ('I think he finish off Dad's whisky with the boys las' night,' Tusi murmured to me. 'Dam-fool pig-head!') Occasionally he opened his swollen eyes to bail out with a saucepan, dashing some of it over his head in the process. But the sea journey was almost over. Round the farthest point of the island we turned into an opening in the mangroves and began to move along an island tunnel of the monster trees with the gnarled tentacle roots. Tiny crabs, turquoise and scarlet, scuttled over banks of chocolate mud; small lizards hopped in and out of the water. There was the buzz of crickets, the cheep of the occasional bird, otherwise only that deep river silence, with the bush rising steeply on either side. The engine cut out and Kailopa began to pole the canoe along. Every now and then we struck to the bottom, or knocked against the bank as the river narrowed and curved.

'David! Jonathan!' ordered Neli. 'Out you go!'

The next moment the two small boys were hopping along the water's edge like a pair of brown crabs, one pulling on a rope from the front, the other pushing at the back with cries of 'Come on, gee-gee! Get 'long horsey!' We passed only one sign of human habitation, a tiny reed hut high up on the bank, perched at the top of a rope ladder, canoe and paddle at the bottom. 'An old man lives there - a hermit. His wife died and he likes to be alone. He only goes round to the village once a month for his stores.' A couple of hundred yards further on another thatched hut appeared through the trees, a larger one this time, with steps hacked up to it out of the bank, and here we stopped. Neli stood up in the prow of the little boat and with a sweep of his arm at the rolling bush, announced proudly, 'this is all my block! My block of land!' 'All this was jungle up to the 1940s,' he told me. We sat drinking tea round the fire built out of coconut husks, the water fetched by the children from the nearby spring. 'Now it is plantations, food plantations, a block of land for every family on the island.' I asked him if the migration from Vaitupu was because of overcrowding?

'Not really that. But you see, the Vaitupu people had saved about four thousand pounds, working for the Americans in the war. Instead of spending it on a school or a hospital, which would need more money for keeping up, they thought they would like to buy an extra island with good soil for planting food, something that till last to the end of the world. that's what one old man said about it! Well' --- He lay back on the mat under the trees - 'this Fijian island came up for sale and a very wise Englishman - a government official, advised us to buy.'

'What did the old people say about the idea?'

'Oh, some of them didn't like it. Talked about going to a foreign country and all that. But leaving home, looking for new land, this is something the Ellice people have always done. So away we came - only thirty of us at first, seven women and twenty-of-40 men, really just to plant at first. But we liked the life so much, we decided to stay right away, and then others came, and now there we all are, the people of Kioa, a sort of independent republic!' He stood up, stretched himself with a laugh. 'And this is my estate. Welcome to Blue Water!' The only water in view was the glistening brown river beneath us, rapidly misting over. The afternoon had suddenly ended, the evening was beginning. I went up into the tiny house, perched like a bamboo basket of four or five feet above the ground, on tree-trunk foundations. It contained a brass-bound sea chest, a row of sleeping mats, an umbrella and a bunch of keys hanging on a strip of palm leaf from the rafters. All activity was going on around the lean-to kitchen, the girls' faces glowing round a fire on which a gargantuan meal was being cooked, - fish and eggplant and corned beef sizzling alongside a huge communal pot of yams. Outside there was the steady rasp of coconuts being grated, the chip of adzes on the canoe the boys were building, and farther away children's cries, hollowed out by the cliffs. On a nearby rock Neli stood like a Polynesian Neptune, a conch-shell raised to his lips. The mournful hoot resounded through the bush.

'I call to the pigs to come and be fed,' he explained.

The next moment a whole tribe of sows and piglets came crashing through the undergrowth to gather round a wooden trough under the trees. We ate our own evening meal stretched out on the bamboo platform in front of the house. Afterwards we had a call from our neighbouring hermit, the lonely widower, who seemed a cheerful enough little person, and obviously wanted to chat to Neli. Tusi and Lulu and Kaivata lay on their stomachs around the fire, gleaming profiles veiled in waterfalls of black hair, while the swift-flowing currents of Ellice Island talk flowed back and forth with its soft glottal sounds. Sometimes odd English words broke through, 'So, man, I tell you,' or the endearing f for th that gave Polynesian voices a childish charm - 'You stay wif us, yes?' or 'When I give birf to my last' and once when the infant in question refused to stop howling, Tusi's sudden fury, 'I'll give him a real gor'-blimey.'

'She's really getting hot with that kid,' murmured Lulu to me - another Kioa phrase.

I asked them what happened on Kioa when the women had their babies. They told me there was an old lady on the island who acted as a mid-wife. She stayed with the mother before and after the birth for a month. the husband was not allowed to sleep in the same room as his wife for three months, or even permitted to cross in front of the bed.

'That's a tabu thing for all men,' said Lulu. All the best delicacies were fed to the mother - crab and chicken and so on and the nicest fish caught by cousins and brothers - whenever the baby cried and she was woken to feed it. There were no anaesthetics, but not much pain either -'except with the first'. Deliveries usually went smoothly. complications were dreaded, though, as the nearest Medical Officer lived on the mainland, an hour's journey away by power boat, two hours by canoe, and neither phone nor cable office on the island.

'Course we were lucky to have Dad to deliver three of the kids anyway,' said Tusi. 'An' you know, a lot of people thought that was a bad thing.' 'But people think we do other tings wrong too,' put in Lulu. 'Like in our own family brother talks to sister, or boy cousin to girl cousin. sometimes they even dance together, European style - or next to each other in the fatele, the dancing line. That is all against old Ellice custom.' What was the old Ellice custom then, I asked?'

'Well,' said Tusi consideringly. 'Say a girl sees her brother or her boy cousins coming along the path towards her, then she must step aside into the bush, hide there till he gone past. Even on Kioa where dese tings not so stric', you can't have close talk with the boys in the family, especially about boy or girl friends, only 'tings like Good Morning. What food you want? What shirt to wash?' That's because Dad's been away to other places, and sent us away to school and so on,' Tusi added. 'And then I did my nursing training in Australia, remember!' Neli heard us talking about him and came to join us. The hermit had gone back down the river to his little hut, the children were asleep, and with the men we made a big circle round the fire.

'Tiune' (my Polynesian name) - 'Tiune don't want to hear 'bout all this tuff,' said Neli scornfully. 'She wants the stories fiti-a-kili make the hair stand up - like she hears in Funafuti, eh?' 'The story of the pigs,' prompted small David pleadingly. He had stolen out from the house and now lay across his grandfather's lap looking up at the old man with idolatrous eyes, 'lease, the pigs.'

'Well the pigs then,' said Neli, drawing his legs close beneath him, tailor-fashion. 'You know,' he told me, 'I have sometimes felt the usual things, that special sickness that comes on when an enemy has had a spell put on one. But if you make the will really hard against it, it goes away. No, there is only one time I was really frightened and this was another thing altogether, a very strange thing. You may think it sounds very little, but even when I think of it now my skin goes cold.' He took a deep breath. 'Just this - I was walking back of the village along the beach from this place one night. It was very dark. I stopped to rest on a stone, I closed my eyes. When I looked u I saw three huge sows quite close to me, and the biggest brood of small pigs I had ever seen. They stood in a circle all round me, looking at me, in a way not like ordinary pigs, blocking my way. I felt full of fear. I knew it was some kind of magic. but I made myself move and walk through them. Then a little further on I was stopped, in just the same way, by a great brood of chickens, all of a huge size like dogs, again in the same ring around me, their eyes on mine. I knew it was the same devil in a different shape. It was harder still to move on, but I made myself go through. I ran all the way until I reached the house. The first thing I did there was to bathe myself all over. After a little I felt the magic slide away and I knew I was safe.'

A sigh of satisfaction and relief wafted from the listeners. 'But now there is my side.' Tusi's soft voice took up the tale. 'I was sitting that night with an old lady who is the best of all on Kioa for - you know - spells and magic, and telling pictures about what people are doing in different places. Well, she had fallen asleep. Suddenly she wakes up with a great shake. She starts to talk in English - which she never speaks. She tells me first she sees Neli walking along the beach, the great pigs that surround him. Then he is met by the devil chickens. He is in great danger, she say. But his spirit is winning. He is coming home, fast. Now he is bathing outside the house. She finished the story just as Neli came inside. She told him the devils had given up trying to steal him because his soul was too strong.'

'Too strong!' chanted David, clapping his hands on his grandfather's lap, his eyes shining. 'What about lima?' put in Lulu. 'We can tell the lima stories?' A look of reserve crossed Neli's face. He shook his head. 'It is late. We must sleep. We wake early here on the block.' The men prepared to doss down on the verandah. As we undressed by the lamplight inside the little hut, Lulu whispered, 'Tomorrow night Dad goes fishing. We tell you 'bout lima then.' This time my pillow was embroidered with the legend 'Sweet Dreams Tusi and William' - an item, no doubt, from Tusi's bottom drawer. I kept forgetting she was married to an Englishman - a Cambridge first in Classics as she had proudly reminded me - until the occasional English idiom of speech or attitude reminded me. Tusi and Lulu and Kaivata had their mats on the other side, the children ranged out between us, and one was glad of the warmth of so many close bodies. The night had turned suddenly cold. the lamp flame was turned down to its lowest ebb. I watched the shadows of the girls padding silently to and fro in their sarongs, bending to brush out their long hair, then softly rolling down among the nest of babies, drawing a restless one close with a soothing 'S-s-s. S-s-s!' After a while, the light outside, shining through the weave of the walls, faded out too and all was darkness in the middle of the forest.

As Neli had said, the day began early on the block. I dozed on through the dawn sounds of kettles clattering, babies crying, dogs barking and the first axe-blows, until a large hen came squawking and fluttering over the partition and flopped herself down next to me to lay an egg. I went out and saw Tusi coming along the path in the hazy sunlight, wrapped in a yellow sarong, her hair twisted up; Thai-style into a knot to the side of her head. She had the baby on her hip and a huge yellow paw-paw in her hand, carried at shoulder level like a waiter's tray. 'Want breakfas'?' she called. Kaivata brought me tea and some small round bananas, and slices of the paw-paw, and the island specialty, fried doughnuts sprinkled with coconut. We planted pineapples that morning under the paw-paw trees and the banana bushes, while the children fed scraps to the chickens, and the scruffy dogs rounded the pigs and their broods up from the river side to their pens, in the best tradition of Welsh collies with a flock of sheep. Later in the day we took our washing down to the creek. I was intrigued to learn the more personal toilet arrangements on the block. One simply took up a digging stick and disappeared for a walk in the bush.

'She's too young to talk about things like lima,' said Tusi. Her voice was low, the atmosphere suddenly serious and secret in that little pool of lamplight with the soft river sounds beneath us, the dark mass of trees and endless growing and living things rising up at the edge of the clearing on every side. 'What does the word lima mean?' I broke the silence first. 'The word in Ellice means hand or five. But lima also means a certain kind of people who have special powers - powers of magic that protect them from harm, especially physical harm. The lima people are quite different from others. Not only can they fight off the blow of an enemy - ward off a knife - things like that - they are very quick, and dangerous to anger.' I asked where the lima power came from and Lulu told me it was handed down from father to son and sometimes to daughter. Maybe in very old times the lima were a tribe of priests. But you could only be of the lima through the blood.

'I think the lima power come from the sea,' she murmured. Her eyes were half-closed against the lamplight, like a cats, her face cupped in her hands. 'From the deep sea. It is called mone. sometimes the lima ancestors come to their people in dreams. They come in the shape of whales, or other great fish, sometimes as the figures of men covered in rocks and shells. They tell of their secret laws, and talk of the fine village they live in, under the sea.' I remembered Finau, the Fijian sorceress, and her tales of the little people in the cave under the sea. 'Do you have such dreams, Lulutu?' I asked. After a moment she nodded, her face grave. 'I and Tusi, but much more than either of us, our brother Kailopa. The grandparents he has never seen, they come to him as he sleeps and teach him the secrets. He has described them to our father, just as they were in life.' Neli, it seemed, was one of the lima people, even though he refused to learn from his father when he was dying, saying he didn't want such powers. But it was in his blood, and he too had the dreams.

'Our grandfather was the most famous of all the lima people on the Ellice islands,' said Tusi. 'You know, one of the signs of the power is to be able to fall into a violent rage, like madness, so that everyone is afraid. My grandfather did this once in Samoa. He was put to the test by ten huge warriors, and one after the other, he just threw them aside like logs. Kaloa is the most famous lima today. Remember? - he was with you in the boat when you and your friends came to Kioa for the first time. He is a hospital dresser on the mainland. You will see him again tomorrow, he is coming to see Dad.' Lulu, suddenly quiet, had slipped away into the room behind us. Tusi began to tell me of the special lima ceremonies that took place after her European-style wedding in Kioa, presided over by the Pastor. Both she and Robert, the young Englishman from Cambridge, had changed into Ellice dress, their bodies oiled and decorated. Then Kaloa had tied around her neck a white palm-leaf from the heart of the tree.

'He made a special knot in it,' she went on. 'He told me, "This is the Lima of the Lifunga family, of your grandfather and all your ancestors." He was trembling all over, his eyes stretched wide open. He was very much excited.' Tusi's voice trembled too. 'I had the same kind of feeling. For weeks before, I had been visited in my dreams by old people in white telling me I had the power, I could fight anyone and win. Now I started to weep and shake. I felt very close to my grandfather, every one of my family line stretching back and back, as though, all of a sudden, we were all one.' She shook her head. 'I couldn't imagine myself ever behaving like that before. I am not that kind of person. But the feeling was very strong.'

After the ceremony, Kaloa and another man from a different lima group had performed the traditional fighting-dance, Kaloa striking out with a stick, the other man warding off the blows with another stick held horizontally between both hands, while the people watched in a circle. Then the whole company processed around the couple in a ring, while Kaloa's sister chanted the magic song that must always be sung at such times. At this point in Tusi's story, a drowsy voice came from the room, Luluta's voice. 'I know that song.' I asked her if tomorrow she could write down the words for me. 'That she cannot do,' Tusi whispered. 'It is tabu for one of the lima to write such things down.' There was a moment's silence then Lulu's voice, softly singing in a minor key as though to herself - a haunting monotone, with a rising inflection at the end of each line. Beside, me, came Tusi's soft counter-point in English.

'Though the wind blows, still shall you hear.'
'However fast the red-mullet swims, you shall catch him still.'
'And shall I fight?'
'Yes, you will fight, you will fight, you will fight! and you will win!'

The singing died away. Tusi gave a sigh. One felt a deep listening silence from the lonely crags and forests around us, right down to the sea at the end of the river where the lima merrimen lived in their cities of rocks and shells. No one spoke again as we lay down to sleep. ...

Towards dawn, the sounds of the men returning came through the bamboo - the lamp being pumped up and the fire being stirred - and the smell of tobacco. By morning the fish was ready to eat, cut up and marinated in coconut milk and lime juice. Someone came u the steps to join us for breakfast, a short wiry man with a powerful head and strong features. 'You remember Kaloa? He came with you on the launch to Kioa the first time?' said Neli. I remembered him well, but took his hand wish a new diffidence after last night's stories. Kaloa himself seemed to notice something different about my manner. His eyes, remarkably deep and slanting, looked hard into mine. 'I expect the girls have been talking to you all night with their stories,' he said with a smile. The next moment he was the polite European-trained medical dresser of our first meeting. Behind him came a boy of about fifteen, slight and curly headed, with quick, anxious look, like an animal scenting strangers. Tusi had told me that Kaloa's two children were both deaf and dumb. This was the elder, Pita. Kaloa beckoned him forward to meet me. 'He has invented his own language,' Kaloa told me, with pride. 'You will see.'

Throughout the day, around the house, Kaloa's gaze rarely left his son. In the afternoon he summoned him to demonstrate the signs the boy had slowly invented for himself over the years. By these he had forced the rest of the village to understand, and to communicate back in the same way. He had done this by sheer determination, and constant repetition. A swimming movement with the hand meant 'fish'; blowing on the fingers stood for 'hot'. Then the boy pressed his hand downwards. 'Yesterday,' Kaloa translated. 'It shows the sun going down.' With a smile, Pita moved his hand slowly upwards. 'And that is tomorrow - the sun rising again.' He put his arm round the boy's shoulder. 'And now he has a new one,' called Tusi from the kitchen. 'He wanted an onion with his fish, so first he blew on his fingers for hot, then he screwed up his nose for something smelling strong. Even when I didn't understand, he didn't just fetch the onion for himself. He just did the same thing over and over until I learned what it meant - eh, Pita.' She rumpled his mop of hair tenderly. The boy, sitting back on his heels, smiled back and nodded. 'He does all kinds of things for me in the house and the village. And for Robert the baby, Pita wheels him around in an old box on wheels.'

Kaloa told me he was happiest of all in the canoe, working the outboard motor. He shook his head. 'But I worry for him when I die. His sister too. She is just the same, but not so quick.' And the mother, I asked? A closed look came over Kaloa's face. 'She died with a baby, five years ago.' I asked him if the deafness had been hereditary on his side or hers? But I was met by the same blank expression, a shake of the head. He got up to join Neli under the trees. Later in the day when I was sitting alone for a moment on the bank, watching the canoe-builders down below, he came and sat down by me in the shade. He gave me that same sharp glance of our meeting earlier. 'It is on my mind that I have not spoken the whole truth about my son,' he said quietly. 'You have travelled to our homeland, you know the ways of our people. I think you will understand the story - especially as Tusi and Lulu are your friends.'

'If you wish to tell it.'
'It is only a short story. The girl I wanted to marry had some European blood, German-planter descent. Her family were against the marriage. They called me 'that black man' and insulted my mother. My mother said that if we went ahead with the marriage she would place a curse on the girl and all our children.' He took a deep breath, his eyes fixed on the river water gliding below. 'We loved each other. We were married. The first two babies died. The next two were born deaf and dumb, though there had never been such a thing in either family. After Pita's birth, the first of these, I went back to my mother to beg forgiveness, to plead for mercy. She refused. She said the spell was stronger than she was, and it would only die with her. My wife died before my mother, giving birth to a dead child. Last year my mother died. Since then everything has been different, but too late.'
There was a long silence, until he spoke again. 'Her powers were very strong.'
I hesitated. 'And yours?'
He bowed his head. 'Strong also, but not enough.'
He seemed to feel too much had passed between us. He got to his feet and looked around for the others. 'We have to pack the boats. Did Neli tell you about his leg?'
'It pains him', I know. He said he had trouble with it for months now.'
'It has been getting worse, an ulcerous condition. When it gets bad, he likes to go to his beach house. He wants me to stay with him there. Kailopa will take you back to the village with the girls.'
Inside the house, Tusi and Lulu were getting things ready for the journey back. We could all stay there for many more days, they said. Did I have to go back to Suva?
I did, only wishing things could be different.
'You will be able to see Dad's place on the beach anyway,' said Lulu, trying to divert me. 'You will like that.'

This time it was dusk when we set out, a full moon rising, through the trees and a high tide running in from the sea. From the first canoe, with Kaloa and Neli, the boy Pita and small David and Jonathan, there came the call 'heads down!' whenever an overhanging branch swung out of the gloom. This time we had to cross through the reef. Kailopa holding the tiny boat back with his pole. Like a rider reining in his horse, he timed the wave that would take us safely over the razor edge of the coral, and out into the circle of clear sea. Around the next point, we glided into a sheltered bay, grounding close in on a sandy beach ringed with green. Neli's party had already landed, and a hurricane lamp glowed from a tiny palm-leaf hut, close up against the cliff. 'It is Neli's favourite place,' Tusi said as we stepped out of the boat. 'Its name is Vai Moana, the Deep Ocean. He comes here to rest.'

Inside was as neat and sparse as the outside, primus stove and pots stacked in one corner, dried palm-fronds covering the window-opening against the night breeze. The inner wall was smooth rock, so that the shelter was half hut, half cave, and against this Neli now reclined, his sleeping mat beneath him, his white beard curling over his chest, like some Triton of the Sea. 'I am sad to tell you that you are not the first European to visit Vai Moana,' he said to me, his eyes twinkling as we sat in a circle around him. 'No - two years ago an American, what-you-call-them? anthro-something or other, found me out. He wanted me to tell him everything I could remember about myself. I had this same leg paining me, so I lay here on my back, with the microphone thing hanging down from this beam over my head and I talked and talked. Some of the things I said I hadn't thought of till that moment!' He gave a huge bellowing laugh. 'Well, at the rate of ten American dollars a day wouldn't you stretch your stories a bit too?'

We drank the tea made on the primus by Kaloa, and a last toast in the Johnny Walker. I brought a blanket from the boat and laid it over Neli's legs. David had fallen asleep at the old man's side, a small naked figure curled up against his grandfather's chest. Tusi had to drag him away by force, as we stood up to take our leave. 'I want to stay with him,' he pleaded with his mother.

'You cannot always stay where you want to,' Neli told him. He smiled at me as he took my hand, repeating the words. Outside there was the last glimmer of violet light in the west, the moon caught like a paper lantern in the branches of the palm-trees. Kailopa's lamp; flickered over the sand, pocked with tiny crab holes at the front of our little procession. We turned the boat into the pale line of foam, and looked back at Neli, standing to the doorway of the little hut, leaning on Kaloa. The engine broke the enormous hush of sea and sky. David began to cry. He wept without ceasing all the way back, rubbing his head with both hands in a gesture of anguish, his wet face glinting in the moonlight. I took him on my lap but he did not stop, and I thought about the last long journey ahead of me - the boat tomorrow to the Fiji mainland, the car across the island to the airfield at Savu-Savu, the little Drover plane over to Viti Levu and Suva, and then the jet away from the South Seas, across the world to London, and the last train home to Wales.

You cannot always stay where you want to.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Here in Wales, everything has been put back into the old black trunk, the notebooks and the letters, the fans, the dried leaves, the shells and the tapa-cloth. Now, the sea widening between us is time. With every day that passes, the figures on the shorelines grow smaller - stout little Lora in Fiji, Oscar of the Yasawas, the old Man Tui'vakano and smiling Tupou, the wise Dr. Teleke and Osema the storyteller of Funafuti, white-haired Father Jolivet and Sister Emelda who had been Maureen O'Boyle, Tusi and Lulu, and Neli, the bearded Neptune of Kioa island - all the unnamed singers and dancers of all the thatched meeting-houses and shaded greens The smells of the land grow fainter too, woodsmoke and frangipani, and coconut oil and the hot moist green of the inland forest. The sound of drumming is dying away, the flood of singing voices, the haunting bass and treble of ocean and lagoon.

I think the exorcism is beginning to work. I wish it wasn't. ...

Since I began this book, we have brought an 18th century cottage in North Wales, not far from where I was born. The hills around us remind me of the Fiji interior. The Sunday hymns take me back to the iron bells and the Methodist choirs of Funafuti and Tonga. The stories of old tribal battles against the invaders bring echoes of the Gilberts. The cottage itself is full of scratching and rustling sounds at night - the local mice, no doubt - especially in the room where we have laid out our South Sea mats and tapa-cloth. Also, sleep has become full of journeys again. But everyone knows one dreams more vividly in an old house.

In the move, I've come across another box of notes - a journey to the Lau archipelago and a coronation there. I must start working again. ...

From Fawr
An extract from A South Sea Spell by the late June
Knox-Mawer, published by John Murray, London, 1975.

Funafuti Island, Tuvalu

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