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Freddy paddles a borrowed dugout canoe off LauLasi.

The High Shark Priest

We struggle in nets of conception threading perception through ancient recall.


We have to do something serious about our headwinds. Walter told us there was a real honest-to-God pagan witch doctor here in Laulasi. Maybe he can fix our weather problems. At least is should be interesting. Pagans are an endangered species in the South Pacific and Laulasi is one of the few remaining pagan villages in the Solomons.

Laulasi has been the "mint" of the Solomons for some 800 years. Maybe more. Could be this is why the place has remained steadfastly pagan; like most financial institutions, conservatism is essential to currency.

The mint is on a very small island built, rock by rock, on the reef crest by people who wanted isolation while making the money. They laboriously fashion funds from a special clam (a species of Chama) that men divers break loose from coral in the depths of the lagoon. This seems to be the extent of male participation. After that, the women take over.

The women industriously smash the shells into little bits with big river rocks. They take special care to save the little red fragments that come from the hinge area. Next, their machinist holes the red fragments one by one with a primitive stone drill.

Laulasi Solomon Island Shell MoneyFreddy and I ogle the drilling process. A bare breasted woman in a grass skirt sits in her thatched hut with half a coconut shell in one hand filled with a little water and lots of little bits of red shell. Her drill bit is a sharp pointed river rock on the end of a two-foot long stick. There are two lengths of braided hibiscus twine tied to the other end of the stick and to both ends of a cross bar. About one third of the way from the pointed rock to the hibiscus twine there is a circular chunk of the sternum of a sea turtle. This is the flywheel. Five kids run screaming in all directions as she works this amazing device with deft concentration.

She spins the turtle shell fly wheel which winds the twine around the stick. She's got the pointed river rock against a tiny fragment of shell, right at the edge of the water in the coconut shell. She pulls on the string. The twine unwinds and the drill spins. The flywheel weight wraps the string the other direction and she pulls again. The drill spins the other way. Zip, spin, zip, spin, the drill gets moving. She's got the drill spinning at least 500 or 600 rpm. One shell drilled. She flips it aside and swirls another into position in the same move, the drill still spinning like a top. Another shell drilled. Flip! Slosh! Spin! Zip!


We wander further into the village, stopping only to give some balloons to the crowd of kids that trail along in our wake. This distracts them, temporarily, so we can concentrate on the money making Freddy and fans in Laulasi play with baloons. process.

Several women sit under a thatch roof stringing thousands of the drilled, jagged little chips onto a long bit of hand woven hibiscus line. Nearby, in the shade of a tree, two women lay a finished string of jagged shell bits into a groove in a big river rock. Another woman hefts a second, cover rock on top of the shells. The cover rock has thin grooves matching the base rock. Now, another woman pours water into the trough while two women smooth the top rock slowly, side to side. The two women holding the string of shell beads, pull the twine back and forth in the groove. After about 15 minutes of this sort of smoothing, pulling, pouring and associated discussion, the finished little beads are almost perfectly round disks. They sling the strand out so Freddy and I can see what a fine job they've done. Each little fragment is now about one or two millimeters thick and three or four millimeters in diameter. All more or less the same size and perfectly round.

Our guide, a muscular young man named Ramo, explains they use the smallest, reddest beads for the higher denominations. The larger, brownish or even (pennies) white fragments, become the lower value currency.

Tavouli'i along with the shells used to make the tiny round disks strung on the hybiscus fiber twine.

Many people in the Solomon Islands still use shell money as bride price. When a man wants to get married he must present the parents of the girl with Tavouli'i. These are belts of shell disks three meters long. There are ten strands of shell disks per belt and they make each strand with three kinds of shell plus turtle shell spacers. They are quite lovely, as island currency goes, and tourists pay about $160 for them. Local people can buy a Tavouli'i for one big pig.

In the old days it took a woman about a year to make one Tavouli'i, but modern mass production techniques allow the village to make two belts a week.

A bush girl is worth about 5 Tavouli'i. The price of a saltwater girl depends on what the young man or his parents can afford. A prosperous young man might have to pay 30 or 40 Tavouli'i for a saltwater girl. There is even an international shell money committee. They decide on the value of the shell money exported to other islands. At present the village earns about $60,000 a year sending shell money to Bouganville Island.

They make additional money by showing the process to tourists, like Freddy and me. Because of the strong traditions built up around shell money, Laulasi still has thatched houses, tattooed bare breasted women and grass skirts. And best of all, they are genuine pagans. Bringing us back to magic.

As the money-making tour winds up, I ask our guide, Ramo, how I can make an appointment to see the High Shark Priest, Bosikuru. Bosikuru, unfortunately, is in his bush garden on the main island of Malaita. Ramo will make an appointment for me to speak to the big man tonight, at 8.

Moira sitting patiently at dawn off Laulasi, waiting for the evil spell to be lifted.

I cut the outboard and drift in to the stone canoe landing. It's dark. I can barely see the crude stone bulkhead and at the last minute I turn the dinghy too late and it bumps hard.

The night is surprisingly cool, much cooler than you'd expect just 9 degrees south of the equator. The cool darkness mingles with a strange mystic aura that surrounds the village of shark worshipers and I hesitate on the top of the stone wall. Maybe I should go back to Moira. A cigarette flares and bobs towards me, suspended in the blackness.


"Hi!" I say to the glow, "Me come talk Bosikuru."

"Umph" replies a deep male voice around the cigarette, "I Bosikuru."

The high shark priest turns and I follow the crunching sound of his bare feet on the coral gravel. A door opens in one of the thatched houses and a flood of lantern light silhouettes his tall, muscular frame. He is wearing a pair of tattered shorts, no ornaments. His yellow-gray hair glows softly above his dark brown, seaweathered face. We exchange looks silently. I guess his age at 50 or perhaps older. His eyes are sharp, black, and intelligent. His wife, a stocky woman with just a piece of cloth around her waist, glances at me as she places a small wood bench on the ground outside the door. She indicates I should sit on it. I sit.

Bosikuru eases himself down onto the squarish stone which is their doorstep and begins to fix himself some betel nut. It is an involved process. He cracks the husk with a rock, extracts the meaty nut, places this on a hollowed out rock. He pulls a cork from a carved coconut shell and dumps some white powder onto the nut - lime made from coral. He looks up at me watching and thoughtfully, as if waiting for some reaction from me, adds some mustard leaves. I smile in the darkness.

It occurs to me he is taking his time, trying to think of what to say. It reminds me of a professor I used to know who would play with his pipe while marshalling his thoughts. Finally, he starts mushing all this together with a elongated rock. Without looking up, the shark priest asks, "What you like talk about?"

"Magic" I reply.

"Magic?" There is an even longer silence; perhaps a minute. Then, almost to himself, he mumbles ,"Okay." It sounds like "Why not?"

"In many villages," I begin, talking slowly and clearly, "People say their grandfathers knew strange things about weather magic. They say there were men who could make big storms come to destroy enemy canoes. They could make the sea very calm for long canoe trips between islands or make the wind blow from a certain direction."

Bosikuru transfers some mashed betel nut from his mortar into his mouth and chews thoughtfully. He nods, "They could do this."

"But the missionaries came and today the people are Christians. They no longer remember these things." I wonder if I am going about this right. His face is backlit by the fire so I can't see his expression.

He remains silent so I plod ahead, "I've heard, here in Laulasi, these things have not been forgotten." He looks at me, jaw muscles working away at the lump of betel-nut. The night is very still. I look around at the dark shapes of the other thatched houses. After a while I venture, more quietly, "I have heard you know about such things. You remember the old ways."

We sit in the flood of lantern light and the silence grows until I am sure I have stepped out of line. Out of the darkness a tiny shadow appears. It wobbles towards me. A very young kitten. It steers an uncertain course on its brand new little legs and ends up standing on my right foot. It is so tiny, it gets all four feet on my foot and stands looking bewildered at the towering obstacle of my ankle. I pick it up and hold it in my hand, upside-down. It is gray with black spots, like a night-leopard. Its belly has a delightful array of big black spots. I laugh, "Oh no! I think I've just been captured."

"Cat belong medicine man. You want?"

"Well," I hesitate, thinking of the problems the cat would bring because of international quarantine regulations. We don't need extra problems. "I must talk to Freddy." But I know I am hooked.

As I play with the kitten, Bosikuru says, "Why you ask these things?" His quiet, resonant voice sounds more sad than wary.

"Remember the weather yesterday? No wind at all. I had to motor all the way here from Auki. Whenever I go to sail the wind stops or blows right from the direction I'm going. When I came from the Florida group to Malaita, I wanted to come directly here, not go to Auki. The wind was from the Northeast. When I left the harbor and put up my sail, the wind changed and blew right from Laulasi. Not one little bit one side or the other. So I turned and began to sail to Auki. Ten minutes more and the wind changed again and blew right from Auki.

"I was very angry (this is an understatement. I cursed and leaped up and down for five minutes) but I changed direction again and sailed towards Laulasi. In five minutes, the wind turned again and blew strong from Laulasi. I turned back toward Auki and after 20 minutes the wind stopped. I turned back to Laulasi and came here with the motor. No wind until we anchored."

He says nothing. Chewing with his eyes closed. I decide to give another example.

"One time I came from Malaupaina to Honiara. The wind had been blowing from the southeast for three days without stop. I put up the sail. The wind stopped. There were still waves coming from behind me but no wind. After two hours of motoring, the wind began to blow directly on the nose, right from Honiara. So we had waves from the southeast but the wind from the northwest. Impossible, but true. We motored all night and came to Honiara in the morning. We anchored and the wind turned back to the southeast."

He just sits there but, unless he can chew in his sleep, he's awake. I go on. "These things happen every time I go sailing, ever since I bought this boat. I have traveled almost 6000 miles on this boat and have only sailed with a good wind for maybe 300 miles. At first I kept thinking 'Oh, this is only coincidence' or 'the winds are bad this time of year' but this has gone on for more than a year of cruising and I have developed a new respect for mystical beliefs about the wind. We have demolished the law of averages months ago." I put down the kitten and he wobbles off into the darkness in search of his mother.

"Other yachts have traveled with me. They report by radio the strange weather clears up when they get about 100 miles away from me. One friend told me he never had any problems sailing in the Solomons he simply waited until he knew I would be at anchor before setting sail. He always had favorable winds. He kids me about it on our evening radio schedule. But it isn't funny to me." He's stopped chewing. Just as I decide he has gone to sleep he spits out the whole ugly red mess - "Paathooooiee" Like that.

"I've come to you because you are an expert on weather magic. Can you help me?" We sit there. I wish the kitten would come back but it doesn't. The village is quiet.

After awhile he says, "When I go sailing in my canoe, wind he must come from behind me. Maybe I go south wind he must come from north. I go north, wind he must come from south." he gestures with his arm. "I have no trouble with wind. It is in my family to have such powers. I will talk to medium. She will tell me if I can help with your boat problem."

Some of the women in Laulasi have very Polynesian features, and even facial tatoos.

Freddy and I arrive on Laulasi early, ready to get busy with the magic. Bosikuru, however, has gone off to Malaita again, so we wander into the village. I take photographs around the tiny island and we get to know the people.

We look at the picturesquely crowded thatched houses and examine the huge war canoe pulled up on the shore. The canoe, equipped with a big (old) Evenrude outboard, brings tourists down the lagoon from Auki.The Bahai church in Honiara organizes the tours. It seems only the Bahai's will accept shark worship as being OK. Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Bahai, Shark Spirits, all OK by Bahai. It's OK by me, too.

Ancestors skulls resting in a rock cairn in the middle of the village. Ramo separates me from Freddy to see the inside of the spirit house. No women allowed near the place. Out back, he shows me a rock cairn - like a well - filled to overflowing with human skulls. These are the less important ancestors. When someone dies, the people place the body in the sea until the flesh is gone. They save the skull, where the spirit resides. Ramo's little boy dashes past us, reaches in over the stones and touches a skull. Then, laughing, he races away. Ramo snags the boy by the arm and yanks him off his feet into the air. He gives the boy a rough shake and snaps, "Little Tourist!" The boy, insulted, runs off crying.

We find Freddy surrounded by three giggling ladies in front of one of the thatched huts. The ladies are trying to put one of their big turtle-shell earrings into Freddy's petite ear. Little girls crowd close, reach in and touch Freddy's silky blonde hair to see what it feels like. Others touch her smooth golden skin. One woman shouts something and everyone breaks up in hearty laughter.

Everyone gathers round to help Freddy put in an earring.

"What did they say?" I ask Ramo, laughing too. This makes him laugh even harder. Each time I ask, he breaks up again.

Bosikuru shows up about 1030 and we sit and watch naked children play in the clear lagoon waters. The bare breasted women smash, drill and grind shell money. Some women cook in big fire blackened pots. I watch powerfully built men fish, work on the houses, sit around talking, chew betel nut, and fall asleep in the shade..

Children play in the lagoon by the canue house.

I contemplate shell money, thinking about it as an indirect form of ecological birth control. If there were too many people, the fishermen would deplete the Chama shells. The younger couples would have to wait until the shell population rebuilt itself. Each day of delay reduces the population increase.

I'm sure nobody planned this out. These people could not have sat down and discussed overpopulation problems and devised a biocontrol system of bride price to regulate population growth. I suspect the system just sort of grew.

Anthropological studies showed some islands out here did experience overpopulation problems from time to time. Wars, killing of older people or infants or, if this didn't work, starvation trimmed the excess people. On some islands, overpopulation resulted in wars which not only eliminated the excess, but wiped out everybody.

Other islands show no evidence of these gyrations in population. Maybe because they did have a biologically limited bride price regulation system. These cultures survived, and thus their bride price tradition survived. Evolution in action.

Old Georgie, the Medicine Man, who conjured up Walter the Cat.. Bosikuru sometimes comes out with a few words. Over several hours I learn there are all sorts of people involved with the spiritual welfare of a pagan community.

There is a high priest, Old Georgie, in charge of the temple area with the skulls of the ancestors (the important ones). He is very ill just now. When Ramo showed me the shrine house, Old Georgie was keening a high pitched song and looked like death. Bosikuru explains this is how he talks to the ancestors.

There are three Mediums. These are women because women talk to spirits and ghosts (but not ancestors).

There is a witch doctor, who cures sickness using various herbs and magic recipes.

And there is Bosikuru, the High Shark Priest, in charge of liaison with those ancestors who are reborn as sharks. He is also responsible for keeping the village on good terms with nature spirits, like the wind and waves and forest and garden spirits.

We stop by to see the witch doctor to look over the kitten. It is no contest. Freddy takes one look at this tiny fluffy feline, picks it up, smiles from ear to ear and the kitten has got us both. Bosikuru and the witch doctor confer on the price. He turns to me and solemnly pronounces, "Price for cat three sticks of tobacco."

Freddy negotiates with the mother cat. After a great deal of cuddling and murmured discussion, Freddy stands up and solemnly announces, "The mother cat says she will let us take the kitten in a couple of days." Everybody accepts this. Bosikuru and the witch doctor simply nod as if everyone made deals of this sort with cats. Hell, for all I know, they do.

Walter the Cat with a necklace of shell money showing the Frigate Totem, giving power over the wind and the waves.

I have a very peculiar dream. Normally, I don't dream about people or places of my waking life but tonight I dream about Bosikuru.

Bosikuru appears amid a group of weird mythological beings. He is a centaur, with the torso of a man and the body of a bull. He comes towards me and stops.

"Who are all those people?" I ask, pointing towards the weird assortment of mythological beasts and beings.

"These are people of my section," he waves his hand to encompass them all. "But they are dead now. You must not see them." And as he speaks the others are gone; or rather become invisible. Only Bosikuru remains but his massive bull body sags. Wearily, he sits down.

"Today," He explains in a tired voice, "young people do not believe in magic any more. They go off to become Christians. They go to school. My magic is not so strong anymore. Maybe soon it is finished."

I feel really sorry about this. I open my mouth to speak but I can't seem to talk. Only listen. He does not care if his powers grow weak. His power atrophies because he thinks it is hopeless. All the others have gone. He is alone and nobody needs or wants him as a mythological being. My interest in his powers is a ray of hope. He thanks me for this new strength and hope.

At 6 AM they turn on the tape. Loud rock and roll music squawks, rattles and wheezes through a torn Japanese speaker to shatter the dawn quiet. The noise abrades my sleep and I awake with my teeth on edge. They turn it off at 7 AM after I seethe through morning coffee. Children pass by us as we talk in the Canoe hut. Moira and another yacht anchored off the village.

I go ashore to find Bosikuru. I am in a foul mood. Nothing is happening, magicwise. I want to say, "Hey, lets get with it, huh?" but figure that would be the wrong way to handle it. So instead I mope around after him and we wind up sitting in the shade of the canoe house again, watching the little kids play in the water. He talks about diving for the clams for shell money.

I try to get him talking about magic. "Do the sharks which have your ancestors in them ever do anything to show familial affection."

"Oh yes. Many times. Last year one canoe go from Laulasi to Tulagi. Way offshore canoe he caught in bad wind and turn over. Four men in canoe. Three from Laulasi, one from the bush. The shark he come eat bushman, no touch Laulasi men. No shark ever eat Laulasi man."

The conversation slows and gradually dies away altogether. I compose several approaches in my head. Maybe something simple like "How much do you want for the magic?" or maybe a touch of smartassery, "Are we going to do the magic this year?" But, in the end, I just sit there watching an adorable little boy and girl walk on the exposed reef flats. They hold hands and smile at each other. The nagging urge for action subsides and cools.

Two kids walk on the reef at low tide just off the raised platform of the village.

Bosikuru mutters something about sailing and I jump in with, "Well, I hope you can teach me how to make the wind blow right for me."

He looks at me strangely for a moment and says, "I would like to do this so you can have luck when you sail. I believe my magic can work because when I go to sail the wind is always right for me. The shark takes care of these things. I pray to the shark and the wind goes along with me."

He sits back and looks up at the sky, "Before, there were many people who could do this thing but now they are gone. They die away. Now only I am here."

I sit up, amazed. I am hearing nearly the same thing as in the dream. I'd forgotten about the dream. Even his body language and facial expression is the same. I open my mouth in astonishment and he says,

"Today, the young people do not believe in magic any more. They go off to become Christians. They go to school. My magic is not so strong anymore. Maybe soon it is finished."

I close my mouth. Open it. Close it. Like a fish gulping. "Uh." I start with great style. "Uh. See. Uh. You. Hey. Well. Last night."

I've got his attention but he's not sure what I'm trying to say. I start again, slowly. "Last night you came to me in a dream. You said. You said EXACTLY the same words to me in the dream. Really. You may not believe this, but it's true."

He accepts this as if it is the most normal thing he's heard all day; nods his head, thoughtfully. "Yes. It is good you dream this. When I do some business for magic the man he must dream of me coming to him. OK we know magic is going to work."

"At the start of the dream I saw many other people around you but you waved your hand and they became very hard to see. Were these ancestors of your people?" I ask.

"No. Not ancestors. They were of my section." This gives me the willies and I feel my hair stand up on end. "There are many people who work magic in Germany, Japan, South America and they work with me." There is a pregnant silence. "It is very good. You have proved magic will work. Tonight we will talk to Medium and we can do the business to fix your boat."

Anagotta senses something aboard the Moira. At 10 O'clock Anagotta, the medium, steps into the lantern light. She is a heavyset figure with enormous, naked, tits; each one tattooed with a big star. She's wearing an old piece of tattered cloth and a clutter of shell necklaces. Her black, tattooed face is grim. She moves into the darkness and I follow. She stops and stands looking out into the Lagoon. I can see Moira clearly in the moonlight. She looks for about 5 minutes, not moving a muscle. Abruptly, she turns and stomps past me into the thatched hut where Bosikuru waits.

I sit outside, looking in. There is just one small lantern in there and it gives everything a kind of warm glow with long shadows. They begin talking, Bosikuru with a soft, deep voice and the medium jabbering excitedly, vehemently, swinging her arms and punctuating staccato remarks by shaking her head and making loud hissing noises.

She sits on the floor and begins to utter a low, steady stream of comments in the native tongue. Bosikuru casually leans against an old wood bench and stares off into space. At regular intervals he softly rumbles something into that same space. The medium hardly pauses in her words. This goes on and on.

Anagotta jumps to her feet, very excited about something. She stabs a finger out at me and shouts, throws up her hands and storms past me into the night. Is she angry because Bosikuru wants to do magic with a white man? Bosikuru saunters out into the night and we return to his house and sit down. He begins mixing his betel nut.

Moira was clear in the moonlight but I could not see any dark cloud.

"What did the medium say?" I prompt.

"Before, she talk to ancestors. After, she go to look at your boat. She see dark cloud follow boat." he looks meaningfully at me and narrows his eyes. He whispers, "Fadahrae!" and stuffs a big wad of betel nut, lime and mustard leaves into his mouth.

"Fadahrae?" I whisper.

"Poison!" He mumbles around the mass of red slime. Poison in pidgin English means sorcery or evil spell. "Medium say some Chinese do bad work on your boat so bugger up your boat make him drown."

"Chinese?" I ask, flabbergasted.

"Medium say Chinese man do this to your boat." He confirms. I feel a flash of hot and cold at the same time. I have not told anyone here we had the boat built in Taiwan. They think I and the boat are from America. How did they link the Chinese to Moira?

"Do the Chinese do much magic?" I ask. Maybe they blame lots of things on Chinese magic.

"I don't know," Bosikuru shrugs. "I do not hear of Chinese do magic before."

Numb, I return to Moira and tell Freddy what happened. She also thinks it is really weird they should bring the Chinese into this. It is, too. I sit thinking of the typhoon appearing out of nowhere in the South China Sea and of Moira's sistership being clobbered by two typhoons and sunk, just off Japan.

The medallion on this man's head is the rock-smoothed end of a huge cone shell with an intricately carved turtle shell overlay glued on.

Bosikuru comes aboard to talk. I turn on the tape recorder.

Bosikuru's deep voice, "My magic has many powers in all the countries of the world. I am not religion. I am pagan but I don't got to....Christians say, 'love one another.' That's true. You go to religion and you say 'Love one another.' Why say love one another? I don't see you love one another.

"But I myself I stay in pagan and I love one another. Also I do for white man as I do for ourselves. I must love and stay good with everyone. I must help you, but....money. Money you must think of money to me. I must give you promise. If you go for 6 months time or one year time where you feel you no got any problem again I win your money. But if you feel not true for you, you return and you take your money back. Promise I told you clear. He the money you use him in this work, that's for six months. If you go through these six months but nothing good for you same problem return. Take your money back. I can't spend money because not for me. Money for magic. You come back and we buy some beer, we have party with money."

A money back guarantee! What more could I ask for? "How much money, Bosikuru?"

"I don't know. Money for magic. Not for me. You understand?"

"Sure. If I don't pay I won't value it and it won't work. About how much? Twenty dollars?"

"Twenty dollars plenty."


Last night I had a strange experience. Just as I was swinging down the companionway, I turned to say something to Freddy. She was in the galley and as I turned towards her, I saw a very old person standing at the wheel. It was just a glimpse from the corner of my eye but the person was really ancient looking - a face filled with loose folds of wrinkled skin. When I did a double-take and gawked the image was gone.

"Hooo, boy! All right! This is more like it." I shouted.

"What?" Freddy pushed me aside to look out into the empty cockpit.

This morning I hurry ashore to tell Bosikuru. It gets a satisfying response. "Aheeeee!" Bosikuru cries. "Medium tell me you see this. Woman. You see Devil Woman cry the wind bring big sea and sink your boat. Very lucky you see this. Now you see Devil Woman she ready for run away. Now we can do this work."

The witch doctor intercepts me at the wharf, as I cast off to tell Freddy the good news. He hands me the kitten. I go out and get the three sticks of tobacco, give Freddy the furry little monster, and return to pay off the Doc.

Freddy is playing with the kitten. It is about a month old and full of it. We talk about names for the cat. He's lean and mean and strange. So we name him Dr. Walter A Starck III.

Bosikuru dusts magic powder inside Moira to worry the devil devil. I wonder if it is a local adaptation of the World War II practice of using DDT powder to get rid of head lice.

I hear him. He is there on the stern. I check my watch, almost midnight. I look outside and in the quarter moon I see his blonde-gray hair like an aura around his jet black face. His wife climbs aboard after him as I go out on deck. He holds up a finger - shhhh, quiet. He has a bottle of magic sea water he has blessed and a tin of some kind of powder. "I paddle canoe out five miles this morning to get pure water," Bosikuru whispers. "Water from island no good for magic. Women wash in it. Children shit in it. This water pure. I pray over it all day."

His wife begins to chant softly and moves slowly forward. Bosikuru takes the powder and the water and heads below. Freddy looks at the sea water and powder and frowns.

"No worry," Bosikuru grins, "I just make very little, no make mess." He goes forward and begins to talk quietly. He dips his fingers into the powder and, holding them to his lips he puffs the powder into the air in every direction, rhythmically chanting between puffs. Puff Puff Mumble Mumble Puff Puff. He moves aft through the Moira. He starts again in the bow, this time dipping his fingers into the sea water. Freddy really gives him a look and he smiles and shakes off the excess sea water into the bottle and puffs more lightly.

His chanting gets louder and louder and he rushes at the ladder of the companionway. Walter the Cat puffs up like a little fur ball, his tail is beautiful. He arches his tiny back and spits and hisses in perfect cat-style. Bosikuru acts as if he is pushing someone up the ladder. His wife suddenly begins to cry out and clap her hands. Bosikuru darts out on deck chasing the evil spirit away into the night. He fills a cup with the sea water and rushes towards the starboard rail and flings the water into the night. His wife shouts and claps her hands loudly as the water flares into the moonlight. He fills the cup again and races around the boat, throwing the sacred sea water to all compass points.

Finally the damned spirit gets off the Moira.

Quickly, urgently, they scramble into their skiff and he lights a bundle of weeds with a match. The smoldering leaves and herbs send a wet, sweet smoke over me. His wife paddles around Moira while Bosikuru thrashes the smoking torch around at all the compass points. Both of them alternately mumble and shout.

He climbs back aboard, acting as if he is exhausted by the ordeal. He reaches into his pocket and hands me a coin. A 1948 sixpence. Very formally and in a voice loud enough to be heard in the village he proclaims, "I keep this boat from winds and cyclone. That's why I give you this sixpence. You put him so face on coin look over sea. Maybe on top of mast. He keep watch, no you can see big sea come and take your boat. Never mind you go in big ocean. Wind must come for you wherever you go but he must come from side or maybe behind where you can sail OK. It can't come in front of boat.

"I give you spirit man he stay with you. Christian name Daniel. He paid for by sixpence. He must help you follow all your programs. When you want to go, you first throw little bit of whisky or drink to give Daniel. You talk to him and say 'I'm going to go this way now.' He make wind right for you."

And that's that.

We sit for awhile in the cockpit. Bosikuru says, in an awed voice, "This sixpence very strange. Before I save all sixpence when new Solomon money come. New money have Queen. Women no good for magic. Old money have King. Very good for magic. But big storm he come wash away house. Everything go. Sac of coins all go. Today I pray over water in my house I see this coin in corner. In dirt. One from the storm still hide inside. I never see this before. I believe this coin true magic for you."

I give Bosikuru $20 and throw in the same gold wristwatch I once offered to the immigration man in the Philippines. He's really pleased with it. Freddy gives his wife some cloth, rice, sugar and other stuff. Two happy people leave two happy people.


A dome of rain hovers over the Moira, held at bay by sorcery.

We are ready to go. Bosikuru must give some money to two old priests at another village and I offer to give him a ride over to the village. He wants to leave at 9 AM but it is pouring rain and it is already 0830. I motor ashore and ask Bosikuru if he still wants to go.

"Nine O'clock, rain finish," He is confident, standing there in the pouring rain. It looks to me like it will rain all day, the sky is grayblack and the wind blows hard out of the northeast. I return to Moira and Freddy and I have a good laugh as she brews some more coffee. We settle down with our books for a long rainy morning.

At 0900 - on the dot - the heavy downpour stops. Freddy and I put down our books and look at each other. Bosikuru arrives with his wife and we tie their canoe astern. I look at the sky and can feel and smell the rain in the air. I winch up the anchor chain. Click, clack, click, clack. I hate the dammed thing. We are in a hundred feet of water and it is murder pumping up the anchor. Click, clack. As soon as the anchor is aboard I'm sure the rain will come sheeting down and I'll have to drop it again. I can feel the rain up there, just waiting. Click, clack, click, clack. The anchor stowed, I look up at the dome of gray rain poised over our heads. But the rain holds off. We motor to a village named Bubalu and three more people come alongside in a 30 foot long dugout. This gets tied astern next to Bosikuru's canoe.

A woman, fat as a jelly-fish, jiggles up the ladder like some ghastly monster from the lagoon. She smiles a betel nut red stained smile. Both her front teeth have been knocked out. She's really deformed, her swollen, sagging tits reach to her knee caps and her face is grotesque and her body hunched. One leg is visibly shorter than the other. Her little boy (!) has snot streaming from his nose and her husband holds him under one arm like a sac as we get underway down the lagoon for Buma.

"By God! That's the ugliest human being I've ever seen," I whisper to Freddy. She laughs. If the woman had been beautiful Freddy would have growled. I resume wondering why it is not raining on us when I can see the rain about a quarter mile away in every direction, including straight up.

In Buma, we tie up to the wharf at the Catholic mission boatyard and sawmill. Everyone hurries off into the weird hollow wet afternoon. Thirty minutes later the rain thunders down. It pours until sundown. Freddy fills the water tanks from our awning.

Our rain catcher gutters water into our tanks. A good downpour can fill our 150 gallon fresh water tanks in about twenty minutes.

A young priest named Father Kerry comes aboard at dusk. He's an anthropologist and has been studying magic in the Solomons. He tells us funny stories about cargo cults in the highlands of these islands. One, on the mountain behind the mission, has the village fenced in with a stockade with guards posted at the gates to simulate a military compound. They have a generator made of pots and pans and old gears. Vines are electric lines to carry spiritual energy throughout the village. The priest puts on a set of coconut headphones to communicate with the spirits.

"I did my doctoral dissertation on magic rites of the Guadalcanal highlands." Father Kerry tells us. In a moment, sadly, he says. "But it will never be used or published."

"How come?" I ask.

He hesitates and, reluctantly at first, tells us, "The islanders believe there is an evil forest spirit called the Veliveli bird. If a sorcerer puts a spell on someone this bird will appear to the doomed man and point a stick at him. Once the bird has pointed at someone, that person will die. There is only one way to escape. The victim must make an offering to the offended spirit or sorcerer. If the offering is taken, the doomed man recovers. If not, he dies in about three days.

"I had a young man as a guide when I traveled in the highlands. One day he came to me and said he must return to his village. He promised to come back in a few days and then left. After a week I became concerned so I followed him to his village. When I arrived I discovered he was in his house, in bed. He didn't look very good at all. I asked him what was wrong and he told me the veliveli bird appeared in the forest and pointed at him. The evil spirit was offended because the boy had revealed magic secrets to me. My young friend said he was dying.

"Well, I was amazed. He had gone to high school in Honiara and was a very smart young man. I had been talking with him about superstitions and magic for more than a month and was certain he realized how ridiculous he was being. So I sat by him and talked with him. He had an offering to the spirits over his bed some shell money. I could have taken it anytime, when he was asleep, but I was determined to show him the magic was all in his head and that faith in God would save him. To take the offering would support his magic beliefs.

"So I sat there and .... and ... he died." Father Kerry looks at his hands." He simply... died..."

"I could never publish that. Everyone knew about it, of course. But if I published it, the manuscript would be in the National Library here and... well, it would not do to have a Catholic Priest validate a death by ritual magic. I just quit. Went back to Honiara and wound up here."

"But what about your Ph.D.?" I ask. "What about all that work you did?" He does not reply. A few minutes later he sighs, gets up, bids us a good night and goes ashore.

We are getting ready to go to bed when Bosikuru turns up with his son. "It is time to put the sixpence on top of the mast. My son will pull you up."

I get out the Bos'n's chair and Bosikuru's boy winches me up the mast. On top of the mast I look out over the moonlit lagoon and down at the boat. The yellow awning glows with the lamp light, the deck gleams snowy white in the moonlight. I epoxy the sixpence on top of the mast with the head side up, as instructed "So he can see all around." I call, "OK," and Freddy lowers me down.

"Remember," Bosikuru prepares to go, "Give Daniel a little drink. You say, 'Daniel, today I go to Ari Ari Lagoon. You must see the wind come from northeast or northwest or southwest but he can not come from in front of boat."'

He goes forward and gives Daniel some last minute instructions, head bowed forward, his deep voice just barely reaching us standing on the stern by the gang-plank.

I feel really good about all this, so before sacking out I give Daniel a shot of Cointreau. "You're on tomorrow, chum," I chuckle, feeling a little embarrassed standing on the stern deck in the middle of the night, talking to myself.

Rainbow over the Moira.

I cast off and we head out through the pass into the smooth, deep blue tropical sea. Freddy swings Moira's helm southeast and we motor along having breakfast. It is dead calm. "Come on Daniel, do your stuff," I say to the rigging. I toss some tea to Daniel and add some scrambled eggs and sausage for good measure. As an afterthought I tear off a piece of toast and cover it with apricot jam. "Daniel," I say in a conspiratorial tone, a little chuckle in my voice, "we are heading southeast and need a fair sailing wind from the northeast....or maybe the east." Actually, it looks like rain. In fact it looks like it is going to be a rotten day. Two minutes pass.

"Hey!" I shout, "Freddy, here comes the wind, I can see ripples ahead." We happily hoist the sails as the wind dances in little gusts around us.

By 1000 hours we are in a screaming howling storm. Short, steep waves crash over the bow from the 30 knot headwind. It pours like the sky has burst and we are drenched to the bone. All day we beat hard into it, the wind right on the nose, blasting directly up the coast like some laughing, malevolent devil.

Having conferred with the three foremost Solomon Sayers, it was time to get to work on some serious scientific magic.


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