The Langalanga People: "Natives" of the Man-made islands of the Solomons

by on Friday, 26 April 2013 Comments

Canoes and boats are gathered at the wharf and on the shore. Several delegations have made the journey on boats reconstructed from past designs and techniques, be they aboriginal or dating from the early European navigators, thus testifying to the revival of seafaring throughout the Pacific. Such revival speaks of a quest for identity, a mix of modern sporting, and adventurous spirit with a fascination for a natural lifestyle and traditions, of a thirst for collective endeavors bathed within the "feel' and the "beat" of the ocean. Several ships offer the participants a short cruise along the shore. On the deck of the "Pacific Voyager" I dream of longer journeys under a sky of endless blue...

tomokoSeafaring was intense among the various islands of the Solomon archipelago. Flying away from headhunters some groups navigated along the coast till they encountered a safe haven, at short distance of which they built artificial islands offering a safe refuge, or else they migrated to adjacent islands. People also paddled to places where they could dive for shells, trade shell money and make marriage alliances. Canoes of various sizes were used according to the length and the purpose of the trip. Boatbuilding is active in the Malaita Island. It is one of the main activities of the Langalanga people, whose lagoon we visit once we arrive in Malaita – after a three-to-four-hour boat ride from Honiara.

Langalanga people are known for being mobile and industrious. A missionary has recorded the testimony of an old man: "We Langalanga people are perched like birds on branches. We have no land of our own, except our hand-made isles. We take off to do our fishing, to go to the gardens or markets on the mainland, to barter and to find bride price for marriage. Then we fly back to our nesting branch, and perch there till the next need arises."

langalanga lagoon ceriseThe lagoon itself lies in dreamy silence, its water as clear as the sky, lush forests pressed against the sea. Still, the artificial islands on which people live - the oldest supposed to be built fifteen generations ago – remind us that the landscape is man-made after all, and is loaded with history: the lagoon was first populated by castaways and refugees who were trying to protect themselves against invasions. In Busu village where we stay, eleven different lineages, from different geographical origins, are still accounted for, this for a population of around 500 people.

 

 


lilisiana groupIn Lilisiana village, Malaita Island

Photos by Cerise Phiv

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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