You Can Go Back
Diana was at first discouraged because she couldn't find any traditional weavings in the town. But we eventually tracked rumors to a small village two miles north of Lata. There the brothers David and Paul Meplu, apparently the last of a long line of skilled artisans, still plied their ancient trade.
A large crowd assembled in the Meplu home to see the curious dim-dims, the pidgin term for white people. Paul assembled his back-strap loom and patiently explained to Diana the entire process of stripping a particular banana fiber, then drying, curing, cutting, and weaving it. She photographed the Meplus at length, discussing with them every step and technical detail of the process.
They were so flattered by her keen interest that they tried to give her two baskets, representing at least two weeks of toil and a substantial financial loss. So as not to offend them, we struck a deal-accepting one and purchasing the other. The next day, we showered them with gifts when they brought their lovely families to Roger Henry for a visit.
The word "extinction" conjures up images of the woolly mammoth, gray whale, and dodo. But the tragic litany of loss also includes cultures, languages, and artistic expression. Fortunately, gems such as the Meplu brothers live on.
In the Swallows
It was now time to turn the bow toward my area of interest-the Swallow Islands. Father Nathanial, the Anglican priest at the vocational school in Lata, paddled out to our boat with a warning that echoed the one in the pilot book. Even though he was a Swallow Islander himself, he pleaded, "Please be careful there. Always stay alert." To accentuate his point, Father Nathanial dropped to his knees and prayed out loud for our safety.
A predawn departure and a steady breeze allowed us to fetch the Swallows while there was just enough fading light to enter Mohawk Bay. The anchor was no sooner down than canoes raced out to us. I immediately invited everyone aboard. Robert, the first fellow to jump onto the deck, was impressively tall and muscular. His head was shaved from the top of his ears down. The remaining martial topknot gave him a wild look.
Without a shy bone in his body, rangy Douglas followed next. The others then boarded without hesitation. I passed out coffee and cookies and even invited the visitors below for a tour of Roger Henry.
David Lewis-the physician, sailor, and Polynesian scholar best known for We, the Navigators, his book about the traditional systems of navigation used by the Pacific Islanders that helped to inspire a revival of celestial navigation in the South Pacific-spent much time here with the famous star-path navigator, Basil Tavake. He learned that the reef islanders possess exceptional navigational and boatbuilding skills. They are a confident and extroverted people who sail, fish, wage war, and perhaps reallocate personal property with a certain élan. If women anywhere in the world are more beautiful, I haven't yet met them.