An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
PEACE and quiet hang over the closely spaced bush material houses in the Melanesian village. The coconut trees stand sentinel, moving slightly each time the breeze touches their fronds.
It is Sunday morning in Pisamoni village. Population, around 300. The village prides itself on its size in that part of the world. It has enough people to host whatever government service trickles down.
The villagers have their own village slogan: “Back page but not the least.”
The village owns the only PMV in this part of the world. The truck was blessed by the pastor and duly christened “Back Page”.
The village artist inscribed the name “Back Page” at the front of the truck and, at the back, “…But Not The Least”. The PMV provides an essential service to the village and the other villages and hamlets around it.
It carries cocoa bags, goods for the village store, animals, building materials, even corpses for burial.
At the centre of the village, there is a square for meetings and gatherings.
When the councillor beats the garamut, everyone turns up, even the village animals.
The houses are built on each side of the square allowing enough space for the square and the main walkway that connects one end of the village to the other.
In Pisamoni, sons who get married build their houses next to their parents. Daughters leave home to live with their husbands and in-laws.
So almost everyone in Pisamoni is related one way or another by birth or marriage. When there is conflict, everyone is involved. It means conflict is sorted out almost before it starts.
If there is domestic violence - be it beating, slapping or swearing - the perpetrator, usually a man, has to put down some money as soon as possible to give to his wife’s uncles.
If two youths are not on good terms, their families draw a line on the village square and tell them to square off man to man, bare fisted.
There is no umpire. The fight stops only when one is left standing or when both run out of breath and can fight no more. After the fight, peace and good terms are restored. Bad feelings disappear.
In Pisamoni, church is an integral part of community life. The first Christian missionaries settled here and converted the people’s warrior grandparents into gentle, peace loving folk.
The missionaries also got the people to destroy their warrior beliefs, weapons, magic and symbols. The young generation now growing up has no idea that, in the past, their people were fierce warriors.
The missionaries started the first local church and spread the good news to surrounding villages.
Pisamoni church is located nearby. The pastor lived alongside. A local man was assisted by the villagers and a generous missionary, who now lives in his home country, to attend Bible School for four years.
The pastor’s sermons on Sundays are sometimes described as direct and confrontational. His favourite phrase when people ask him why he has to be so bold in his Sunday preaching is: “Mi tromoi ston go antap. Hau ston kam daun em yu yet nau. Sapos yu pilim lo bun or yu no pilim lo bun, em yu yet skelim tingting.”
“I throw a stone in the air. How it comes down is up to you. If you feel it in your bones or not depends on you.”
The pastor truly has his own philosophy.
The village community school is at the back of the church. There are four teachers who rotate themselves teaching the six grades. The headmistress is a local woman.
She spent most of career teaching in town and, when she realised retirement age was approaching, she decided to return and end her career leisurely in the village.
She has only one eye. The other was removed when she was a little girl in the village.
Her mother told her to scrape the burned part of the roasted taro for her father. She decided to break a beer bottle and use the jagged piece to scrape the taro. Unfortunately, a very tiny sliver flew from the smashed bottle and entered her left eye rendering it useless. So it was removed.
The children who start school for the first time are scared of her because she has only one eye. She likes it that way because it maintains discipline.
Her favourite phrase during assemblies is: “I have only one eye but my other eye is watching your every move so don’t try to humbug in my school.”
The aid post is on the other side of the village. There was a new orderly who helped the people greatly but his father died. He left and has not returned.
The village cemetery is located close to the main road. People returning from town after dark swear they have encountered mysterious shadows along the road and heard eerie sounds.
Most people won’t admit it but, when it is dark, late travellers sprint towards the village to avoid being too long near the cemetery.
The school’s playing field also serves as the main recreation area. Every afternoon, the village youths and others who are interested usually play a game of soccer.
It is Sunday in Pisamoni village.
You can hear the singing coming from the direction of the church. Raised human voices accompanied by guitars.
A few chickens move about, endlessly scratching the earth for some unsuspecting bug or worm that might find itself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Dogs slump lazily on the verandas of the houses, pigs tied to posts grunt and forage or follow the lead of the dogs and sleep in a hole.
You don’t hear much movement, some opening and closing of doors, a grumble, a cough, one or two deep snores.
It is just another Sunday in Pisamoni, the big village.