Peace Corps Volunteers David and Laurie Bond arrived on Nissan in January 1993, landing on the air strip the 93rd Seabees had constructed 50 years before.  They had been assigned to teach at the High School.  Due to the civil strife in the area, students from many surrounding islands sought refuge as well as education there.  The Bonds were forced to leave in September 1994 after the Rabaul volcano cut off supplies to the Island.  Some of their experiences follow.

Letters Oct. 15, 16, 31, Nov. 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, Dec. 4, 9, 18(aka 17) , 2003 

10/15/03

Milton, I just glanced through your outline and thought I would offer a few comments. A Stephen Nachmann at Edinboro University in PA spent a good part of 1971 on Nissan. He wrote a thesis about funeral rites and made a huge list of observations regarding local weather and flora. He listed something like 371 species of plants

John and Ariana Glennon are SIL missionaries (Bible translators) who have a house in Balil. They have been on and off Nissan since the mid 1980s. They usually go two or three times per year, staying about eight weeks. They also have a house in Ukurumpa, EHP

I have believed human habitation of the Green Islands to be only 3000 years. There is a stone monolith at Siar, near Balail, decorated with carvings that could be dated. It was brought to the island, as there is no stone on an atoll. The first copra plantations were begun by representatives of Queen Emma. The first attempts, in the early 20th century were failures. A Catholic mission and plantation effort was tried again in the late 1930ís. I found evidence of this while snorkeling in the lagoon near Lihon. I found a horseís skull and wagon wheels lying in 20 feet of water.

Regular air and sea services began in 1976, using the airstrips made by the 93rd. These services included rice and quinine, which resulted in creating a population explosion. When I arrived in Jan. 1993 the population had increased from 2000 to 5000. The pressure on the local flora and fauna was getting critical back then. Every family made a garden, an exercise I also attempted. They were not fishing with bombs or nets, so the reefs in the lagoon and on the outside were pristine.

We had a small boat and an operational truck at school which enabled me to get all over Nissan, Barahun, and Han. In our second year I commissioned a canoe and traveled at will. All the teachers at school were from PNG and one I worked with closely was from Siar Village on Nissan. Most of the others were from Bougainville and Buka and had been chased from their homes by the war. About half of our students had been directly involved in the conflict. Some had been child soldiers, some victims, some both. We got an earful.

We met Sam and Pat Frankel during their visit in 1994. They just stayed for a day, but we gave them the best tour we could. When they got back to the USA they phoned my dad and my wifeís mum and told them they saw us and we were ok. I still get choked up thinking about how thoughtful that was. They send us Christmas cards and gifts for our kids. The Frankels are heroes.

10/16/03

Our house must have been very close to your fatherís tent site. Hon was one of our favorite places to go on weekends. It is about 2/3 of an acre of jungle surrounded by coral reef. The Nehan (Native term for Nissan) people rarely set foot on it because it was haunted. Once a man from Tongol asked why we werenít afraid to go there and we explained that the spirits left us alone because we grew up watching television.

Father Duffy is quite a character. He is mentioned in your outline as heading the Catholic Mission at Tungol. He lived in the bush for a couple of years at the start of the Crisis and helped operate an anti-government radio station. He used to poke fun at my wife and his sense of humor is so obtuse she wouldnít get it until days later. The Marists moved him to Fiji in 1993, that was the last we saw of him

 10/25/04

I tried to teach kids on Nissan how to play softball. I was umping one afternoon and this guy named Elias Buttaria from Buin, who was about 24, hit a home run that left the field and went way back in the jungle. The ball went about 400 feet. Most of the players ran into the bush to hunt for the ball and I noticed that Elias was standing on first base. I walked up the line and told him it would be ok to round the bases. He said,"Mr Bond if I can hit the ball that far I'll stop anywhere I please." I said ok then and went and stood behind the plate.

Once, when I was umping a girl's game it started to rain torrentially. I called the game. They just stared at me. I called it again. Why do we have to stop? It's raining. But why do we have to stop? We can't play ball in the rain. Why not, we do everything else in the rain. The next pitch skipped off the coral a few feet in front of the plate and
hit my knee. The next one hit me in the eye. That girl threw hard. When we left I gave my Cardinals cap to Wilfred Lessi. We both cried. Haven't bought another.
 

10/31/03

Commerce began in 1976 when semi-regular visits from the provincial ship began. The rice and chloroquine probably caused the population to double. Our school, Nissan High, was built in Ď92 and really began generating some business. Village women began to cluster at the periphery of campus to sell oranges, coconuts, pamalos and betel nut.

People did not traditionally do much trading. Every family had a garden, taken care of by the women. Men would go spearfishing and gather food at the beaches. Everyone had most of their needs met and there wasnít any money until after the Crisis.

Laurie and I arrived by plane in January of Ď93 to prepare for the new school year, set to begin the first of Feb. We were pretty anxious as we had never taught before. The heat was withering. The school buildings were all battleship gray and gave the place the appearance of a penal colony.

We knew we would be getting a house but we brought as much with us as possible. We shopped for three days in Rabaul to get pots and pans, dishes and food. We bought canned and dried goods, what we could carry. Our house was beautiful, but had no furniture whatsoever. We found a table the Aussie construction had made from scraps.

There was practically nothing to buy on the island and very little to cook on our primus. After six weeks, the home ec teacher, Mrs. Kempo, gave us a two-burner kerosene stove. I had already lost about twenty pounds. School had a phone for a short time, so my wife called the PC office in Moresby and asked them to send food, or a fridge, or a glimmer of hope. Our fearless leader thought the romantic atmosphere of our site should cancel out the starvation factor. My wife screamed at him, "Weíre too hungry to do it, moron!" We wrote home of our plight. My dad sent me a fly rod. I tried a few times and caught nothing. The kids at school were tickled by my weird angling sense and made fun of me ceaselessly.

After Rabaul was destroyed we were really cut off. My neighbor, Wilfred, and I bought the last 20 liters of petrol and took the school boat, a 14 foot fiberglass jon boat with a 35 hp yamaha, out to sea. He drove the boat and I used a 90 lb. test line and a big red lure. We caught two trevallys at Barahun Passage and headed out to the blue sea.

We trolled for about an hour and then a fish hit. Wilfred stalled the motor and I stood and hauled line. I went as fast as I could, because we didnít want to lose our catch to a shark. When it got close, I pulled with all my might. It sailed over my head as I fell. The 6 foot barracuda was nose to nose with me, both of us thrashing frantically. Wilfred smacked it on the head with the wooden spool and removed the lure. He was beaming. I was wondering if I had just soiled myself. We started up again and immediately hooked another fish. This time it was something that looked like a pike, long and thin, mainly mouth. I calmly whacked it and reached for the lure. It snapped out of its stupor long enough to reach over and bite my finger. The teeth were so sharp I felt nothing, but blood, in alarming quantity, was soon streaming down my arm. I wrapped my finger in my shirt and Wilfred struggled to re-start the motor. The swells were about eight feet and were pushing us to the beach rapidly. The waves would have ground us to a pulp on the sharp coral. At the last second the motor caught and we were able to avoid an ugly death.

We returned to school as heroes. Kids surrounded us at the beach and followed us back to the houses. We cooked them in the oven we built from a 200 L drum.

11/3/03

The north end of the airstrip ends within feet of the lagoon. However, about a mile farther north is the mission at Sigon. Some whiteskins arrived in the 1930s and tried to manufacture bricks from the coral. They built a church overlooking the lagoon from this material. There are now several other frame and hut buildings at that site. There is a community, or village school there, as well as a weekend market. This is pretty close to where the PT boat base was on Sirot Island.

The high school usually houses about 500 students. They are from 7th to 10th grade and the ages vary from 14 to 24 years. About half the students are from Nissan and Pinepel, the others from Cartarets, Tasman, Fead, Bougainville, Buka, and Mortlocks.

Several attempts have been made to re-establish schools on Buka and Bougainville, but the continual unrest and lawlessness of the province have destroyed them.

I taught science and English classes and became the first school nurse. My wife taught math and English and became the first librarian. We had to supervise meals, sports, homework.....we worked continually. But after school, we would snorkel nearly everyday.

11/5/03

There were cardinal lorries, but I believe they were introduced.

Quite a few men from Nissan worked at the copper mine on Bougainville before the crisis. They brought their pets home with them when the mine closed. Our neighbors, Rita and Wilfred Lesi, had three they brought from their village on Buka. They were really smart little birds. Used to play all the time. I have a photo of them wrestling on my head. I was given a brown-footed boobie chick as a pet. Some people call them goony birds. It was the coolest animal I have ever known. After a year, a 5 year old boy hit him with a rock and killed him. It liked to break my heart.

Our Peace Corps training was conducted in Garoka, in the highlands. It was all school system, language and culture, lasting three months. Stayed in a highlands village for a week in very primitive conditions.

Improvements to the school could mean anything. The weather and jungle want to reclaim all our efforts very quickly. Quite a bit of wear and tear was inflicted during our two years.

You know, our first year was a little hard. But the second year saw the arrival of a refrigerator, propane stove, and furniture. Commerce began to take hold. I started having fantasies of staying there. But in September 1994, Rabaul disappeared under a blanket of volcanic dust. No more mail, food, R and R, etc. Once we saw the end, we started getting anxious to ship out.

We ended up in New Mexico going to graduate school and teaching Navajo students. Weíve been living in the Missouri Ozarks for the last six years, still teaching together. Itís fly fishing paradise.

11/6/03

The additional buildings must be a response to surging enrollment which can only mean some other schools in the North Solomons have closed. I heard that Hutjena High School was burned by angry students. Itís not an uncommon practice.

We came dangerously close to having a riot. One of the boys was poked in the forehead with an umbrella by the Ag teacher. The outrage was fanned by the self-proclaimed king of the boys, Elias Buttaria. Elias was in his mid-twenties and had lived in the bush as a soldier for four years. He had occasionally eaten people and drank human blood. He was an extraordinary athlete. The Headmaster negotiated a settlement with him and he left school.

The boys were getting out of control. They took all the laundry buckets from the girls and used them to brew jungle juice. They invaded the girlsí dorms. They smoked. They got ugly.

The Headmaster went to Tanamalit and hired the Sirak the Sorcerer. Sirak had a brother and the two of them were the only remaining hybrid offspring of the Giants that had once visited Nissan. Sirakís power was so immense that a person could not walk behind him without falling over dead. We had been wanting to meet this guy. He and his apprentices arrived unannounced during second period. While Sirak reclined in the shade outside the Administration building, his crew dipped leaves in a bucket of water and flapped them here and there. I walked out of our office and my wife pointed out Sirak. We walked up to introduce ourselves. He was friendly enough, but perhaps, the scariest looking dude Iíve ever seen. People claim he is better than 300 years old. I said hey and took off. Back in the classroom, the kids would not look up or make a peep all day. Misbehavior over. Demons exorcised.

All goods, propane, kero, rice, etc. would come on the provincial ship, MV Sankamap. It would show up three or four times per year. It would have our groceries. It would be such a deal. It greatly improved life for the atolls folk. It ceased operations a few years ago.

The only animals we got to butcher were fish. Pigs are money. Boys at school led me to a small fire in the woods one Saturday and offered to share the flying fox roasting upon it. I declined. Only food I ever refused. I can still smell it

11/7/03

The Big Man thing is pervasive throughout Melanesian cultures. It is a great obstacle to Western styles of organization and bureaucracy. The first Headmaster at Nissan High School, Greg Puaria, was a perfect example. He was from Tasman Atoll, really far out to sea, and had traveled throughout the South Pacific as part of a dance troupe while he was in college. He was not the most traditional of fellers.

Our new school, built at the fringe of the combat zone, got some international attention. New Zealand and Australia sent thousands of dollars in cash and materials. PNG sent thousands of dollars of support. Mr. Puaria embezzled like a fiend. He took money sent to the school and bought boats and fishing gear and sent those to his wantoks on Tasman. By the end of the first term the entire staff was acting outraged. He was caught red-handed stealing a check for 36,000 kina. We couldnít understand why he wasnít arrested. But in the end he wasnít even fired. He got transferred to Hutjena High School on Buka. He acted the Big Man role and everyone reluctantly went along.

Wantoks are people who speak your language, or are relatives, or are from your asples, or neighborhood. You are obligated to support them. That obligation exceeds duty to oneís country or any personal ambitions. The upside is that everyone is cared for. The downside is it is impossible to deliver services to the country.

Several schools are run by Aussies. Most ministerial positions are occupied by Aussies. It means some things, like airlines, run. It keeps that stench of colonialism in the air. There were several wantok groups at school. Nehans, Bukas, Bougainvillians, Cartarets, Nigurians, Pinepels, Mortlocks and Tasmans. Since some of the kids were young and had never been away from home, each teacher was encouraged to look after their wantoks. We didnít have anyone, and neither did the Carterets, so we hooked up. They were, even by Missouri standards, inbred. Inbred to the point of having weird numbers of toes and all bearing an uncanny resemblance to one another. When we went to villages it wasnít the Big Man we had to watch out for, but rather the Boyís House.

11/11/03

Sirak was typical of a Nissan man.....about 5í8", very thin...eyes clouded by blue-white cataracts. We met only two senior citizens while we were there. Chronic malaria lowers the life span considerably. I would estimate Sirakís age to be early eighties. We had lunch with the Glennons at their house in Balil with a man claiming to be 81. I asked about the Japanese occupation and he said it was awful. They stole everyoneís food and murdered at will. But he also said the relocation of Nehans to Guadalcanal was equally bad. When someone dies a small memento is stuck into the coral of a cave, near East Point. This is necessary for a personís spirit to reach the next dimension. If a Nehan dies off the island they feel they are cosmically screwed. Many of the WW II relocatees did not return home.

I would have chatted with Sirak about such matters if I hadnít been afraid of him. The dock is at Lihon, about Ĺ miles from school and the airstrip. Lihon is a long, thin village between the lagoon and a low swampy jungle full of mossies. Elias was from Waukunai, on the northeast coast of Bougainville, between Tinputz and Buka Passage. There was a lot of fighting there once upon a time. The Crisis began at Panguna, the mine site, but rapidly spread to Buin and Arawa. In 1989 a treaty was written that was expected to end the violence and result in autonomy for the N. Solomons. But the author, John Bika, was murdered in his home on the eve of the signing. The conflict became gang warfare after that. Johnís daughter, Janet, was in one of my eighth grade science classes.

12/9/03

Villages traditionally war on one another, but that has nothing to do with the general state of lawlessness. There is no social structure that translates into modern institutions. They have an entirely different system of morals and spirituality, that went for ten thousand years uninfluenced by other peoples. Modern nations and the UN cannot go there and create a modern society out of thin air. They have cobbled together completely disparate groups of people, which is why the North Solomons struggles for its independence. PNG is a political Frankensteinís Monster sewn from colonial spare parts, frightening, curious, doomed. Same story in the Solomons. PNG is the Wild West. It has its tragic stories, true enough, but it is the closest thing to time travel.

12/18/03

There was no marina for boat repairs. The only motorized craft was the school boat - 14 ft fiberglass dinghy with a 30 hp yamaha motor. We used it to transport students primarily, on those occasions when we had to close school. Lots of families, including me had canoes. Mr. Soli, one of my fellow science teachers, had an uncle in his village, Siar, that offered to cut a tree and carve it for 50 kina. I painted it cardinal red. I loved that boat. I wish I could have gotten one of the paddles home, but the maximum length to mail is 1 meter.

There were some interesting reefs inside the lagoon I was able to get to with my canoe. The reefs on the outside of the atoll were really brilliant, but nearly impossible to access because of the sharp coral and rough surf.

I snorkeled at Yotchibol a few times, which is the passage into the lagoon. They were very tentative swims though as I feared being eaten by sharks. On Easter Sunday of 1993 we were snorkeling in the lagoon near Lihon. I was following a school of fusiliers about 100 meters from shore. I looked up and saw shark right in front of me. I saw my reflection in its eye. I thought it was big enough to swallow me in one bite. I stopped and remained motionless for a moment. I began easing backwards trying not to draw attention to myself. I was then overcome with panic. I rolled over, pointed myself in the direction of my wife, and kicked for all I was worth. I reached her and tried to describe what I had scene without having the presence of mind to remove my snorkel. She eventually understood and we got out of the water. I shook like leaf all the way back to the house. Sharks would hang out at the passage but it was rare for them to cruise the lagoon. Must have been an especially high tide that day, or maybe it followed a school of fish in.

Nissan was pretty un-motorized. We had a flatbed Daihatsu truck at school. The Chinese Guy at Balil had a truck for carrying bales of copra, and the Titus family in Tanamalit had an old green Toyota truck. The Health Clinic had an ambulance. That was it. Couldnít really support any more than that , no fuel. Everybody did a lot of walking.

People in the villages would typically get married when they were in their early to mid twenties. The feller would have make bride price before the lady's family would relinquish her. Sometimes bride price would take years to gather. Some families would accept an installment plan. Iíve often wondered how many pigs my wife would have been worth...........probably sixty.

12/19/03

The Donald (Trump) would not be interested in a princess if he lived in the North Solomons. He would want a gardening, child rearing, cooking, laundress that would allow him to sit endlessly in the shade chewing betel nut and betting on volleyball games. 

I saw a pig roundup at Lihon, the village where the MV Sankamap docked. Pigs run wild. The owners notch their ears to keep them straight. When they need to gather them for a wedding or a funeral they make a net from coconut fiber ropes and vines, like a tennis net. The strongest dudes take the net and boys run through the jungle driving the piggies ahead of them. Itís dangerous work as pigs commonly bite people. The captured livestock are kept in a bamboo cage until slaughter. They are eaten at one time. So if a feast involves 30 pigs they mumu the whole lot and eat for days till itís gone. Feast or famine.

10/25/04

I tried to teach kids on Nissan how to play softball. I was umping one afternoon and this guy named Elias Buttaria from Buin, who was about 24, hit a home run that left the field and went way back in the jungle. The ball went about 400 feet. Most of the players ran into the bush to hunt for the ball and I noticed that Elias was standing on first base. I walked up the line and told him it would be ok to round the bases. He said,"Mr Bond if I can hit the ball that far I'll stop anywhere I please." I said ok then and went and stood behind the plate.

Once, when I was umping a girls' game it started to rain torrentially. I called the game. They just stared at me. I called it again. Why do we have to stop? It's raining. But why do we have to stop? We can't play ball in the rain. Why not, we do everything else in the rain. The next pitch skipped off the coral a few feet in front of the plate and hit my knee. The next one hit me in the eye. That girl threw hard.

When we left I gave my Cardinals cap to Wilfred Lessi. We both cried. Haven't bought another.