Marovo Lagoon between Vanganui and New Georgia of the
western islands is said to be "the largest land-locked lagoon in the world." There
is no sense of largeness within the Lagoon. It is littered with islands and
islets down to the size of a "chocolate drop" all close together
and mostly heavily wooded. The water is always calm, crystal clear and the
color of shifting opals. Nighttime reveals even better than daylight how
alive wit fish it is by the bursts of phosphorescence all through the dark
depths. There are giant clams so heavy they cannot be lifted, down to minute
mollusk forms than can hardly be seen, a world of treasures for the shell
collector. And for the butterfly collector. Only the birds break the mysterious
silence for not even the distant surf of the outer sea can be heard. It is
a spot as near the "South Sea dream" as is to be found in the Solomon
Islands which are not otherwise even picturesque.
The idyllic habitat is reflected in the art of the handsome
people who live on the lagoon islands. Not for them the gigantic weird
forms, luridly painted of, say, the wild feuding primitives of New Guinea.
Here the art is refined: small for the most part, intricate and executed
with infinite patience and ingenuity from materials in the Lagoon. As if
time were forever. The wall of a house made, as it is elsewhere, of palm
and bamboo is here combined in a pleasing design. Large canoes … and even small ones for children … are
shaped like the gondola with tall prow and stern which are layered in patterns
of sliced shell which also run along the gunwales. The belt and neck pendants
of a chief are jewelers' designs of heavy clamshell studded with small mollusk
shells held together with tassled braids of orange stained raffia. Baskets
are as finely woven and intricately patterned as any made by our Indians.
The portrait is of a family. The youth, though he is
not a VIP, wears a chief's headpiece. It is clamshell, slightly saucered,
overlaid with a filigree of tortoise shell. (Large fields of turtles, enormous
in size, abound in the outer seas and are brought in alive for feasts and
for their shell.) The fringed neckpiece has a collar in which dozens of
sliced shell have been woven into the body. Cochineal, "made from the dried bodies of the females
of a certain insect", is the orange dye used for staining the raffia.
That of the yellow band in the fringe is said to be from "butterflies" that
inhabit the tops of tall trees, gathered in small amounts with great difficulty,
and therefore used in sparing amounts only for the most precious decorations.
The small shield is solely for ornament in the dance,
but the "ackis" in
the youth's other hand is a prized family possession and sometimes useful,
though not very. Its handle is native made, the head acquired from some trader
in exchange for coconuts, and it has a blade edge that would not last through
Large ear ornaments are prominent even in everyday life.
The lobes are pierced early and kept from healing closed by the insertion
of a small roll of leave [sic]. This roll is increased in size from time
to time with stiffer leaves to expand the hold until, as an adult, large
rings of shell can be worn. Between festivities when all the "flash" ornaments
are worn, both men and women wear large cylinders of rolled palm leaf in
the ears. The old gentleman has stretched things too far and one of his
lobes hangs in two broken strings of flesh, not an uncommon tragedy.
Morovo Lagoon is the only place in these Coral Sea islands
where a recognizable hat is worn, and it may be a recent fancy. The one
on the father is crownless, the hair drawn up through the headband in the
process of being bleached with lime made from crushed coral rock. The lime
also kills any "walkabouts".
The old gentleman exhibits a "dance stick" he
made which, soth simpler in design than most, is more of an achievement
than it looks. Both it and the ax handle are of a heavy wood so hard that
it can only be scratched by an ordinary pocketknife (in the hands of a
white experimenter). Yet, with Morovo Lagoon patience and forever time,
even life sized figures are carved by such inferior trade tools as the