Volume 73 1964 > Volume 73, No. 2 > Notes on Santa Cruz voyaging, by William Davenport, p 134 - 142
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Lying some 200 nautical miles east of the south-eastern Solomon Islands and north of the Banks and Torres Islands of the New Hebridean chain, the Santa Cruz Islands constitute a small and relatively isolated group exposed on the east, north, and west to great stretches of open ocean. Like other islands of the western Pacific they are in a position to receive canoes drifting westward before the south-east trade winds and the South Equatorial current. Within the Santa Cruz Group there is also a vigorous tradition of inter-island voyaging in connection with the complex system of trade. Frequently, canoes plying Santa Cruz seas are driven out of home waters by unexpected shifts of wind and by gales that often sweep the area during the north-west season (November to May). The hub of the commercial trade is the north coast of the largest and most productive island, Santa Cruz (Nitendi, Ndeni, Nidu, etc.; lat. 10° 45′ S., long. 166° 00′ E.) which lies near the group's centre and the name of which is applied to the entire archipelago. Until the 1930's regular canoe traffic extended southward from Santa Cruz Island to Utupua and Vanikoro Islands some 50 to 60 miles distant. Canoes rarely traverse this course these days, for there are no more commercial incentives for the trips. Regular canoe traffic, however, is still maintained between Santa Cruz Island and the Reef Islands (Swallow or Matema Islands), which lie about 20 to 30 miles to the north, and farther north-eastward another 60 miles to Taumako (Duff Islands). Before the southern branch of Santa Cruz trade ceased, direct voyages across the 95 miles of sea between Taumako and Vanikoro were also regularly undertaken. 1 Present-day - 135 Vanikoroans insist that there was no contact between their island and the Banks and Torres Islands 90 miles to the south, and that they had no knowledge at all of them, until the Melanesian Mission began taking school boys there for training in the early 1900's. Northern Santa Cruz people, however, seem to have been aware of these islands for some time, even though they have no geographical name for them.

Vanikoro has been linked with Tikopia, which lies 125 miles south-eastward, by occasional deliberate voyages by Tikopians. 2 This contact is well documented by Dumont D'Urville in the journal of his visit to Tikopia and Vanikoro in 1828. 3 Stories of Tikopian visits were also recorded on Vanikoro and Utupua by the writer in 1959 and 1960. These data fully substantiate the voyages listed as numbers 201 and 213 in “A Table of Accidental and Deliberate Voyages . . .”, which was published in the Polynesian Society's symposium, Polynesian Navigation. 4 The most recent of these trips seems to have occurred in 1946 or 1947. It was already apparent then that due to land shortages Tikopians would have to be provided with places to emigrate. Utupua has land in abundance and the inhabitants of its two remaining villages were enthusiastic about receiving Tikopian settlers to replenish their still-declining numbers. The District Commissioner of the Eastern District, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, brought a pioneer group of five men and four women to Utupua, and they were given land near Aba (Nimbau on the charts) village. Gradually, however, all the Tikopians came down with severe fevers and all but one left for Tikopia in canoes. The one man who remained married an Utupuan woman and died there in 1955. The returnees arrived home safely: Utupuans met one of them later on a recruiting ship taking Tikopians to the Russell Islands where a colony has been established by the Protectorate Government.

Through regular contact between Tikopia and Vanikoro kava seems to have been introduced to the latter island. It is unknown in the rest of the Santa Cruz Group (or at least it was, until demonstrated by the writer at Taumako in 1960 where the drink was unheard of before, though the plant grows wild and is known as kavakava), but it is made and drunk in the Banks Islands to the south where it is called gea. 5 Vanikoroans call it kava just as do the Tikopians instead of by a term related to the Mota word.

Utupuans insist that Tikopians never came to their islands deliberately as they did to Vanikoro, but there were occasional drift voyages from there. Nevertheless, one of the religious representations of an important Utupuan supernatural is a Tikopian dance paddle.

Contact between the remainder of the Santa Cruz Group and Tikopia was less frequent and only accidental. No stories of drift voyages from Tikopia were heard to substantiate number 92 in “A Table of Accidental and Deliberate Voyages . . .”, 6 but several stories of visits to Tikopia - 136 by Reef Island and Taumakoan canoes were recorded. Most convincing of these was told by Basil Tevaki, a Polynesian speaker from Pileni Island in the Outer Reef Islands but who now lives at Nifiloli in the Main Reef Islands. Tevaki is one of the intrepid Santa Cruz voyagers who has spent a lifetime cruising up and down the group and is the owner of the only full-sized voyaging canoe, of a type called puki 7 made at Taumako, that is still cruising.

About 1940 Tevaki set out from the Main Reef Islands in his puki with cargo and passengers for Taumako. After two nights and a day of fine sailing they were but a mile or two from Tahua, the main settlement at Taumako, when the wind shifted to north-west, and it became impossible to make the island. Cargo and passengers were put into a paddling canoe that was carried on the great puki and sent ashore to Taumako. Tevaki drifted for two days before contrary winds, then decided to put up his sails and head for Tikopia. The next night as they approached Tikopia they were becalmed, and the current drifted them on past the island. Next afternoon the wind came up in the south-west and Tevaki headed for Anuta, but by evening the wind had shifted to the north again. Throughout the night the wind freshened and Tevaki ran before it. Next day he came ashore at one of the Banks Islands and to his surprise found there a Father Basil, the same priest who years before had baptised him and given him his Christian name. After several abortive attempts to sail back to the Santa Cruz Islands, Tevaki abandoned the whole scheme of sailing home and waited in the Banks until the Melanesian Mission yacht Southern Cross called and returned him to Pileni. Tevaki admitted that he did not know exactly where the Banks Islands were before that trip.

Pointing to a Tikopian headrest on the mat of his house, Tevaki commented that it had been brought home by his father many years before when the latter had been blown off course on the run down from Taumako to Vanikoro and barely escaped with his life after a dispute broke out between his crew and the unfriendly Tikopians.

Taumakoan legends contain references to miraculous voyages by supernaturals between there and Hikaiana (Sikaiana) which lies 270 miles north-westward. In the Main Reef Islands, where in contrast to Polynesian dialects that are spoken in the Outer Reef Islands and Taumako, a distinct language that is not yet related to any Malayo-Polynesian speech is used, 8 a myth was also recorded in which a supernatural called Ibe Temā (Old Man of Taumako), but whose Polynesian name was Tangaloa, and his twin brother Te-anga-te-ala came from Luangiua (Ontong Java) which is located nearly 500 miles north-west. No accounts of actual voyages, by humans, accidental or deliberate, to either of these Polynesian atolls were heard, however, to further substantiate number 76 in the “Table of Accidental and Deliberate Voyages . . .”. 9

- i
This page. A puki type canoe ready for departure at Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Island, January, 1960., Next page. Top: Launching the Canoe. Bottom: Getting under way., The puki was built at Taumako between December and March 1958-59 and brought to Santa Cruz Island where it was purchased by Meabu who lives at Matu village, Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Island. It is a small puki with a hull that measures about 30 feet long. The s'andardized version that is most frequently made on Taumako measures 42 feet. Between March 1959, when it was brought to Santa Cruz Island, and January 1960, when these pictures were taken, it made four trading voyages to the Reef Islands and one voyage to Taumako and return to Santa Cruz Island. The pictures were taken as it was departing for its sixth commercial voyage.
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The only legends on Santa Cruz Islands concerning canoes drifting to its shores were in connection with the origin of one of the descent groups there. In this myth only the woman in the canoe party survived the involuntary voyage. She married a local man, and from her is reckoned a separate matrilineal descent group. No place of origin is mentioned for her canoe.

On Nukapu, one of the Polynesian-speaking atolls of the Outer Reef Islands, are to be found several small, artificially dug pits in which are now growing sago palms transplanted from Santa Cruz Island. According to legend, about three generations ago a canoe or several canoes with “Tongans” arrived at Nukapu. (Tonga as a place is not really understood here. The word tonga is the name of a southerly wind.) The strangers came ashore and one walked up to the god house (fale atua) in which a Nukapu man was consulting with his deity as to what should be done about the intruders. Just as the Tongan crossed the threshhold of the sacred house the worshipper received word from his atua to kill them. He set upon the Tongan man with a conch shell, which was the representation of his deity, crushing his skull with its pointed end. The other Tongans fled, some to their canoe(s), some to the interior of the tiny atoll. Those who made the canoe(s) departed at once, while those who hid in the interior groves began to throw up some protective dirt mounds in order to defend themselves. After a long fight the entrenched Tongans were all killed. The depressions they dug to make their defensive stand were eventually planted in Cyrtosperma taro and sago palms.

In the Duff Islands, some time probably between 1910 and 1920, a canoe (or cutter) from Samoa drifted ashore at Aua Island. The occupants were armed with guns, but peace was made without difficulty. It is not remembered exactly how many Samoans were in the canoe, but one of the wives of the men aboard died and was buried at Aua. The survivors stayed many months until the Mission yacht Southern Cross called and took them away.

According to Nili, headman of Pileni Island, it was in 1927 or 1928 that another canoe from Samoa drifted ashore at his island. It had three men and a woman in it. One man's name was Toropina. They were eventually picked up by the District Officer when he next visited the island and were taken to Vanikoro where the administrative station was then located. These Polynesians, however, got into trouble there and were jailed for stealing food before they were subsequently taken away and presumably repatriated.

At first glance it would seem that the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean lying east of the Santa Cruz Group would constitute a far greater threat to the local navigators in their large, seaworthy, but clumsy craft than the western seas which lead straight to the large islands of the Solomons. Not so to Santa Cruz seamen. They know that winds coming out of the west and north that might blow them towards Anuta and Tikopia are weak, of short duration, and are almost always followed by easterlies that will take them back to familiar waters. It is the strong, unheralded easterlies, often blowing freshly for weeks on end, that they - 138 dread. When an easterly wind takes a sailing canoe west of the Group towards the Solomons the crew know they are in serious trouble. The seas west of a line connecting the volcano Tenakula (Tinakula, Tēmami) and Nupani atoll in the Outer Reef Islands are called in the languages of Santa Cruz Island “The Seas Without Return”. Stories of disasters, disappearances, and long gruelling drift voyages across the Seas Without Return are to be heard all over the Santa Cruz Group. Here is one recorded on Taumako. About 30 years ago, Teiku, Ipau (both men), and Ipau's wife set out from Taumako for Pileni. Easterlies swept them past their destination towards Nupani. The lashings of the outrigger spars parted and the canoe capsized. Ipau and his wife drowned, but Teiku somehow clung to some flotsam from the wreck and swam with it all the way to the uninhabited and active volcano Tenakula, a distance of 30 miles or so. For weeks he remained on Tenakula until he assembled enough driftwood to make a raft. On this make-shift craft he managed to cross 16 miles more of open sea to Tēmotū Islet, just off the north coast of Santa Cruz Island. Naked and ashamed, Teiku hid in the bushes outside a village on Tēmotū until a man came along. Threatening him with a stick, Teiku indicated that he wanted a bark cloth clout and something to eat. The Santa Cruz man willingly took him in and provided for him. Teiku, however, did not speak any Santa Cruz dialect, nor did he know Pidgin English, so someone crossed Graciosa Bay to Nupmia where a trading canoe from Nukapu was visiting, and brought back a Polynesian-speaking interpreter. Eventually, Teiku found his way back to Taumako aboard the Nukapu canoe. (The story was told by the wife's brother of Ipau, who drowned.)

Early in 1958, a large sailing canoe cruising from Pileni southward to Santa Cruz Island was badly damaged by strong easterly winds and began drifting westward. The crew of 4 abandoned their disabled craft and, by using parts of the canoe as floats, they swam for over 24 hours and made Tenakula. Several weeks later they were rescued by a Nupani canoe that stopped there on its way down to Santa Cruz Island.

Again in 1959 another Nupani canoe, sailing directly to Santa Cruz Island with a whole family aboard, split and foundered about five miles off Tenakula. Clinging to the wreckage, they made it to the volcano safely. A few months later they were picked up by another Nupani canoe that had gone out to search for them when they failed to return.

For every story of a near disaster and deliverance there is always another of a canoe that disappeared completely. Some time during World War II, when the Santa Cruz Group was completely isolated and without administrative control, three canoes making the crossing from Vanikoro to Utupua were blown westward by unexpected easterly winds. Two of the canoes disappeared completely, but the third, after a tortuous trip of nearly three weeks made Ulawa Island in the eastern Solomons. The lone survivor was ultimately repatriated to Vanikoro aboard a government ship after the war was over.

We were on Nupani in May 1960 when three canoes returned from a lengthy trip to Santa Cruz Island with a sojourn on Tenakula where - 139 Nupanians go to stay regularly in order to relieve the pressure on their island's limited food supplies. The canoes made a quick passage north on a fresh, southerly wind, but earlier on the day of their arrival, they had seen the fourth canoe in their fleet capsize in the rough seas. Unable to manoeuvre in the fresh wind and hampered by rough seas, the others were prevented from going to the rescue. As of October of that year, when we left the Santa Cruz Group altogether, the fate of the fourth canoe was still unknown.

Before 1900, when pacification of the Solomons was commenced under the British Protectorate, Santa Cruz canoes driven by easterlies out of their home waters had to make the southern end of San Cristobal Island or perish. To the north the Bauro and Arosi peoples of San Cristobal were very hostile and cannibalistic. All the coasts of Mala (Malaita) were the same; and if a canoe passed south of San Cristobal into what we know as the Coral Sea, as far as they knew there was nothing but endless ocean. Only at the settlements around Star Harbour, Cape Surville, and the small islands of Owa Raha (Santa Ana) and Owa Riki (Santa Catalina) were drift voyagers hospitably received. Not a few Santa Cruz canoes have drifted to these friendly shores and returned. To this day at Santa Cruz Island there is a deep appreciation for the succour rendered castaways by these communities, and a special feeling of friendship exists between the southern San Cristobal and Santa Cruz peoples, even though they speak entirely different languages and their cultures are quite distinct. The people of Santa Cruz Island explain this relationship by a myth that recounts how a castaway on the shores of Owa Raha encountered there a race of childless women without men. Forthwith, this fortunate man, who was supposed to hail from Malo village on Tēmotū Islet, serviced all the females, and from him all the present inhabitants are descended. For this reason Owa Raha and the surrounding area are called in the language of north Santa Cruz Island the Isle of Married Women (Tēmotū-ni-ora). Owa Raha people also include one of Santa Cruz's most famous supernaturals, who lives on the volcano of Tenakula, among their important deities. 10

The last drift voyage from Santa Cruz Island to Owa Raha with a happy ending occurred in 1939 or 1940. Meva, teller of the story, set out in his heavily laden Taumako built puki with a crew of five, all men from Neo district, Tēmotū Islet. They coasted eastward along the main island of Santa Cruz to Noka, the customary point of departure for the short crossing to the Main Reef Islands. During the first night out, a strong easterly came up without warning. By daylight they were already far west of their intended course and helpless before the wind and rising seas. During the following night the canoe almost foundered in the heavy seas. All their food and most of their coconut water bottles were washed overboard, and by morning the 2,300 foot peak of Tenakula was only a speck on the eastern horizon. The easterly continued to pound them for eight nearly waterless and foodless days, when they finally fetched up off the reefs of Owa Raha. The Government headman there spotted them - 140 drifting helplessly by, and dispatched canoes to bring them in through the reef passages. The Santa Cruz crew were so exhausted they had to be carried to the nearest village. Neither water nor food would stay on their stomachs, and they retched until they fainted. Finally, they regained their strength, and about one and one-half months later the well-known trader Captain F. L. Jones called in his ship and took them with him to Guadalcanal. There they stayed and worked around the government station for another month before being returned to Santa Cruz Island by government ship. The valuable voyaging canoe and its equally precious cargo were never recovered.

The most spectacular of recent drift voyages occurred during World War II. The narrator and a friend, both from the Main Reef Islands, together with the latter's brother-in-law, a Polynesian-speaker from Nupani, set out in a smaller Nupani version of the Taumakoan puki for a quick trip up to Taumako. The gentle southerly wind changed to northerly and they were driven southward past Santa Cruz, Utupua, and Vanikoro into unknown seas. They had very little food and water aboard. The northerly wind yielded to a calm, and they drifted for several days not knowing where they were. An American patrol aircraft flew over and circled low to inspect them. The men made signs that they were hungry and thirsty before the aircraft headed south and away. Next day it returned and dropped a buoyed can with water and provisions which was successfully recovered by the drifters. A few days later another aircraft appeared and made another successful drop. Shortly after this they sighted land, which proved to be Mota Lava (Valua or Saddle Island) in the Banks Islands, and they made their way safely ashore. None of the men had ever heard of Mota Lava before, but they were able to communicate with the people there in Pidgin English and they discovered, to their joy, that their own Melanesian Mission was established there.

After recovering for some time and refitting their canoe, they set sail for the Santa Cruz Group on a fresh, southerly wind. But this wind soon shifted to easterly, and they were driven relentlessly westward. They were far too south ever to hit San Cristobal or any of the other Solomons, and they drifted straight into the Coral Sea. Every day patrol aircraft circled them or submarines surfaced near them, but no food parcels were forthcoming as before. After about 20 days of drifting they came ashore at Sudest (Tagula) Island, off the south-eastern tip of New Guinea. This constituted a successful drift voyage of between 800 and 900 nautical miles. United States military personnel took charge of them, and they were sent to the American military base at Gili Gili, Milne Bay. While still recovering from their ordeal at Gili Gili the Nupani man died—from New Guinea sorcery, according to the narrator. The surviving Main Reef Island men were flown to Port Moresby. Later they were taken to Buin at the southern end of Bougainville in the Australian part of the Solomons. The Americans thought that this might be their home. The two hapless wanderers were convinced they would die at Buin, either from the “bad air” or from local sorcery. Fortunately, they were able to convey to the Americans there that they belonged to the British Solomons (Tulagi, the - 141 old seat of government, turned out to be the place name they were able to communicate) and they were flown down to Lunga Airfield at the gigantic base on Guadalcanal. From there they were eventually returned to the Reef Islands on a New Zealand ship. Elapsed time, over one year.

The first foothold that the Melanesian Mission obtained in the Santa Cruz Group was the direct result of a drift voyage. The Mission first visited the group in 1852, but not until 1860 was a landing actually made and friendly relations established. In 1864, however, a party accompanying Bishop John Coleridge Patteson ashore at Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Island, was met with a hail of arrows, and two Europeans died of wounds received. Later, in 1871, the Bishop himself was slain while ashore on Nukapu Island, and two others in his party were also killed in the unfortunate fracas that followed. Subsequently, in 1877, Bishop Selwyn, who had succeeded Patteson, found that two castaways from Nifiloli Island in the Main Reef Islands were being held captive at Port Adam on Malaita. The Bishop ransomed one of the men and returned him to his home. The following year the second Nifiloli seaman escaped to Sa'a, Malaita, and was also ransomed by the Bishop. By these good deeds the Mission was allowed to put ashore at Nifiloli their first teacher, and from there proselytizing eventually spread throughout the Reef Islands, Taumako, and to Santa Cruz Island. 11

Other convincing reports of relatively recent involuntary voyages to central San Cristobal and Guadalcanal Islands were heard in the Reef Islands, but trips to Malaita, the Western Solomons, or to the Polynesian outliers of Rennell and Bellona Islands were never mentioned.

Certainly one of the most amazing deliberate voyages on record in modern times is one indirectly associated with the cause of Bishop Patteson's tragic death on Nukapu in 1871. The full story, as obtained on Nukapu and Pileni Islands in 1960 is given here, for it contains some details and discrepancies with the recorded versions, not heretofore reported. According to Papue, an old woman who was born on Nukapu but now lives on Pileni, a ship came to Nukapu and lured four 12 men on board. They were Bakapu, Vakaui, Tueina, and Veka. As they were being battened below in the hold of the ship, Tueina tried to escape and was shot. His body was dumped into the sea later. The maternal uncle of Tueina was Tetuli of Matema Island, Outer Reef Islands. Later Tetuli was visiting on Nukapu when the Southern Cross appeared there in 1871 and Bishop Patteson came ashore. While the Bishop was resting or sleeping in the men's house at Tepia, Tetuli killed him with a mallet used for dispatching sharks, in revenge for the abduction of his nephew. The Bishop's body was taken to the other side of the village at Tepalione to be buried in a hastily excavated grave (the exact spot is indicated), but the people began to be frightened of what revenge might be taken on them, for already someone was shooting a gun from the Southern Cross. They changed their minds, put the body on a small canoe, placed on its - 142 chest part of a coconut leaf with knots tied in it as a charm to prevent the Bishop's soul from coming back to haunt them. A woman named Niuvai pushed the canoe out over the reef towards where the Southern Cross was waiting. Behind her men with bows let fly with arrows at the dinghy from the Southern Cross as it came to receive the canoe with the Bishop's body. A Polynesian-speaking woman named Tutuka came ashore from the Southern Cross and set fire to houses in the village. 13

Years later a man-o-war came to Nukapu and shelled it from the sea. Everyone but one man, Taikau, ran off to the north side of the island to take shelter. Taikau took cover behind some coral slabs, but one of the shells felled a coconut tree that toppled over and crushed him to death. Tetuli, the Bishop's assassin, was safe at Matema and lived to a ripe old age there.

Teniau of Nukapu fills in some more details in his version of the Patteson incident. Some time later two of the men taken by the “blackbirders” returned to Nukapu. They had stolen a sailboat or a canoe (not remembered which) in Fiji, where they had been taken to work, and sailed it directly back to Nukapu. The first thing they did upon arriving was to burn the canoe and hide all its fittings. It was they who told how Tueina had been shot while trying to escape from the ship's hold; how one man had married a Fijian woman and settled in Fiji; and how they had lost track of the others. Shortly after these two survivors returned, the first epidemic of dysentery broke out on Nukapu and many people died. From Nukapu the epidemic spread to all the other Reef Islands. The man credited with engineering the successful escape from servitude in Fiji and piloting the stolen craft across nearly 1,000 miles of open seas to Nukapu was Bakapu.

  • ARMSTRONG, E. S., 1900. The History of the Melanesian Mission. London, Isbister & Co.
  • CODRINGTON, R. H., 1891. The Melanesians. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
  • DAVENPORT, William, 1962a. “Red-feather Money.” Scientific American, 206, 3:94-104.
  • — — 1962b. “Comments” to “Oceanic Linguistics Today,” by A. Capell. Current Anthropology, 3:400-402.
  • DUMONT D'URVILLE, J. S. C., 1830. Voyage de la corvette l'Astrolabe . . . 1826-1829. Vol. V. Paris.
  • FIRTH, Raymond, 1959. Social Change in Tikopia. New York, Macmillan.
  • GOLSON, Jack, (ed.), 1963. “A Table of Accidental and Deliberate Voyages in the South Pacific” in Polynesian Navigation: A Symposium on Andrew Sharp's Theory of Accidental Voyages. The Polynesian Society Memoir No. 34. Wellington.
  • HADDON, A. C. and James HORNELL, 1937. Canoes of Oceania, Vol. II. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication No. 28. Honolulu.
1   See Davenport 1962a for a brief description of this trading network.
2   See Firth 1959:32-34.
3   Dumont D'Urville 1830.
4   Golson 1963:152-153.
5   Codrington 1891:351.
6   Golson 1963:144.
7   See Haddon and Hornell 1937:46-50 for specifications of puki canoes.
8   For a short description of language distributions in the Santa Cruz Group see Davenport 1962b.
9   Golson 1963:143.
10   This information supplied by Mr. Charles Kuper of Owa Raha.
11   Armstrong 1900:119-125, 182-183, 188-190. In this history of the Melanesian Mission a Santa Cruz canoe is mentioned as being at Ulawa in 1874. Its crew was massacred in revenge for the death of Stephen Taroaniara who was killed at Nukapu with Bishop Patteson (p. 175).
12   A second version of this story has six men abducted. cf. Armstrong 1900:119-123.
13   Dr. Samuel Elbert of the University of Hawaii has still two different versions of the Patteson killing that he obtained on Nukapu and Nifiloli in May 1958. It seems clear from the variation among the versions and from such items as “shooting a gun from the Southern Cross” and the “woman named Tutuka came ashore” that this important event in being embroidered with other legendary material.