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Communities & Maps

People of Southeast Solomons (Temotu Province)

Polynesian people of the region called "Santa Cruz Islands" live in the Duffs Group (including the biggest island, Taumako), the Outer Reef Islands (Nifiloli, Matema, Pileni, Nukapu, Nupani, and a few communities on Fenualoa).  Temotu Province includes the Santa Cruz Group, including the above Polynesian islands, Ndeni, Utupua, and Vanikoro Islands, plus two Polynesian Islands that are further south, named Tikopia and Anuta.   Polynesians also live in isolated settlements mostly along the north coast of Ndeni (Santa Cruz Island) itself. People of Temotu people speak Melanesian and Austronesian languages.


Outer Reef Islands include islands west of Fenualoa. There are also Polynesian (Vaeakau) communities on northern Fenualoa.


Taumako Community

Temotu Province of Solomons Islands in includes the Santa Cruz Islands plus some Polynesian islands further to the southeast, named Tikopia and Anuta. There are some Polynesian settlements on Vanikoro and Utupua, though the main population of those islands speak Austronesian.  South of Temotu, most of the Banks and Torres Islanders speak Austronesian, which is an older language  and shares a lot of same and similar words as Polynesian.

When voyaging canoes were plying this region, many of them built on Taumako/Duffs Group,. There was a sense of community and there was a lot of intermarriage between the Polynesians from different islands.  The suppression of locally controlled transport during British and Australian control, and until today, has made it impossible to keep up the vital “partnerships” between people of the Polynesian islands.  According to the late Chief Kaveia and other old people who once participated in voyaging in Temotu, it is the loss of these partnerships that most frustrated the continuation or revival of voyaging in Temotu.  Thus, it is the partnerships between people of different islands that must be re-created or revived for voyaging to grow again in Temotu.  That means that there must be a period of exploratory voyages and the relationships need to grow.  


On the very first voyage of the Vaka Taumako Project one young man of the Taumako crew met his wife to be at Nifloli, and before the Taumako crew left Nifiloli, the parents of the two made preliminary arrangements for the marriage to occur the following year.  On each inter island voyage of TePuke since then marriages have resulted. There are many more young people hoping to find marriage partners on distant islands, and hoping to arrange an order to build a canoe for someone from a different island.


People have lived on Taumako for over 2700 years.  Chief  Kaveia said that when he was a small boy – maybe about 6 to 8 years old,  there were over 2000 people living on Taumako. Then an epidemic illness struck and all but 37 people died.  That occurred a year or more before 1920.  

The community of Taumako totaled only about 350 people in 1996. When the VTP got s started the population swelled by at least 200 more people. They came home to participate in

building a voyaging canoe. The number of people living on Taumako varies between about  350 and 1,200 in recent decades. Community members who are overseas working try to come home during end of year holidays. Then the population doubles or triples for over a month.


There are various family groups in which people are related through their mother’s relatives /or through their father’s relatives. There are 6 matrilineal groups preceding colonial impact.  In recent decades Temotu Provincial Government has defined the subgroups of Duff Islanders as “15 tribes.”  


Duff Islanders have a reputation for observing Kastom, that are rare elsewhere these days.

Each person observe a series of life maturation rites during their lives.  – such as a feast for the first time a child is given holes in their ears to wear  turtle shell earrings, or feasts for every worker on every day that they work on a voyaging canoe, or using limed sticks and ritualized words to control rain or wind, or using a smoking stick to have a dream to see who was the culprit who stole something from somebody.


Above is a 1799 map of Duff Islands. Taumako is a high island, as are other smaller islands in the Duffs Group. The nearest islands are the Outer Reefs Group, which is comprised of classic atolls.  Some natural resources exist on Duff Islands, such as trees for canoes, paddles, and house posts, plants such as the leaves used for roofing panels, and  volcanic stones for earth ovens. These are needed by atoll dwellers.  Taumako canoe makers provided voyaging canoes and paddles to their partners for hundreds of years, and very likely for thousands of years. Outer Reefs has huge fish and reef resources, and used to have giant nut and breadfruit harvests, which might be revived as DDT use decreases and birds return to pollinate these crops.

Rebuilding Partnerships

Prior to colonization, Polynesians had dynamic partnerships with non-Polynesian (often called "Melanesian")  people of Santa Cruz and other islands.  One recent Premier of Temotu, for example, was the grandchild of a Matema woman.  Taumako people, including Chief Kaveia, sold voyaging canoes to Chiefs in Graciosa Bay, and other predominantly non-Polynesian Islands.

Valo Group is a coalition of closely related Taumako people led by Te Aliki Jonas Holani. Holani also heads the Vaka Valo Association (VVA) which has members from a wide variety of family and tribal groups.ʻ  Chief Jonas is a superbly skilled canoe builder, and has the most experience making voyages of any able-bodied person on Taumako.  Members of VVA are eager to learn every aspect of building and sailing voyaging canoes.  They work as volunteers.  But somehow they must earn enough money to pay school fees for their children, and provide food to the workers. They must also communicate with their provincial  and national governments (So the VTP has fundraised for those costs since 1993. Now VTP is fundraising to install donated satellite internet equipment at Taumako.)  


The Vaka Valo Association (VVA) built a full size Te Puke in 2015-17. This took daily work for about 18 months.  For this they needed to import feast foods, such as sweet potatoes, rice, tin fish, and tea, for rations for the workers.  Without these rations, and a little money for paying the school fees, the Te Puke could not be built. But once built the vessel could be used for sea-training  within Duff Islands, while fishing and by making voyages to other islands. 


A VVA crew sailed it to Santa Cruz in 2017, and to Vanikoro in 2018, and they aim to sail it to Vanuatu as soon as there are proper winds.  VVA aspires to help other groups with their building projects, and welcomes their participation in sailing.  





















To the left, is a map of Vanikoro Island and fringing reef, made by Alex Francois. Vanikoro residents told Alex the places around the island where 17 named winds are observed. These names are similar to named wind positions that Te Aliki Kaveia taught as part of the 32 named wind positions of the what is called Te Nohoanga Te Matangi - an ancient wind positioning knowledge and navigation system used by Taumako and Vaeakau people, and others in the SE Solomon Islands region and by many Polynesian and Austronesian people across Oceania. 


Other Taumako groups, such as one that might be led by Chief Fox Boda, intend to build more voyaging canoes and participate in voyages.  They are in need of funding support. The costs they need to pay are for much extra food to feed the workers for 18 months, and the cost of harvesting materials from various Duff Islands and bringing them to the building site on Taumako.  


After they have built a voyaging canoe they will use it in a sustainable way and they can sail it to Vanuatu and many other islands.  Chief Fox’ wife is from Matema.  His large family, and “tribe,” if you will, has a lot to gain from strengthening their interisand community.  This can be said of every group and family in Taumako and Outer Reefs.  Island people thrive when they form and grow larger inter-island communities. For this they need voyaging canoes.  Voyaging canoes = community for everyone in this huge oceanic region.

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