Spear fighting FESTIVAL
Although a very tiny spot on the map of Solomon Islands, its name has a power generated by the exciting stories of many of those people who have visited the small but beautiful island Santa Catalina (also known as Aorigi) an Island at the eastern end of Makira province. The stories spring not only from its white sandy beaches, sweet coconuts, welcoming people and the fresh island breeze but from the culture of Wogasia that still lives today. Wogasia the local name for the island’s spear fighting ceremony, an amazing cultural festival all people of Solomon Islands regard as an extra-ordinary event. This festival has made the name of the tiny island known throughout the Solomon Islands because it always goes live on National radio, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). Hearing the stories about this festival or reading it online or on print will bring disbelief but the truth is there and if you have a chance to go to the island at the time of the festival, it will open your eyes to the reality. It is an annual event that usually takes place at the end of May and early June. This is the time of harvest and the favoured lunar phase. Significantly, it is a time when the two tribes of the island, the Atawa and Amea, and any other people on the Island traditionally solve their differences. On many islands in Solomon Islands, people settle issues amongst themselves through compensation and reconciliation, but sometimes ill feeling will remain for years. However the ceremony of spear fighting or Wogasia is said to be a way to completely resolve issues amongst of Santa Catalina. Mai Life was told that anyone who has issue with another person but has been unable to resolve it or if they still have hatred towards each other, the Wogasia ceremony can bring them to peace through actually throwing spears at each other to show their anger. The spears are real, not fake, but the protagonists can protect themselves from getting hurt. They have shields and also, according the tradition, they have some protection within the ceremony itself. It is said that if anyone throws a spear with different motive than the issue they have stated, the spear won’t hurt his opponent because will miss him. The rules say that a person has to fight with only the person he is in conflict with, whether the opponent is from another tribe or within the family. “The fight can be with a cousin from another tribe, or his brother, but not with his uncle or his father,” our informant said. Another rule is that anyone who hurt another person who is not his opponent during the fight has to give compensation. Tom Perry, who once participated in the festival, outlined the events that start the ceremonies. He said it began with ceremonial washing of the conch shell, ready for when the islanders would meet at midnight to blow the shells and chant. Women also take part in the early hours of the second day, when they beat the ground with lit coconut palm fronds to drive diseases and demons from the island. “The fronds crack loudly as they are smacked into the
ground, sparks fly, children scream and elderly women stand in their doorways throwing buckets of dirty water and fish guts at those running past,” Perry said. On the afternoon before the day of the spear fight, the women head to the highest point of the island, named Faraina, to cut banana leaves and chant cheeky insults at the men. “All the men join the women on top of the hill, where they cover themselves in aranpagora, the island’s sacred orange mud, before wrapping themselves in ferns and marching back down. Men ceremonially yell out to the women below at each break in the trees, before storming through the village, stamping their spears on the ground and separating into respective sides for the spear fight,” Perry said. It is only on the spear fighting day the power of spears and the reality of the cultural festival is fully demonstrated. The men will be lined up in their tribes on the beach, Perry said, and two strong warriors from each tribe walk in the shallow water, banging their spears and shouting the name of their enemies. Then the fight will begin. The fighting demonstrates the bravery of the men. “The sound of spears hitting shields fills the length of the beach. It’s a surreal event to witness close up. Some spears travel frighteningly fast at their targets, hitting legs and grazing arms, while others wobble through the air and fall far short,” he said. The spear fight continues for about five minutes, after which the spears are to be thrown in the sea. The fighters who launched spears at each other walk together under drokbonaparagu vine to demonstrate their new unity. Within living memory, no death has been caused by the spear fight. However in 1974, a person lost his eye when a spear pierced it. The spear fighting ceremony ends with women covered in mud and dressed in banana leaves throwing stones at the men and then running into the sea. The spear fighting is usually the final event of three days celebration and is intended to show that the island people are united and will live in peace.