I see men like trees walking!

MV Logos crew and staff. Dec 1979, Honiara, Solomon Is. Can you spot me?

For several months from late 1979 till early 1980 I had the wonderful experience of travelling in the South Pacific. I was travelling ahead off the LOGOS ship (see ‘bio’). This was to prepare for the vessel to visit various islands with advance publicity and government permissions. There was much to organise with staff and crew of 140 to stay for 1-2 weeks. Chandler supplies, on board and on shore conferences and concerts to organise, a book exhibition, church and school visits etc. Also going there was exciting, pioneer work as our vessel had never visited that region of the world before. It was a priviledge to go ahead of the ship and because the area was so vast there was plenty of flying which I loved! Remote, sparsely populated islands with little happening in the conventional sense but the people were rich in culture and generous in hospitality. Usually I stayed with local families or missionaries.

One such stay was in Kieta on the island of Bougainville* in Papua New Guinea. I was stationed there for a few days with a colleague at the end of December 1979. It was the 31st and we had gone to a church meeting with the intention of seeing the New Year and new decade in there. However I was feeling really tired and decided to return early by myself to our accommodation before midnight arrived. 

The family house we were staying at was on stilts with open windows covered in wooden slats. I settled down on my own to enjoy the peace. It wasn’t long before I heard loud noises and banging all around the house. Upon gingerly looking out I saw the weird sight (at least for me) of figures running around and under the house dressed like trees. Thankfully they seemed to have no interest in coming inside. 

The above commotion was soon followed by the local police who began chasing these figures with batons. I was relieved that what seemed like a riot below and around the house was being sorted out. However the next thing was the police started using tear gas. The gas started to come in through the slatted windows. I had never experienced tear gas before. So 1980 and a new decade was memorably celebrated under a bed with a wet towel round my head.

After a while things settled down and the police came to the door. They were cheerfully looking for liquid refreshments to aid their exertions. My fear contrasted with the joyous cameraderie of the police. They were clearly not averse to having a good, old fashioned fight. It turned out that their adversaries were members of a tribe who had come down from the mountains into town. I got the sense that this kind of thing had happened before.

*A sobering postscript to the above was that Bougainville experienced a secessionist uprising in 1988 with no peace agreement until 2001.