A Strange Welcome
Fr. Alvin Parantar, msp
I arrived in the Solomon Islands on February 25, 1998 and since then I have been working in Tangarare Parish in Guadalcanal. My first program was to visit all the 28 villages that belong to the parish. One day, I went to the first village by canoe. As we approached the seashore, it appeared there was nobody around in the village. There was no movement whatsoever. A strange feeling crept over me. I found the situation very odd for I expected the people to welcome me on my first visit.
As we were about to dock canoe, suddenly from nowhere, I heard a loud cry -- a battle cry -- signaling an attack. Then, from their hiding behind trees and rocks came dark men in G-strings and painted bodies with spears and axes in their hands ready to strike a kill. Some of them threw spears at us barely missing our canoe. Others swung their axes all around me as they angrily shouted some words I could not understand. For the moment I could not figure out what the whole situation was all about. I just stood still and prayed, pretending to be unafraid before the seemingly unfriendly villagers.
Then, flashed across my mind in an instant, the story of the first missionaries who on landing ashore in an island were attacked by its inhabitants, killing their leader, Bishops Epalle, with five ax blows to his head. Thanks be to God, the scene I was in did not end up like that of the unfortunate bishop.
Suddenly the howling and swinging of axes and spears about me stopped. Women in grass skirts and children moved forward and sang a welcome song. Two young girls came close and put flowers around my neck. Then, the chief of the village followed to do his welcome speech. He told me that in the past their people would welcome missionaries with spears and axes but now they welcome missionaries with open arms. He then offered me food as a symbol of their acceptance and happiness for my visit. A big celebration followed: singing, dancing and lots of food – fish, chickens, wild pigs.
During the Mass, I told them they had a very surprising and strange way of welcoming their visitor, although it was meaningful at the same time, especially the mock ambush. It made me think of the difficulties that the missionaries encountered in bringing the Good News to this island. It made me feel the kind of faith and commitment that made them go on with their mission.