a diver’s worst nightmare while on a diving holiday is succumbing to some malady that inherently puts a stop to diving for the rest of the trip. This was exactly my predicament midstream on a recent visit to the Solomon Islands.
I was halfway through an incredible experience, having completed a week of reef-, wreck- and wall-diving in the crystalline, pristine waters of Munda in the Western Province, and on my way to a week’s worth of diving out of Tulagi in the Eastern Province Florida Islands, when I hit a health speed bump.
A big one, and one that might have been the result of my own unwitting irreverence to ancestral spirits at the sacred burial ground on Skull Island.
The tribes of the Solomon Islands, particularly in the Western Province, were fond of taking the heads of enemies to ensure that tamu garata (good juju) would prevail over them.
They also believed that keeping the heads of their deceased tribal leaders enabled their eternal afterlife. The practice of head-hunting continued until the early 20th century, when missionaries arrived to impose Western “influence” on what they called “these primitive cultures”.
Fearing that the Westerners would destroy their revered, centuries-old tradition of skull-keeping, the people moved their leaders’ skulls from local villages to Skull Island,
a remote, sacred location where the chieftains could reign in perpetuity in the afterlife. Which, possibly, is where my medical calamity began.
On my no-dive air-travel day from Munda back to Honiara I had taken a water-taxi with an Australian journalist and Barbara, a representative from the Solomon Islands Tourism Bureau, to visit the sacred shrines on Skull Island. Barbara had told us that ancient lore barred women from visiting the shrines, leaving her uneasy about our trip.
But we did it, assured by our panga-driver that we had spiritual permission after his requisite incantation before allowing us to step off the boat. I got my images, and brushed off Barbara’s continued apprehension that “something bad was going to happen”.
Later that day my right ear began to ache, going quickly off the charts.
I managed the one-hour flight to Honiara that afternoon without my head imploding, but was in dire need of medical help, even after self-medicating the ear with a concoction of crushed-up antibiotics in a solution of alcohol and vinegar for most of the night.
And I might have written this off to coincidence had it not been for the compounding of additional problems, including the death of my mobile phone (for no apparent reason) coupled with a case of fever, chills and intestinal distress.