Thursday, August 11, 2011

Solomons Sojourners Set to Sail

In less than a week – on August 17, TIGHAR’s Solomon Islands team will head for Honiara. The team is headed by Gary Quigg, and includes Nancy Farrell, John Clauss, and Karl Kern. In Honiara they’ll rendezvous with Baoro Koraua, who lives in that city (capital of the Solomon Islands) but was born on Nikumaroro in the early 1950s. With Baoro in his boat, the MV Temauri, they’ll motor up the New Georgia Sound (known in World War II as “The Slot” and “ironbottom Sound”) to the villages of Nikumaroro and Rawaki, where the Nikumaroro colonists were resettled when the colony was abandoned in 1963. That’s the plan, anyway.

The purpose of the trip is oral historical recording – talking with veterans of the Nikumaroro colony and recording their recollections of the place. It follows up on a very short visit made to Nikumaroro Village by Dr. Dirk Ballendorf of the University of Guam back in 1995 ( Dirk collected stories of human bones being found on the island, but these didn’t mean much to us until two years later when Peter MacQuarrie found the Western Pacific High Commission files on the 1940 bones discovery in the Tarawa archives, and Ric Gillespie and Kent Spading uncovered more in the WPHC archives in England (they’re now in Auckland, NZ).

It would be nice if the Solomons Sojourners could get more information on the bones discovery, but we’re not really expecting that. Anyone who was, say, ten years old at the time of that discovery would now be in his or her 80s. What we’re mostly hoping for is information about what the Seven Site was used for in the 1950s, and what (other than Earhart and Noonan) might be responsible for the strange assemblage of artifacts and building material (corrugated iron, etc.) we’ve found on the site. Recent research by Bill Carter and Ric Gillespie in the Tarawa archives has revealed that the site was known in the late 1940s as “Gallagher’s camp,” and that coconuts were being cultivated there without much success. Why the site was associated with Gallagher almost a decade after his death is another thing we’d like to find out. We feel pretty confident that some of what we’ve found was left by the castaway-who-was-probably-Earhart, but it’s essential that we find out what else went on at the site so we can sort out castaway-related evidence from the leavings of others. The interviews will also give us the opportunity to flesh out our general understanding of the Nikumaroro colony, which is fascinating in its own right.

The team is well equipped to do the work. Nancy has been collecting oral history for decades, and Gary has experience in the field as well. Baoro should be a knowledgeable colleague and translator, while John and Karl can do just about anything. They’re armed with audio and video recording devices and plenty of pens and paper for backup. If all goes well they’ll spend two or three days interviewing in each village (which lie on opposite sides of the sound, about 200 miles from Honiara), and a day or two checking archives in the capital before flying home on August 30.

Yes, I wish I were going too, but I’m not. However, Kris Tague is serving as the Sojourners’ Stateside point of contact, and she’ll be passing information to the rest of us.

Bon Voyage, Sojourners; here's hoping you make interesting and voluble new friends in the Solomons.


Spam:  See for Part One of my summary of the Niku Research