Solomon Islands

Rennell  and Bellona Province

The two Polynesian island of Rennell (Mu Nggava) and Bellona (Mu Ngiki) are raised atolls, Rennell being the largest example on earth. Rennell also has the largest freshwater lake, Te Nggano,  in the Pacific, a unique habitat for many endemic species of plants, birds and animals and is now a listed World Heritage Site:

Legend goes that the two islands were settled from a voyage made from from the island of Wallis or Uvea (French possession) 26 generations ago. This would have been during one of the waves of back migrations that occurred after the central and eastern Polynesian islands were settled.

Seven clans participated in the migration, using seven large canoes. A man called Kaitu’u, now renowned as an ancestral hero of the present day people, also joined the voyage in a large double-hulled canoe. He had been prompted to do so after his mother dreamt of a distant island (there is a different version of the story from each island; the island in the dream was either small and surrounded by white sands or large with a lake teeming of birds). The seven clans took with them two stone god figures, as Polynesian custom would require. Kaitu'u took with him a temple called Ngaguenga and a ceremonial staff called Ga'akautu'uti. Heading to the southwest, they had a near disaster when a large wave swamped all the canoes except for the double canoe of Kaitu'u and an outrigger sailed by Taupongi and his clan. The survivors of the other clans were picked up by Kaitu'u. One of the gods was lost overboard, so a replacement was cut from a stalactite in a place called Henuatai, assumed today to be a place in Tikopia (Temotu Province).

After a long voyage they found the islands they were searching for. They arrived first at the southeastern end of Rennell where they set the two gods ashore and explored to find a large inland lake (Te Nggano). However, the gods returned to the canoe under their own power, prompting the party to travel on to Bellona. There, the two gods jumped up onto the sand beach, and everyone went ashore. Bellona was settled after the incumbent Hitis, a race of "small hairy" people, were forcibly eliminated by Kaitu'u (You can still visit the Hiti caves). Due to fighting between the clans, only one of the voyaging families (the Taupongi clan who settled West Bellona) persisted together with that of Kaitu'u (who became a powerful chief, almost a demigod, and controlled the rest of Bellona and all of Rennell). Everyone on the two islands now is descended from these two clans.

Today, Rennell and Bellona are well serviced by Solomon Airlines. On Rennell there are guesthouses near Tingoa airfield (Moreno Guesthouse) at Te Nggano lake (Kiakoe Lodge, Tahamatangi Guesthouse, Mata’ake Guesthouse) On Bellona there is the Suani Resthouse near the airfield, Otinga Resthouse to the west, and the unique cave resort at Aotaha, east Bellona, where a guest house has been made out of caves in the cliff.

The islands are well known for their carvings and weaving. These include replicas of spears and war clubs, and fine baskets and mats woven from pandanus leaf, with intricate patterns using natural dyes. To purchase these fine artifacts, visitors can find them on the islands or at the crafts stall outside the Mendana Hotel.

Land ownership is passed by firstborn sons but kinship – a persons ‘line’ – is traced via female relatives. Their language is a branch of Polynesian, similar in many respects to Maori.  

More information on the culture and legends of the people of Rennell and Bellona can be found in "The Two Canoes" by Torben Monberg, et al. of University of Copenhagen, who also researched the language and produced a dictionary.

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