National Geographic : 1992 Jul
needed fresh water, they sailed a mile and a half to Labi Island, where there was plenty. They also caught rainwater from their roofs, and they saved it in con- tainers they had fashioned from net floats that had washed up on the beach. Gathering and con- serving water was one of the nui- sances endured by the people of Munuwata, but they had wisely turned it into an art. The Trobriands often baffled me, but that is not an unusual confession . It would be much stranger for me to say I under- stood it all . The place is small, but it is subtle, and it is shot through with magic. And it seemed contradictory at times. No sooner had I reached the 136 conclusion that they were peace- ful, than there was a bloody battle between villages. But there was always a truce at the end - the chiefs came and lis- tened to grievances and a feast was planned to cement relations. What made me happiest was see- ing how loyal to traditions the people could be, whether it was face painting or setting forth in their impressive canoes. It seemed to me, and to people who knew much more than I did, that the culture was intact. Perhaps that is the reason the islands seemed like a world apart, like isolated stars in an empty immensity of watery dark- ness, and this sailing was like going slowly from star to star. 0 Loving comfort but not kinship is what a boy from Gilibwa finds in his father's embrace; spouses usually come from different clans, and children belong only to their mother's clan. Fiercely proud oftheir society, customs, and way oflife, Trobri- anders set little value on the opinions ofoutsiders. Islanders have weathered colonial rule, missionary intrusion, and anthropological examination. Tourism, a more recent threat, has been limited by poor roads , little electricity, few hotel rooms, and lack of telephones. As amenities improve and outside influences increase, island traditions will be tested as never before.