Auki, Solomon Islands Lost Siren of the Baegu Tribe by R.A. Montgomery

Had a stopover on Vanuata this morning. It’s where those guys tie ropes to their legs and jump from wooden scaffolding – bungee jumping without the bungees. "Land diving," it’s called.

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There are two reasons why I came to the Solomon Islands. The first is wreck diving.

Guadalcanal is the main island. It’s surprisingly unequipped for WWII tourism. By “unequipped,” I don’t mean the resort towels aren’t fluffy, I mean it doesn’t have roads. There are only a few bumpy ones along the exterior. Evidently the main town and capital, Honiara, butts up against some old battle sites, but it seems likely that many of the really important locations remain buried in the jungle and not very accessible.

The war wasn’t just fought on land, though. There are hundreds of wrecks out on the ocean floor – so many that the water north of Guadalcanal is called Iron Bottom Sound.

I’ve done WWII wreck diving in Micronesia. It’s one of the most memorable experiences in my life. Thrilling. Terrifying. Moving. Humbling.

The other reason I came here is because of a song.

If you’ve spent time on my site, you probably know most of this story, but: In 1970, an ethnomusicologist working with UNESCO came here to record languages that were on the verge of extinction. He made a recording of a folk song called Rorogwela, sung by a woman in the Baegu tribe named Afunakwa. The song was released on vinyl as part of a collection of folk music from the region. Decades later, a couple French DJs who go by the name of Deep Forest sampled the recording in a pop song called Sweet Lullaby. The song became a huge international hit.

I am not aware of any money earned from the recording or other related compensation ever having reached the Solomon Islands.

In 2003, I took a trip around the world and danced in a whole bunch of places. When I put it all together, I slapped a dance remix of Sweet Lullaby over it. People liked it.

In 2006, I made a second video, and I wanted to use the same vocals with new music. I got a hold of the original recording and a friend of mine created some very nice music to put over it. People liked it even more.

The recording has had a profound effect on my life. I have a connection to this place that I’ve always wanted to explore. As far as the debt I owe, that’s something I’ve made right in my own way and it’s none of your business. So I’m not here for charity. I’m here to learn.

I haven’t been able to find out much in advance regarding the tribe or the girl who sang the song. It seems Afunakwa died in 2003, but that’s all I’ve heard and even that isn’t certain.

En route to the Solomon’s this morning, I did some reading and learned the wreck diving sites are accessed from an island far off to the west that can only be accessed by plane. Likewise, the Baegu tribe live on an island to the east. I have four days here, and I’m not supposed to fly within 24 hours of a dive. That only leaves time to do one thing or the other.

To investigate the remote Baegu tribe, turn to page 73.
To go diving in sunken World War II battleships, turn to page 12.

As it happened, the flight to the diving island was full, so I’m here on Malaita. I shared a van from the airstrip with two Australian judicial administrators.

“What brings you to Malaita? Holiday?”
“Yep.”
“Funny place for a holiday.”

I suppose it is. I appear to be the only white person in town who isn’t some sort of aid worker. The locals have been exceedingly friendly so far, but I’m wondering if they might be hedging their bets in case I’m a new pastor.

Most of the places I go to are destinations of some kind. There’s a reason someone would want to go there, and so there are facilities to enable a comfortable, leisurely visit. As a tourist, you become a source for the extraction of money. Malaita is one of those places that never came up with a reason why people should come here, so no one seems particularly inclined to bother with me.

I’m staying at the only hotel in town. I entertained the manager’s kids with my headlamp.

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Tomorrow I start looking for traces of Afunakwa.

10 Responses to Auki, Solomon Islands Lost Siren of the Baegu Tribe by R.A. Montgomery

  1. Scott

    I hope you find her, or her family. I bet she (or they) have no idea of the international renown you have given them. This is perhaps the most significant thing you have done on this trip and I sincerely hope you are able to find all the answers to your questions.
    Best of luck.

  2. Wow, what a good reason to head all the way out there. I mean, if the music has been an integral part of this dancing journey of yours it would make so much sense to seek out the creator.
    Meeting two DJs in France compared to finding this woman wouldn’t fulfill that quest now would it?
    Looking forward to seeing how your search ends.

  3. Stephen

    A fitting addition to your journey; the true pleasure of all this, videos included, seems to be had from the people you meet along the way.

  4. LoudMusic

    “A fitting addition to your journey; the true pleasure of all this, videos included, seems to be had from the people you meet along the way.”

    I have to agree – the various trips my wife and I have taken together, the consistent thing that stands out are the individuals we meet along the way.

    No Doubt, Different People

    “I often think about the world
    In which I live today, of animals and plants
    And nature’s gifts set on display
    But the most amazing thing
    That I’ve seen in my time
    Are all the different people
    And all their different minds
    And different ways
    It would take a lifetime to explain
    Not one’s exactly the same”

  5. Tori

    I had to go back and watch the videos to hear her voice. Going to find her validates all that these journeys have been for you. In watching this fantastic life you’ve led in video form, she has been the voice – you, the vision. She’s your partner, in a way. Very cool, man.

  6. jdhoskinson

    Where the hell is Matt? It would be awesome if he found Afunakwa on Thanksgiving. Or at the very least, her people. I cannot fathom the atmosphere of that meeting.

  7. Pati Ramotalau

    I am a bit concern here since all your trips to Solomon Islands never succeded as you still not find this woman, Afunakwa.

    I would like to mention that the rightful owners of this song “Rorowela” is still waiting eagerly for someone who would come and talk with them regarding the issue.

    The rightful owners I am reffering to here are the grand-sons of the composer of the Rorowela song. And I know the rightful owners.

    In the Solomon Islands there are those who are now taking advantage of this song for thier on interest.

    I think it is right to contact right people who will give true information about this song.

    The song came from a tribe in Baegu from Malaita. Please take note that Baegu is like a region and there are many tribes in it. But if we can look further in the tribe where the song came from still there are many families. I can further say that this is not a land issue so that the tribe can have ownership but it is simply a song which mean family ownership is likely be the truth.

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