A Tribute to John Wayne

On hearing the name John Wayne, many people would immediately think of the famous actor who stood 6’ 4” tall and who appeared in Western movies such as Stagecoach and many other the 1950s and 60s. However, that was not the case when I had the honor to travel to the Solomon Islands. This tribute is about a man, who is not the height of a giant movie star, but is a star in his own right when it comes to the world of wood carving, a tradition of producing beautiful art. Within the Solomon Islands, the John Wayne of this tribute is well known.

The John Wayne, I refer to, appeared in Headhunt Revisited where he discussed both his history and that of his great-great father, Kanijama. Those of you who have seen the entire film may remember his elegant appearance and strong passion for history.  If you’ve not been so fortunate as to see this, a link to the clip is included below, or better yet, order your own copy of Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera through the website shop.

You can also see a short clip with John through this LINK to Vimeo.

With the assistance of Uepi Island Resort owners, Jill and Grant, contact was made with John.  Jill had watched the film while our team was out diving and upon our return, she was determined to fulfill my wish of seeing John. It had been some 14 years since our expedition team had visited Marovo Lagoon for the initial filming of the project. We pondered whether or not John would be able to come to the resort?  An hour away by motorized skiff may not sound like much, but if the weather failed to cooperate, it could prove challenging. Regardless, once contact was made, John was on his way. Meanwhile, I became anxious and nervous as to how much he would remember of the moments we had spent together so many years ago.

John Wayne at his home in 2005 after filming his interview.

On John’s arrival, we greeted each other warmly. Signs of years gone by were showing on both of us. John’s hair had become speckled with gray and his eyes were no longer the deep brown I remembered them to be. The bluish cast is not uncommon in the eyes of the elder community of island life and indicates that cataracts are developing. Despite the condition, John’s eyes sparkled at seeing me, a question mark was evident on his face. He responded with a look of “I know you, but where from?”  I reminded him of the lengthy interview we had done with the large camera and audio equipment and his eyebrows raised and a brightness shone across his face.  

John and I soon retreated to the library area inside the lodge where Jill had set up the television so that I could share the Solomon Islands portion of the film. Watching it together was an emotional time for both John and myself.

John watched the segment in the film that featured his people and to share it with him on a personal level was one of my most special moments throughout this entire project.  At the end of our afternoon conversation, John reminded me that I had purchased a small table from him in 2005. Time has passed and many changes have occurred in my life during those years that meant I no longer had the table. Problem solved!  Through his cell phone, John showed me a photo of a table he felt I would like – it was designed with an octopus! How perfect that he should have this beautiful item depicting a sea creature. The ocean and lagoons of Marovo are rich with marine life; the deal was done. Travelling home with me on the long journey to the USA would be an even more magnificent table; a table carved and etched with John’s name. Now it’s time to have a glass top made and to locate the table in my home in a place where everyone who visits can admire this special piece of art.

The next morning, John arrived at the resort not only with the table but also with his son and 5 of his grandchildren. He wanted to share the moment with some of his family as opposed to just a delivery man. I was overjoyed!

I was in the Solomon Islands to work with three other amazing women with a focus on the marine environment and scuba diving. However, it’s always top of mind that we make the connection between the oceans and the people who depend on its health. A photo of an octopus on the reef is a fitting end to this newsletter.

Reef Octopus

Many thanks to our sponsors and hosts who made this trip possible!!! 


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