Caroline & Margaret – Experience with Contagions

From Caroline’s scrapbook.

As we all consider the current state of COVID 19, I was drawn back to Caroline’s books. It was almost 100 years ago they ventured to the Pacific Islands in Melanesia and early in their “Winney the Pooh Expotition”, they had their first introduction to communicable disease. In Ruavatu, Solomon Islands, the local plantation owners were their hosts and they had a baby, which Caroline lovingly called “little sausage”.

The Hodges – circa 1927

                      Excerpt from Headhunting in the Solomon Islands:

“A crying baby might not seem worth mentioning on a headhunting (portraits) expedition.  ….the Ruavatu ‘sausage’ was not a howler by nature. ….A child seriously ill could die before a runner with a paper talk-talk could get to Berande, before the Berande launch could get to Ruavatu and take the child to Tulagi.

Yet the runner was sent off, and we waited outside the nursery house feeling more unnecessary than ever as guests. Then came Monday morning. So far our attitude had been that of intensely sympathetic but detached spectators at a crisis, and now, lo and behold, we discovered ourselves principals.   ……….

Three white men stood along the deck (this was from a government launch)  “Got any sickness there?” he shouted. “What’s up?” screamed the Missus. “MEASLES!” came the answer.  “Epidemic —brought—by the Ark; we had shaken hands with its passengers …There had been no baths to wash away our sins. And now the baby had a temperature.  ….Measles in this country is not the pleasant holiday from school it is at home. It is a serious disease, as serious as smallpox in a crowded city…… It was an ironic twist of fate that the Ark of God, whose only mission was to save souls, should have been the means of making so many of them immortal.”

Local elder posing for Caroline.
Chalk portrait of elder.

Sadly, hundreds of local people died and villages ravaged by having to quarantine only to watch the numbers of their own diminish. During this time of a global pandemic, Westerners have no right to throw stones at other cultures. We too, have brought in our own diseases to unfamiliar territories.

As of this writing, there are few cases in Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea. My hope is that this remains at low levels. I think of all the friends I’ve met over the years who hold special places in my heart and live in remote areas with little to no health care.

Sending thoughts and love for everyone to get through this difficult time!


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