Cricket in the Solomon Islands
By Bishop Cecil Wilson
From Imperial Cricket, edited by P. F. Warner, London: London and Counties Press Association, Ltd., 1912, pages 419-427.
Transcribed by the Right Reverend Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2011
 CRICKET found its way to the Solomon Islands through Norfolk Island, a small island in mid-ocean, 900 miles east of Brisbane, to which Bishop Patteson, the first Bishop of Melanesia, and one of the first pioneers in the South Pacific Islands, carried his young Solomon Islanders to train them as teachers of their people. Patteson had been at Eton, and captain of the School Eleven. It was only natural, therefore, that when, in 1867, he founded his training school at Norfolk Island, he should set aside a large piece of ground, the "valis we poa" as it is called, for a playing-field, and should teach his boys the game. It was an amusement entirely new to the natives. In the New Hebrides, to the south of the Solomons, they had a kind of football which seems to have originated amongst themselves. I once watched a very exciting match between two villages in Pentecost Island. The ball was a hard green orange, and the goals were a house at one end of the open space in the midst of the village and a part of the fence at the other. Two of the elders of the village sat on the goals, each with a long leaf of cycos palm in his hand, from which he tore a frond for every goal kicked. The side which first kicked a hundred goals won the match. There were about 50 men playing on each side. The game consisted in a man picking up the orange and kicking it whenever it came his way. There was no running about, but plenty of shouting and laughter.
In the Solomons there were no ball-games of any kind. Dances, feasts, and fishing were the only amusements, and growing food, fighting and killing one another were the serious employments of life. The boys could knock over a bird with a stone, and the men could throw a spear fifty yards with deadly aim, or parry one with a wicker or bark shield. This last was their nearest approach to cricket, and perhaps prepared the way for it. At any rate, when peaceful pursuits occupied their time at the Norfolk Island College, instead of war, they took very readily to it, and when I first met South Sea Islanders, in 1894, at this school, I found that they had a team, and had no reason to be ashamed of it.
A match had been arranged for me, I think, because they had heard that I had been a cricketer, and they wished me to exhibit my prowess. Hard hitters themselves, and judging the value of a hit chiefly by the [419/420] height and distance that the ball flew, they believed that I should send the ball well over the tall pines that surrounded the ground. They were disappointed, however. The wicket was very rough, and I had scarcely touched a bat for four years. A big islander, John Pantatun (Hotband), with a fine high action, sent me down a trimmer for my first ball, and I succumbed. Then I heard, for the first time, an island war-whoop, which staggered me more than the ball which had bowled me.
The natives are of all shades of brown in colour, short, with very strong arms and legs, dark frizzy hair, with, when they play cricket or any other game, red hibiscus flowers stuck in it. They wear no boots, shoes, or hats. In their own Islands their only clothing is a "malo" or loincloth; and at Norfolk Island, when they feel the cold a little, a coloured shirt and short cotton trousers. They talk a multiplicity of languages, and as they crossed over the wicket when the over was called I heard a Babel around me. They bowled, as a rule, very fast and very well. On a bad wicket, where one ball rose and the next shot, no one could be sure of making runs or going undamaged. None of them used pads to bat in, but trusted to their bare and nimble feet to escape from the ball if they failed to hit it. They had only three strokes: blocking with a straight bat, driving high and hard with a crooked one, and hitting to leg with the left hand only holding the bat. They throw magnificently, but were not much good as fields or catchers, as I should have expected them to be. They took a very keen interest in the game, and always tried to win. If they got a good man out for few runs they war-whooped furiously. If a batsman narrowly escaped being run out, he capered, and swung his bat over his head, and whooped in chorus with his friends amongst the onlookers until he was exhausted. This finished, the game was allowed to proceed. The best bat that I saw at the School was John Pantatun, a Banks Islander, a group of islands under the joint control of the British and French, and so not strictly of the Empire. But by far the best bowler was a young Solomon Islander from Mala, who bowled left hand with a swinging action, which reminded me always of Peate, the Yorkshireman.
In 1895 a team of these islanders visited New Zealand, and rendered a good account of themselves, winning more than half of their matches.
The game has taken a very strong hold upon these young natives, and during play hours at Norfolk Island small wickets are pitched, and cricket [420/423] played by all sorts and sizes of boys, just as it is amongst schoolboys at home. In the islands, however, balls are hard to get, and have to be made by the players.
Having learnt the game, and played it at every spare moment during their seven or eight years' stay at school, it would be surprising if they did not carry it on with them to their homes in the Solomons. However, serious obstacles lie in the path of cricket there. The islands are volcanic and mountainous, and good level spaces are rare. When found, they are frequently swamps, being formed of mud brought down by the rivers, and kept wet with the heavy rains that fall in the tropics. The villages are built generally on any dry flat place that can be found, and only sufficient space for the houses is cleared of trees. Outside the village is dense bush. If cricket is to be played, it must be in the open space in the midst of the village, and here it is likely that it is open only because it is uneven, and, if not uneven, it is possible that coral rocks crop up in it. Sometimes, however, the village dancing ground, stamped flat and smooth by many generations of dancers, provides a really good wicket; and at other times a pathway through the village can be played on.
The difficulty of getting bats and balls is greater here than at Norfolk Island, for traders never stock them, and if they did, with their customary profit of 100 per cent to natives, it would be impossible to buy them. And so, if anyone wishes to play cricket in the Solomons, he must first make a ball. To do this he must part with one of his scanty garments, tear it to ribbons, and bind these round a wooden core, fastening them on firmly either by sewing them, or else by making a tight string net covering. Bats are easily made with an axe or knife out of any piece of a tree. The wickets are two or three sticks. The distance bowled is generally about twenty yards, and no one is particular whether the ball is thrown or bowled. Thin dogs, and long-nosed, razor-backed pigs pursue their way across the pitch from time to time, and are hurried away. We have seen dogs a nuisance on our best grounds at home, and even in a Test match in Australia I have seen a dog chase one of the fields. In the Solomons worse still may happen at any time. I was playing one Whit-Monday in a great match between two villages in Florida. The wicket was a path. On one side was a sandy beach and the sea, and on the other were the houses of the village. Cocoanut palms around gave us all the shade that we needed, and we played through the heat of the day. The tide of the game ebbed and flowed, and towards sundown it was anybody's game. As captain of my side I [423/424] had put myself on to bowl, and one of my slow full pitches to leg was hit into the sea. Naturally we were all greatly excited, and whilst the onlookers and friends of the side against us whooped and shouted to the batsmen to run, we shouted for the ball to run them out. The village dogs joined In the excitement, and one of them, unable to control himself, seized me behind as I stood at the wicket trying to gather the ball. It was a prolonged pain, as he held on for some time, and I had to go away and bind up my wounds in a house close by.
There are two fairly good cricket grounds now in the Solomons on which the white settlers play, the one at Gavatu (Messrs Lever's station), and the other at Makambo (Messrs Burns, Philp and Co.'s). On these on most days the employés play, and on Saturdays, and whenever a man-o'-war is in harbour, matches take place. The only match that has ever been played between Solomon Islanders and white men in these islands was in 1897.
In those days there were scarcely a dozen white men, not missionaries, living in that part of the Solomons, and H.M.S. "Pylades" lay at anchor for a week or more off Gavatu, the men spoiling for a game, and finding no one to play with. I had gone on board to hold Service on Sunday, and the talk was always of cricket. It struck me that I could find eleven of my Norfolk Island boys capable of holding a bat, and so I challenged them for a match on the following Thursday. This would give me time to travel round the island in my boat and collect a team. We arrived on the scene in what would, in old days, have been called a war canoe, and, losing the toss, took our places in the field. The ground was, as it still is, a cocoanut plantation, with trees planted about thirty feet apart in long rows, the leaves just meeting over head. Although we were only a few degrees from the Equator, we could not have desired a cooler place to play in. The trees made it a little awkward to field in, and one had to guard against a ricochet off a tree when the ball was hit hard through them. We had our opponents out for 54, a good score on such a rough wicket, for, at that time, asphalt had not been laid down, as it has since been, and we were playing on a path. Numbers of natives had come to see the match, and a grim silence prevailed as the wickets of the Solomon Islanders fell rapidly, and eight of our side were out for 36. Then, however, our luck changed. By driving and skying the ball as much as possible, we kept it out of sight of the fieldsmen, sending it through the leafy covering over head, and landing it in the most unexpected places. Our score stood at 49, and then a skyer [424/427] stuck in the crown of a cocoanut tree over mid-off's head. He was a young officer in spotless white ducks, and his furious efforts to swarm up the tree, as we ran our hardest, I shall never forget. There was no silent crowd now watching the game. We might have been raiding a village by the way the onlookers shouted and pranced. Mid-off never reached the top of the tree, and the umpires gave us six for the hit, making us 55, and giving us the victory. We were out immediately afterwards, and had won by one run.
[between pages 420 and 423]
HOW WE GO TO CRICKET IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS.
[Photo by Beattie, Hobart]
BISHOP PATTESON'S COLLEGE, NORFOLK ISLAND.
[Photo by Beattie, Hobart]
[between pages 424 and 427]
CRICKET GROUND AT ST. BARNABAS.
[Photo by Beattie, Hobart]