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Ghost Attol

February 2007

This story was told to me by a close friend and is only about one of many interesting encounters involving her grandfather in the early part of the 20th century and goes so.........

As an newly indoctrinated official of a certain Pacific colonial Territory, he was posted to a remote atoll to administer the affairs of natives still unfamiliar to the white mans concept of civil society.
Having been deposited by boat at his new post he found a waiting native staff of four policemen, a cook, translator and a husband/wife house staff were to be his only close companions for the next 2 years. To overcome his crushing sense of isolation he promptly set about getting to know the staff including the translator who seemed to know only a few words of english. From simply pointing at objects and using hand gestures he was able to painstakingly compile his own dictionary and was slowly able to converse with the patient help of his house staff's 8 year old son.

As his work consisted of conducting foot/boat patrols from time to time to remote villages for inspections, collecting head taxes, settling disputes etc, he avidly learnt more of the various clan's cultures and beliefs. The one discovery he found fascinating was of a mysterious clan living apart on a island distant from the main group, regarded as the custodians of the dead.

It was believed that when a native died their soul would travel to this sacred island where new companions and lives awaited them once they had drunk from the shell of forgetfulness.
With his curiosity aroused he then decided that his next patrol would include this island as the last stop.

By this time our official had worked out a certain routine of arriving at villages with his staff who would then go about the process of setting up court while he would sit alone and have a freshly brewed cup of tea prior to the launch of official proceedings. Not realising his newly acquired language skills, the chief and various important persons would then approach and attempt to converse without success before rapidly losing interest and simply watching the preparations. By playing ignorant he would then listen to their idle chatter amongst themselves and pick up clues as to the state of affairs in the village, which he would then work into his opening official speech via the translator.

Finally the day came and he found himself ashore in the village of this mysterious custodian clan, once again enjoying a freshly brewed tea, observing the activity of his staff who seemed subdued and respectful as if on holy ground while going about their preparations. As expected the chiefs approached, attempted to converse before giving up and joining him in observing the ongoing activity. Listening in to their idle gossip of who was doing what in the village, he suddenly heard one of them casually mention to the others the arrival of a new spirit. The group then started to make observations and discuss the disorientated behavior of the spirit which was identified by name as the daughter of a village paramount chief on the main body a days travel distant. Noting the time he was surprised to learn upon his return that the said person had indeed died at approximately the same time and day. It seemed she had gotten into a heated argument with another woman and insulted the person by comparing them to a certain bodily function within earshot of observers. Because this insult was regarded as strictly taboo she was speared to death by her opponent in what was seen as a totally justified response with no right of redress for the victims family.

Anyway one thing is for sure, he never forgot his two years on that Atoll.

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