The fleet which Gizikuk had declared necessary arrived, and a box or so was allotted to each craft, slender dugouts built up with wide side-strakes, the whole topped by a wide platform, upon which small dome-shaped houses are constructed. As it was impossible to foresee what the attitude of the natives would be concerning questions of food, whether they would expect us to share their meal, resent our eating in their presence, or tabu eating in mixed company altogether, we took no provisions, but prepared to tighten our belts for the day. And so it proved, for with characteristic Melanesian manners, our boat’s crew cooked messes of sago and cocoanut oil on the small fireplaces on the edge of the platform, and feasted happily, completely ignoring our famished presence. Entrance into native life is always accompanied by just such delicate situations, into which the average white trader or government official can step without trepidation, making the native custom bend to his whim but toward which the ethnologist has to act with the greatest circumspection. A misstep at the start may result in weeks or even months of delay. So on a Polynesian island, to take one’s own food instead of relying upon the hospitality of the natives which is always tendered with the grand manner, would be to insult one’s hosts irrevocably.
After traveling all day along the edges of the mangrove swamps, sometimes crossing the reef, more often poling our way through the shallow reef-bound lagoons, we arrived at about eight in the evening at Bunei, the village of Gizikuk. Here another situation arose. Gizikuk wished us to stay in his village; but Bunei was smaller than Pere—this had been ascertained from the census—and as I wanted particularly to study children, it was necessary for the village to be large. Furthermore, we had two boys from Pere who might be miserable in Bunei. But if Gizikuk were really a chief, as he claimed to be, to offend him by refusing to make his capital our headquarters would have been fatal. However, we bet on his authority being a mere matter of personality and government backing (a guess which subsequent experience proved to be correct), and we insisted, to his great disgruntlement, upon pushing ahead to Pere. At midnight the fleet of canoes, under full sail, swept into the moonlit lagoon village, between the rows of pile-built houses, up to the doors of the “House Kiap,” the government barracks, where we took up our temporary abode.