The Melanesian Mission (main Exeter Diocese events)
30 June Appledore Quay
8 July Plymouth City Centre
13 July Sheldon near Dunsford
16 July Ilsham, Torquay
17 July Dartington
23 July Exeter Cathedral


A Melanesian pit barbeque

The Brothers uncover the pit barbeque in Alex and Lynn Leger's Topsham back garden

Topsham, Devon June 18, 2005 It was all of five years since the Solomon Islands monks of the Melanesian Brotherhood had last been over to Devon. We first met them on that occasion at Alex and Lynn Leger's house over a magnificent evening of food and music. The next day they sang and danced in Exeter Cathedral, a most remarkable and moving occasion.
Over the intervening period, there has been civil unrest and turmoil in that far off and seeingly idyllic archipelago of South Pacific islands. There has been violent conflict and the Brothers have suffered some terrible losses including the lives of seven of their members. Their important role in working towards peace and reconciliation was acknowledged when they were awarded the United Nations Pacific Peace Prize.
It was always hoped that the Brothers would return again to Devon, and now they are back for the summer. They have already spent six weeks in the north of England where Willy, Bishop of Melanesia, together with his wife Kate and family, live in Gawsworth, near Macclesfield. Now they are back down in Devon, for Bishop Michael, Bishop of Exeter, also has strong links with the islands. He and his wife Esther and daughter Catherine have spent time in the Islands and have been instrumental this time in bringing the Brothers over to England again. During their time here, they have a busy programme of visits where they will perform their unique drama, song and dance, with music on their beautiful bamboo pan pipes. A highlight is the 'Passion of our Lord', drawn directly from their own experiences of conflict and 'a moving testimonial of hope and courage in the face of violence and death'. If you can possibly get a chance to see them, then I urge you not to miss it!
Over the past years, Alex and I have spoken a number of times about trying to recreate a Melanesian pit barbeque in which to cook a pig Solomon Islands-style the next time the Brothers come over. Alex being Alex, this time around he made sure that our excited talk became reality.
Alex, who is a BBC television producer who has worked on the children's programme Blue Peter for just about forever, has connections with the Solomon Islands that go back to when he was a very young man doing VSO service teaching in a school in Alanguala in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. There he met Willy Pwaisiho, himself a tribal chief and now Bishop of Melanesia. The friendship was rekindled when Bishop Willy and his family came to England in 1999 thus rebuilding a connection and friendships that spanned nearly forty years and halfway around the globe.

Some pig!

How, then, to cook a pig Solomon Islands style? Normally it would be a case of "first catch your pig" for the porkers of Melanesia are apparently small but tasty wild beasts that are hunted by the islanders. In our case, however, Alex arranged for an organic pig from the outstanding nearby Kenniford Farm (Clyst St Mary tel 01392 875938). So we picked up the pig on Saturday morning and hoiked it back to Alex's garden in the back of his camper van. There, on a wooden trestle table in the open air, the Brothers, assisted by Bishop Willy and his son Hornold, expertly butchered the beast.

Hornold Pwaisiho (left) and Brothers butcher the pig

Apparently the way it's done in the Solomon Islands is to cut up the pig into small pieces and to wrap each piece of meat in banana leaves. I managed to hunt down some leaves from an Asian wholesale grocer on Marsh Barton, but they had been frozen, and the Brothers did not really think too much of them. So instead they preferred to wrap the pieces in aluminium foil, seasoning them first simply with, wait for it, a little Coca Cola and a dash of soy sauce! Over a hundred little parcels were prepared in this manner.

Meanwhile the Sisters prepare the pit

I imagined a fairly deep pit would be required, but in fact a fairly shallow trough in the ground was deemed sufficient for the task. Alex had been collecting large smooth pebbles from various sources over the past months. Of course it is illegal to gather the pebbles from nearby Budleigh Salterton beach; in fact, a deep pebblebed ridge extends up the Otter Valley, a unique geological feature. It is on this pebblebed ridge that Geoff has planted his vineyard. These large, smooth stones were perfect for lining the pit oven.

Preparing vegetables for Kate's Solomon Islands soup

Meanwhile, Kate, Bishop Willy's wife, was making Solomon Islands soup again, a deliciously tasty soup made with coconut milk, sweet potatoes, yams and taro, the gooey, sticky root vegetable that is such a characteristic flavour of the South Seas.

Kate peels taro

Once all the parcels of meat had been wrapped in foil, a large wood fire was made over the layers of stones. This was allowed to burn for upwards of a couple of hours. Then the ashes were brushed away, a layer of hot stones was pushed aside, and a layer of chicken wire mesh was laid over the hot stones. Then the parcels of pork as well as parcels of taro were laid on top of this; individual stones were carefully placed in between the parcels, then another layer of chicken wire, then a deep layer of hot stones. The banana leaves were then placed on top of the stones along with damp sacks of hessian.

Nearly ready to eat!

The meat was left to cook for about three hours. When it was deemed ready and time to eat, the pit was uncovered and the Brothers leapt into the hot stones and tossed them aside with their bare hands. These stones were still mighty hot, I can tell you, as I tried to pick one up myself!

Uncovering the pit

The foil wrapped parcels were tossed into a foil-lined wheelbarrow, and everyone simply helped themselves, after first enjoying a bowl of Kate's delicious soup. What a simple feast it was! The meat was cooked perfectly - absolutely moist, even gooey, steamed slowly in its own juices. We consider Kenniford's organic freerange pork to be the best there is: cooked in such a simple, primitive fashion, it was simply sensational.

The Brothers and Sisters entertain us with their beautiful music

The night was incredibly warm - the first hot night of summer! - and we all luxuriated in the sunshine, eating, drinking and meeting new friends from across the globe. For many of the Brothers, it was their first time outside of the Solomon Islands and they were greatly enjoying the experience (though not the rain and cold of the earlier weeks!). This evening of sun, and food cooked the way they know and love, was, we sensed, as special for them as it was for all of us.
Afterwards they entertained us with their very special music, played on pan pipes, and with their extraordinarily vibrant dancing and singing. We in return, sang to them, a mixture of traditional English folk songs, while musician Joel Segal played the fiddle, and, later in the evening, Kevin Fitzpatrick the guitar.
It was truly a magical, extraordinary evening, demonstrating again that distances across the world, and over the years and decades need really not be that far or unbridgeable after all. Thank you again, Alex and Lynn, for a very special evening!

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