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  • Michael Roman

Smokin' for the Gods

Custom dictates visitors circumnavigate the island upon arrival to familiarize themselves with the island spirits. Outsiders offer gifts for protection and safety while on the island. Our gifts, cakes of tobacco, were placed on stone altars or smoked by guides for the spirit world. Fearing the spirits, menstruating females were not allowed on the walk. The rest of the group gathered in the southernmost village and headed into the bush for a three-hour tour.


The first altar, not far from my family’s land, required crossing a large reef flat. Since the flat became inundated during high tide we had to time our walk to make back safely. Under direct sunlight, as we crossed the reef, the shade provided by the coconut grove surrounding the first altar felt wonderful.


Roughly 30 minutes were spent at each altar making offerings to the spirits. By the time we made it to the third altar, high tide had arrived. No longer was it safe to walk to the next alter, we had to swim?


I immediately flashed back to Mikaio’s chat, trying to rest my mind with his perspective on global warming as I removed my flip flops and headed into the ocean.


The fourth alter was a tree in the middle of another reef flat. Submerged by the ocean, my flip-flops became the perfect flotation devices. Elated by the cooling waters, we trod water while our guides made the offering. I began doubting the estimated 3-hour tour timeframe and knowing the ritual was essential for our presence, at times, it felt more like a physical fitness test than a blessing.


The sun had set by the time we made our way to the final altar. Traversing the reef, we witnessed another beautiful sunset. Orange, pink, and yellow rays exploded over the ocean, cloaking us with bursts of vitamin D and warmth.


We approached dry land as the moon appeared. Our movements triggered colonies of bioluminescence. Awestruck, bioluminescent bacteria illuminated in bright blue paths as we moved across the shallow lagoon.


Arriving on a small patch of dry land, our guides gathered dried coconut fronts and fashioned them into torches. With the spark of a lighter several coconut torches were lit, guiding our way back home under the light of the milky way light and above glowing blue trails beneath our feet.


We had walked, crawled, ran, and swam across the island to please the Gods — and finally, we were home. Our families were furious with the guides for returning us several hours past the expected time. We were awestruck and thankful. This memory would remain with me for the rest of my life.


Despite this, each family took turns yelling at our guides for having us miss dinner. Though uncomfortable at times, all of us will never forget our first trip


… home.



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