Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Life with a Knife

I remember some ripplings in the media recently about kids being overprotected in Western countries, and the adverse effects on their lives, their motor skills for example. Here in the developing world there are no such concerns – small children climb large coconut trees, walk barefoot through the jungle, and wield fearsome, curved blades known as bush knives. Yes there are a few tendon injuries and infected flesh wounds, but for the most part, Solomon Islanders are very handy with a machete, and they like to start them early.
Our little neighbour, Casper (we may have told some of you about his spectacular, vocal-cord-shredding tantrums, sometimes at three in the morning, other times, just three in a morning) couldn’t be more than two. He shuns clothing, for the most part, but loves to accessorise his minimalist look with a bush knife. The blade is almost as tall as he is, but he swings it quite handily at marauding weeds with no adult supervision. This is not an uncommon sighting here.
In fact, I am seeking advice and supervision from one of the local kids on how to use my small knife to open green coconuts. She has helped me out in the past where I have failed to breach the shell, and I am copying her technique but I just can’t do it like her. Fiona is about eight, I think, so I guess she has about eight years more experience than I do…

On the way to the hospital, I often ride past a few young guys on the side of the road, stopping for a chat, and leaning on their bush knives as they do so. When they all look up and call out “hello”, it is hard for someone from our safety-conscious culture not to be a little alarmed. It is, however, quite a normal thing here, and it is usually people without bush knives that I find more intimidating.

At the hospital, the national psychiatric unit is next door to the physiotherapy department. It is surely the only psychiatric unit in the world where the patients are allowed to wander around with 55cm machetes and open gates. It’s all in the name of gardening, you see, as everything (especially weeds) grow at a scarcely-believable rate. With a bush knife, you can “mow” the lawn, hack back the encroaching jungle, and dig small weeds out of the ground. And that’s aside from the myriad other uses – opening coconuts, husking green coconuts to drink, cutting down trees, and of course, general brandishing by children. We have also embraced life with a knife, in fact we have two – a large and a small one, for all our daily needs.

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