The history of Tetepare
According to oral tradition passed on to descendants, the original tribes of Tetepare were unique and not related to neighbouring islands. They were fierce warriors who spoke a distinct language, had different customs and were hostile to outsiders. Around 1860, 150 years ago, the people of Tetepare abandoned their island home in a mass exodus. There are three potential causes of this; disease, headhunting pressure and/or sea-devil magic that possibly lead to a great famine.
Disease commonly referred to as the “big sick” may have struck Tetepare as a contagious epidemic of chronic dysentery. Healing by herbal medicine could not keep up with the death rate and visiting warriors reported unburied bodies littering villages. This disease could have been introduced by contact with whalers. Survivors would have fled to neighbouring villages that had before only been battlegrounds.
During the 1800s there was a constant state of warfare in the Solomon Islands. Great headhunting missions were undertaken by men from villages all over the Western province that engaged many Tetepare warriors. Whole villages were slaughtered and sometimes captives were taken as slaves. Any women captives would automatically lose their land ownership rights to Tetepare which may have assisted in the demise of the Tetepare language and customs.
Beach or sea devil magic may have contributed to the exodus of Tetepare. Originally, the spirits protected the people and were hostile only to their foes. Due to disrespect or casting of a curse by another tribe, their favors were turned and an ill will curse was cast on the inhabitants of the island. The coming of the headhunters was not forewarned and protection from disease was not granted. It is said that entry to the island is still greatly restricted not by human imposition but by supernatural works.
Migration and Captivity – Tetepare Descendants
Several accounts of genealogical ties to Tetepare have been collected. Some people left of their own accord while others were taken by force. There are more than 3000 descendants of these survivors in the Solomon Islands. Descendants are spread throughout the Western Province, locally on Rendova Island and from as far away as Marovo Lagoon and Ranongga Island. Some survivors paddled to safety in different communities and availed upon local chiefs to take them in. Some women were taken as brides by chief's sons. There are other stories of children who were captured on Tetepare and taken away to be offered as sacrifices to the ancestors. Some were taken pity upon and allowed to live. The last known surviving original inhabitants to leave the island were two ladies, Sifu and her daughter, Nidu. They were rescued by a man called Bina from Tirokofi and taken to Baniata. Most of the descendants of Sifu are found in Baniata while Nidu's are found in Lokuru. As land tenure on Tetepare is matrilineal, eight or nine generations of the surviving women's genealogy is documented.
In the early 1900's coconut plantations were springing up all over the Pacific Islands. Burns Philips Co. negotiated a coconut plantation lease with the Rendova people on the western tip of Tetepare, where the field station is today. Workers were brought in from Guadalcanal and Malaita and pigs and cattle were raised on the island for food. By 1940 the copra yield was up to 250 – 330 tons per year, the highest in the Western Province. Soon after, World War II started and the plantation was abandoned. Many older people on Rendova Island still tell stories of working for Japanese and Allied forces during their teenage years. Twenty years later, the coconut plantation started up again but closed four years later due to labour unrest.