Breaching protocols

Police and military officers on Bau Island. Picture: FT FILE

GOTTA say, there are breaches of protocol all over our place down in darkest Flagstaff.

This week, the event – or rather non-event — on Bau provided a good moment to teach the junior generation a thing or two about protocol and politeness.

The poor things have to learn it on all sides, having rellies in multiple cultures who expect them to not only eat with the proper hand but use cutlery on appropriate occasions, speak up or shut up as various situations require and generally know how to behave in the context of a multi ethnic mataqali.

I can’t say they were particularly smart on the uptake of these protocols and behaviours.

In fact they can be wee demons who create havoc, racket, riot and mayhem wherever they go.

I’m not sure what they do now on Bau if you don’t mind your protocols and manners, but I know what they used to do and it wasn’t very pleasant.

But that’s all right because these days we all know at least something of the propriety of visiting the chiefly island, the permission or invitation required and the respect to show.

Many years back my mother, the Dreaded Violet, was invited over for afternoon tea.

As we skirted the rara the Dreaded Violet was in full (loud) voice in praise of the neat, well kept homes.

Trying to convince her that was all very well but protocol required her to be respectfully quiet at this point was a struggle.

Even when Violet whispered it echoed around the island.

Back in the day the dearly, now departed, beloved had a workmate who lived on Bau.

One late night around the grog bowl I got a bit concerned about driving him to the Bau landing.

He got up and peered out of the shutters at the sky and said no, he didn’t need to go yet.

I looked confused until someone said he was telling the time and tide by the moon.

At that time the Bau landing was in a different place and the boats could only go at high tide. At low tide it was a case of wading.

Sometimes after a jolly evening in Nausori the two workmates would head to Bau for a fish dinner.

One of them was a large, warrior-sized person; the other was, to put it bluntly, short.

While the big one barely got the hem of his sulu wet, his mate often found himself almost up to the neck, especially as he had no Bauan knowledge of where the dips and holes were in the underwater path.

I’ve been to the island for various events and had to slosh back, holding camera equipment and bags on our heads, sometimes while we watched VIPs being loaded into boats and taken somewhere safe and dry.

I can’t remember which occasion or royal it was, perhaps one of Prince Charles’ visits, but the media actually had a boat provided.

Only problem was the engine caught fire on the way and they had to abandon ship. While our household protocols are probably not as stringent as those on Bau, I place importance on listening politely to people.

Certain phrases apparently turn small children stone deaf.

“Time for your bath”; “eat your dinner”; “stop fighting”; and “one more scream and it will be time out, big time” are all deaf-making, no matter how loud.

I must admit that I too have been known to stop listening, especially to some lengthy saga about what happened at school.

While it is difficult to impossible to find out what they actually learn, they apparently have an amazing school life full of rich drama, strange people, inside information about the sun and since going to see the splendid school production of Jungle Book, wild animals and jungle vegetation in the playground.

It is wrong not to listen, however, because while your mind has wandered you discover you have said yes to letting children eat sugar from the jar with teaspoons or play with water pistols in the livingroom.

Respect for elders and visitors is also important.

Visitors to Flagstaff often get a warm welcome and at least a share of the biccies, but the jury is still out on respect for grannies.

With these sort of battles raging on the home front, I was agog to hear about people being taken in from Bau by police on a matter of breach of protocol, although of course it’s none of my business.

Anyway it seems there is nearly always some controversy over chiefly titles that are ultimately sorted by the people involved. But I still couldn’t wait to ask my in-house consultant on such traditional matters all about it.

“What about the police going. And what about the soldiers with guns?” I said.

“Never mind guns,” she said.

“They didn’t even take off their hats.”

* The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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