Helping the Americans

TAPE: #89
SPEAKER: Stelio Giovanni
TOPIC: Helpem Olgeta Amerika
DATE: 8/16/88
PLACE: Santo(2)

I have told all of you this when you came and asked me all these questions. My name is Stelio Giovanni, child of Leon Giovanni. In 1942 when the Americans came here during World War II, my father signed up with them and they asked him to travel around with them. They went together to Malekula(3), the Banks Islands(4), and the Solomon Islands(5). My father was their "pilot", not the pilot of a plane, but someone who took them to places(6). Because he knew where the Japanese were. He knew this because he could sense in his body(7) where the Japanese were. He led the Americans; only he, not I, had this power. If they found Japanese at Big Bay(8), he didn't need to have seen them to know they were there. You see, they would take him to search places. They would take him somewhere and he would say, "No Japanese here." OK, then they would be ready to go there.

Sometimes he went with them in a plane, and the Japanese fighters fired on them. One time this happened at, I think, Shark Bay Island(9). Not in the bay, but near the sea-ward side of the island, here their plane fell down(10) [into the sea]. They were out of fuel, so they radioed for a motorboat to come rescue them. Just as they inflated their rubber raft and were getting into it, a shark attacked the American pilot. The shark ate part of his body, and they later retrieved the body for burial.

One time, they went to search for Japanese at Big Bay. They flew there, where a Japanese plane shot their plane and they shot the Japanese plane. When the Japanese plane shot their plane it went down but the Japanese plane went down too. Both planes fell into the sea. My father and his pilot got in their raft to go ashore, but the Japanese men quickly got ashore first. Then, my father and his pilot reached the shore. The Japanese ran into the forest in a great hurry(11). They crossed a river; I don't know which one, but it must have been the Jordan River(12) because it is the only one there(13). My father and his pilot crossed the river and tracked the Japanese until they found them. The Japanese did this [probable gesture], but my father knew they were there and told the American pilot, "The Japanese are very near, we will soon see them." Sure enough they came to(14) and shot dead the two Japanese and took the bodies to bury at San Michel(15). This was the first place [in Vanuatu] where Japanese [military personnel] were buried, and I think the Japanese graves are still there.

Once we were down at Melcoffee(16). We watched the Americans bring Japanese [POWs]. The Americans put the Japanese where they had built only a fence like a prison for them because at that time there wasn't a prison building, so they just used wire [fencing]. They put the Japanese inside the fence and also had armed guards watching them. They made the POWs work until one morning, I think one POW didn't want to work. Taking something like an iron crow bar, this Japanese POW threw it so it stood upright just like this [probable gesture], and then he ran himself onto the crow bar and died. Perhaps he was depressed about his situation or something. Or he was opposed to working there, so he committed suicide. After, the POWs didn't seem concerned, but all went back to work. Everyone know these crosses(17), we went to look at them. They were just in a clearing like that one [probable gesture]. When they saw us, they were very angry. They had underwear(18), not clothes, they had nothing like this [probable gesture].

This is something I saw with my own eyes: I saw the Americans bring a nun back from the Solomons after they had invaded them. The Americans went with my father, and came back with the nun. When they unloaded her, they unloaded her where the wharf is now(19). The Japanese had cut off her breasts(20). My father told me about this horrible thing. I don't know what the Japanese did with the breasts, but that's what the Japanese did. When the Americans brought the nuns(21) - you understand that the American medicine is very effective. They healed the nuns, but the nuns no longer had breasts.(22) This is all I can say about this.

I was friends with many Americans. The young men were friendly. But back then, I was younger than them because they came to fight and I was younger than them. All good men, they took me with them to eat; you know they had lots of places to eat. We lined up like this [probable gesture], they hadn't told me about this. We lined up like this and carried plates past the chief cook; they gave us food and we sat down to eat. It was good food; their bread was the best(23). Here [in Vanuatu], in the past we didn't have good bread, but when the Americans came, their bread was good.

JG: Sir(24), last time I asked Soso, he said the Americans are going to return to visit all of you.

SG: Last time, a man named Wallace, my father's superior officer, He returned with his wife. They came back before independence(25).

JG: Wallace was your father's superior officer?

SG: Yes, Lieutenant Wallace.

JG: Soso said this man returned for the the wedding of his child?

SG: Yes, when his daughter was married to a Frenchman. That time he came I was here.

JG: But you think this man is still alive?

SG: Yes, he went back home, where he is still living. When he came here, he brought a photo of my father that he had taken. When he came he brought it. But since then, my sister took everything to Noumea(26).

ML: So, your father was a pilot here?

SG: Yes, like I said, he was a ship's captain. He was the captain of a very small ship around here. He knew every island here, and he also knew all the American bases on every island here.

ML: That is why the Americans wanted him to work with them?

SG: Yes, but the Americans did not know what [magic powers] he had. You know that he knew very much about all the islands here. Just as everything about magic didn't want something similar.(27) He knew a lot about magic.

ML: Was this "love magic"(28) ?

SG: No, it wasn't "love magic", but he had something; he could see when you came along if you were a good man or if you were someone who came to harm him. If you came in friendship, he would know this before you drew near.

ML: He didn't have black magic(29) ?

SG: Not black magic. That is for harming people, but his magic was not for doing harm. His was in his body; only he knew about it.(30) If he said today, "No, you and I won't go there, if we do it will be bad. If we go there, something will get us."

ML: And he guided the Americans in the Solomons and at Tikopia(31) ?

SG: They went to the Solomons and the Philippines, all over those places. He went with them in a destroyer(32). When they disembarked they had to use a bus(33) to put them ashore. He had many pictures of him there, but my sister has all of those photos.

JG: Sir, I have heard many stories about him, did he help [in a major fashion] the Americans win the war?

SG: No, not that, but he helped a lot when they wanted to go where he told them, "Yes, they can go." But if he said, "No, they must not go. If they would go, something would get them. but it isn't that he did it all. No, the Americans were very powerful when they came. But he helped them with some small things like I told you. At first the Americans did not believe him, but after they saw it was true, when he told them not to go somewhere, they did not go. If they had, the Japanese would have killed them.

One day the Japanese came to Malo Island(34) where we live. There is a small island and one more small island like this [probable gesture]. The Japanese came to the small island, maybe they came in the night in a submarine. They came ashore on the small island where we now live. When some Americans came in a ship to this island he(35) told them that the Japanese were on the island. The Americans went with rifles but, to tell the truth, the Japanese had left, perhaps back to their submarine. The Americans just saw their tracks. Perhaps the Japanese came to take photos or something. But you see my father knew this way(36) that the Japanese were there. So, just this is the sort of small way that he helped the Americans. But it wasn't him who had powerful means to fight with, no, he didn't have them. The Americans came with much power to fight with.

JG: What year did your father die?

SG: He died in 1966.

ML: But during this time where did you live, on Malo or here on Espiritu Santo?

SG: Yes, we lived here [on Espiritu Santo]. When the Americans first came we lived here in town(37). They said BP burned here, BP burned here in Melcoffee.(38) At the time the Americans came, a real plane(39) came here, U-UH! We saw that it was black when it came; we were afraid, we ran away into the forest(40) because we were very frightened. But when the first [American] soldiers came ashore, they said, "No, you must not be afraid of us." We were afraid; we thought the Japanese were coming. We were afraid because all the big Army planes came and we had never seen one. but the Americans said, "These are our planes, you have no worries." They said that, it just made our hearts settle down.

At that time I was boarding at San Michel school. One night I heard "u-u-u-u". I said, "Eh! What is that?" The nuns said, "Oh maybe the Americans came with that earthquake." This same sound continued during that night. Perhaps I heard a Japanese plane. Also, during the blackout, all the lights were out. We went to a cave uphill from here near the graveyard. During the night, all of us, boys, girls, all the children heard the air-raid siren; all of us went into that cave. When we stood inside, we saw them shining huge flashlights(41) up [into the sky]. You could see that the Japanese plane was very small. But they caught it in the beams and followed it until they shot it somewhere in the Solomons or I don't know where.

I saw these things with my own eyes.

Once the Japanese dropped bombs on Ambae(42) - no I am mistaken - they dropped them at the place Mr. Lerua bought. Those bombs killed a Vietnamese [indentured labourer] and three cattle. Another time bombs were dropped inland near the garbage dump. Japan dropped bombs there but the Americans were a short distance from where they fell and the bombs didn't hit anyone. And one time the Japanese bombed Topi on the point over there, but the bombs did not explode. The Americans retrieved them because they did not explode. A big long thing(43) shot something but it missed; the shell went that way; it was big.

And once the S.S. President Coolidge(44) sank over there [probable gesture]. We were at Surunda(45) when we heard it hit a mine. A mine that the Americans laid, but I don't know how the ship missed [the safe passage through the mine field](46). When the ship entered the minefield the crew saw the mines and gave the warning but the captain put the ship right into that mine. The captain beached the ship; later it slid back before coming to rest. It stayed there partially underwater. but the bow stayed [above water] perhaps several weeks before it sunk, because it [the bow] was on the beach. But that time about twenty Americans died, which was quite a few.(47)

JG: Where did it sink, near Million Dollar Point(48) or where?

SG: No, it came kind of near Speedy Gas(49), kind of over there [probable gesture].

ML: And sometimes Americans came to eat at your family's house?

SG: Yes, those who were my father's friends came and ate with us at our house.(50) At that time we lived down at Surunda Bay; Father put us there while he worked with the Americans.

ML: And did many black Americans come [during the War]?

SG: Oh, yes; I was friends with all of them, they were all my friends. I knew them well.

ML: Do you still know some names of them, any white or black Americans?

SG: One black American, I know his name was Jim Wilson.

ML: What work did the black Americans do?

SG: Oh, they were all in the Army. They worked in different places. I am not sure, maybe they were in one company. They drove ten-wheel trucks(51) carrying soil(52) to build roads. You understand that before [the Americans came] there were no roads here; the Americans came and built all of these roads. Before all there were here was crab holes everywhere. There were not any roads here, you could only travel by horse(53). When you wanted to ford the river at low tide you could ride a horse across, there were no roads here. The Americans came and filled in these places. Before, it was muddy here but after the Americans filled it, now you see that it is solid ground. But before this was just black crab country; now the Americans have filled it right up and you see it is better, but before there only crab holes. The Americans spent a lot of money here to make it better like you see it now. Today we drive along the roads here that the Americans built. The Americans built them [not us].

ML: Did you see sometimes that the white and black Americans fought each other?

SG: Yes, yes, once at Surunda Bay I saw this at Mr. Mulen's restaurant. Perhaps the Frenchman, Mr. Mulen, did not like black Negroes very much. Once the Negroes went inside [the restaurant] to buy food from the icebox. It was not only Negroes but some white Americans also went inside. The Frenchman, I think he did not like black Americans, I think he insulted one by saying, "You are a black Negro." The black American became angry and wanted to punch the Frenchman. But the white Americans helped the Frenchman. They were close to rioting but fortunately(54) their officers(55) came and stopped it.

Bislama Interview Transcript provided by Lamont Lindstrom, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA and James Gwero, Vanuatu Cultural Centre.

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Translation ©S. Combs, 1998.