When I heard about Skull Island for the first time, I was more than just a little bit intrigued, but mainly because of its mysterious and nebulous name. What skulls were there and why I wondered?
And so, when we ventured to the South Pacific recently, we made sure that a visit to Skull Island was on the list, located in the middle of nowhere in the Vona Vona Lagoon in the Solomon Islands.
Getting to Skull Island
To get to Skull Island, you need to head to the small town of Munda first (we stayed at the Agnes Hotel, which is also home to Dive Munda — if you’re an avid diver, this is a must stop). From there, one of the locals who attend to the island will take you out to this tiny islet on the Vona Vona Lagoon on a banana boat.
It takes around a half an hour to get there depending on the weather and waves and you could jump in for a swim anywhere along the way. There’s plenty to see and you can also go snorkeling off one of the many nearby islands.
Despite the name and headhunting history, we feared not and headed to Skull Island as soon as we arrived in Munda. It is meant to be the final resting place for the skulls of many vanquished warriors, all of whom were killed back around the time of World War I and beyond. On-site, there is a shrine for the skulls of Rendovan chiefs which some locals still pray to and ask for assistance, especially for luck with fishing. Note that headhunting was also prominent in Papua New Guinea as well around the same time.
The History of Skull Island
The truth is that there’s a lot more involved in the history and culture of Skull Island than you’ll find in most travel articles.
Said to be done from around 1860 to the early 1900’s, headhunting was a ritual that yielded you power and authority from the Chief and this was done by acquiring skulls as trophies –- some say it was a sign that their ancestors were by their sides and supported them.
The ritual was said to be part of religious practices which bound together the living and the dead. Story has it that headhunting evolved as a form of ritualized warfare around the same time as trading. We also heard that some communities built watch-houses high in trees so you could see the so called “raids” coming from Rendova, Vella Lavella and Marovo Lagoon, the latter of which is known for great snorkeling and diving today.
History also has it that revenge was done by assassins who were hired to kill rival warriors and destroy entire villages. Can you imagine? Headhunting was apparently carried out on other islands as well but this region is where it is most known and stories were passed down verbally. We learned about this from grandchildren of those who lost fathers and grandfathers in these raids or participated in the rituals, one of whom was our guide to Skull Island.
Go to Skull Island with a Guide
On-site at the Agnes Hotel, Sunga and Silliun are two guides who can take you over to Skull Island. You see, not anyone can bring people there, or at least it isn’t a good idea. We don’t know if people go to the island unattended, but there’s a sacred reason why you should only go with a guide.
Many of the skulls have been removed over the years, so only a portion of them can still be found there. Because of their history, these guides talk to the deceased spirits who still live on the island before visitors enter. Why is this done and why is it important?
In one word: RESPECT. Asking the spirits who remain if it is okay to visit is done from a place of respect, dignity and honor for the tragedies which took place there in the early 1900’s which have left scars and haunting memories on many families in the Roviana area.
As you approach the island, it doesn’t look much different than many of the other small islands in the area, but there’s much trauma rooted into its soil.
Because it is fairly shallow around the island, you need to walk in by foot as the boat cannot pull all the way up to the shore.
Once we arrived on the island itself, Silliun went to the gate first to ask permission and alert the spirits that we were coming. In this way, there is a guide they are connected to, which means they (aka the spirits) will trust who comes onto the island. Going with a guide not only shows respect to the spirits on the island, but protects you.
Below, Anthony approaches the gate.
Inside Skull Island
The skull shrines are also decorated with traditional shell money. While skulls have gone missing over the years, protectors such as our guides Silliun and Sunga are there to minimize the risk of theft and to maintain respect for the spirits who remain here.
Apparently, Skull Island is one of the most sacred places on the Island of New Georgia. According to the Solomon Times, “many villages hold certain beliefs with sacred places, and that the life of visitors could be in grave danger if they visit sacred places without the knowledge of village chiefs. Village chiefs, according to beliefs would often have to make a traditional ritual before a visit to sacred places. This is according to a belief that when their traditional spirits are aware of the visitation they will not harm strange visitors.”
Connecting to the Spirits of the Past
Traveling to the island is an intense experience as it is, but imagine connecting directly to the spirits of the past? A caveat to note here for those who don’t know our story. Since Anthony is a spiritual trance medium, we had a very different experience than most will have when they visit Skull Island.
As we were about to enter the gate, our Spirit Team came through in force and explained what was happening each step of the way, guiding us how to stay protected and how to provide respect for the spirits who remain on the island. We learned a whole lot more than we expected.
Listen to the video at the bottom of this article to view and listen to our experience first hand. It was a fascinating encounter albeit an eerie one at times, although our loving Spirit Guides involved Silliun and as they spoke, while Ellison and I translated what was happening in real time.
After we made our way through the wooden gate, we ran into the salt water and saged ourselves before getting back on the boat — saging is always a good idea before and after you visit spiritual and sacred grounds — even cemeteries.
The locals here also think it’s a good idea too and since they don’t have sage lying around, Silliun picked up some Zovi leaves, which they traditionally use for cleansing and clearing — these can be found in abundance throughout the Solomon Islands. Silliun says, “you can use the Zovi tree for protection, especially the leaves.”
The water around the island is absolutely beautiful and there are plenty of places where you can snorkel and swim. There are also other lagoons and islands where you can stop for a swim or a picnic.
Later that night, we talked to Silliun and Sunga who provided us with insight into the fierce headhunting history of local warriors of the time. We heard stories of the great grandfather David Vinoy whose job it was to take the heads off during a time. Imagine this ancestral past? Below is a photo of the founder of Skull Island, who is of course, no longer living.
The next morning over breakfast, we had another chat with them and caught some of it on video (below).
Note: The trip to the Solomon Islands was made in conjunction with and the support of the Solomon Islands Tourism Board although all opinions expressed are entirely our own.