Villagers in Bena will tell you they are Christians, but their faith seems a thin veneer over more ancient rites and beliefs. The steep-pitched thatched roofs of their teakwood huts are topped with the bhaga and ngadhu, totems symbolizing female and male. The former looks like a miniature of the distinctive huts' roofline, the latter a kind of umbrella. "The bhaga is a symbol of a room that holds everything a family owns. It means fertility and hope for an abundant harvest," says Dara. "The ngadhu symbolizes man, who protects the family." A concatenation of jagged megaliths, some more than three meters high, surrounds the village. "When we pray for a good harvest, we say mass, then we sacrifice a pig or buffalo on the stones," Dara says.
The village is laid out in the shape of a boat. "Maybe our ancestors sailed here from somewhere, and they wanted to keep their memory of the sea," says Theos Muja, another clan patriarch. He then embarks on a convoluted tale about the local volcanoes: Ibolobu is man, and Enerea is nature, married to Manulabu, the rooster. Ibolobu falls for Enerea and fights Manulabu for her. In the end, the rooster's head is chopped off, leaving Ibolobu free to wed Enerea. Muja takes half an hour to spin the yarn, puffing away on hand-rolled, pungent cigarettes, pulling faces and waving his hands around. I'm transfixed, a captive audienceónot least because in one flailing hand is a fearsome machete he seems to have forgotten he's holding.