It turns out the problem I was having with bdb on s60/openc was that the default stack size is very small (by desktop standards). Adding EPOCSTACKSIZE 65536 to the mmp file of the test client made things work as one would expect when the sis file is installed on the device itself.
If your stack is too small then the application just magically goes away on the device and you are left wondering why. Not only that but if the function that smashes the stack with auto variables is tracked down you will have a function that, once entered, will have a corrupt stack right from the start. Functions like open(2) will not work properly because things are already on their way to the bit bucket. These sorts of things take a while to track down when you are used to stacks that adjust their size when they get full.
So, long and the short, stldb4 now works on s60/openc :)
I notice that there is also SDL for symbian which when taken together with the fact that evas has a backend engine for SDL makes edje/evas GUIs for desktop and s60 seem like a good choice. Being able to debug the look and feel of the app on a desktop using a window of device size and then just running the edje on the s60 to see if any special effects run fast enough.