Custom Stories – a gift from Mary Bisili Cole

MARY Cole was born in Munda, in the Western province but ended up spending most of her life in New Zealand after marrying a British gentleman.

While in New Zealand she was always active in charity work and joined Rotary to become even more involved in service to others.

It was in 2008 that Mary Cole and a Kiwi friend started collecting traditional short stories told and written by children from the Western province.

These stories were published and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Riccarton in New Zealand.

Mary passed away in 2015 after years of being ill and before she could return to her beloved Solomon Islands to launch the book.

The cartons of books have been in her sister’s house in Honiara for a couple of years.

Connie Bisili Grouse, Mary’s younger sister, was waiting for the right time and for the right way to launch the book and have it distributed across the nation.

A few weeks ago Connie saw an old friend, Joyce Boykin, and they decided to have READ SI take the books out to the villages that literacy trainers visit.

These books would become part of the library kit that villages were given with the READ SI programme.

So Connie and her brother, Max, kindly handed boxes of books to Joyce knowing that they would be given out to people throughout the Solomon Islands.

Custom stories are still passed down from generation to generation in the villages.

They are steeped and entwined in traditional lore, founded on spiritualism and a close and intimate relationship with ancestors and the environment.

Village life is still spiritually and materially closely connected to the land, forests and the sea and many stories, like daily life, are about the sea and the land the villagers know so intimately.

Though Solomon Islanders practice Christianity many stories are also about the dead and the ability of the dead to affect the life of the living.

Some of the stories that are told are about tall ships with white skinned men, explorers, whalers and traders who came to barter.

Sometimes they were about sailors who used to entice men into their ships and take them to be slaves to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

Stories are told in the evenings, after everyone has washed and eaten and the heat of the day has cooled, when small groups gather on a convenient verandah or on a log by the sea to talk and discuss the day’s events.

Custom stories bring people together and create a rich sense of unity and harmony.

The stories in the book, “Custom Stories from the Solomon Islands” are a gift from Mary Bisili Cole to the people of the Solomons.


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