By Alfred Sasako
THE name East Kwaio carries a stigma in Solomon Islands. Despite its rich cultural roots and unique way of preserving their way of living over many years, not many people appreciate the fact that it is one of the last remaining enclaves that continues to preserve its identity.
Not many expect much by way of infrastructure in the Constituency, which covers some 393 square kilometres of largely rolling mountains, rivers that snaked their way to the sea and natural harbours that could only be carved out by the Master Carver.
There are speculations in religious circles today that the Ark of the Covenant, an eternal agreement God had entered into with the Children of Israel, is buried somewhere deep inside the mountains of East Kwaio.
In the 60s, American Anthropologist Dr. Roger Keesing arrived in East Kwaio and began work on the East Kwaio genealogy. He later returned to the United States and sometimes later died.
Today, East Kwaio as a region is home to some 25, 000 or more people. Many left home in search for economic reasons. Many never returned.
East Kwaio is also home to Atoifi Adventist Hospital, a life-saving institution which also had a fair share of problems since it was established at Yuru in 1962. There had been three deaths there – two murders and one accidental death of foreigners.
Things are changing – not by political design and support but by individuals whose education has driven them to realize how much in terms of cultural values East Kwaio can offer.
Today, East Kwaio boasts of a hospital, an aerodrome, a wharf funded by the European Union as well as a number of community high schools, primary schools and a number of clinics and health centres.
Of late, Atoifi has become the base for an extension of the Pacific Adventist University (PAU) where degree programs are being offered in Nursing. Other disciplines are under consideration.
And just as some might think that’s all East Kwaio has on offer, something else happened.
On Sunday 21 October a tourist ship dropped anchor outside Ambitona Village, Yuru District. Yuru is one of three districts which make up the Constituency of East Kwaio. The other districts are Sinarangu to the south and Olomburi to the extreme south.
Last Sunday’s event was the first time ever the village people of East Kwaio, including those from the hinterland had entertained foreign tourists. There were about 40 of them largely from New Zealand.
This event is the work of a young Kwaio graduate from PAU, Tommy Esau, who connected the dots which enabled the visit to materialize.
“It was a short three-hour stop, but it was the longest in memory for all of us who were part of the arrangement,” Tommy told Island Sun by phone from the hinterland of East Kwaio.
“The visitors said they had finally found what they were looking for – a place where people continue to preserve their culture. It is a real unique experience,” Tommy said.
Tommy believes last Sunday’s visit is the first of many to come. Last Sunday’s visit was part of the Heritage Expedition, a New Zealand family company which runs tourist cruise to many parts of the world, including the South Pacific.
Below is an account of how the Cruise Ship people saw East Kwaio.
Meeting the Kwaio People of Malaita
21 October, 2018
“Arriving at Malaita in the predawn light set the stunning scene for day four on our Secrets of Melanesia expedition. After the birders were ferried ashore in search of the Malaita White-eye (which they found in the hills above alongside a number of other species), the rest of us snorkeled in the crystal clear waters of Leili Island. The beautifully protected reef was exceptionally healthy and home to numerous larger fish, as well as some excellent corals.
However, the afternoon will remain with all of us for a very long time as we were the first group to visit the Kwaio people of Malaita. Escorted through the reef by Chief Esau, we entered into another world, a world that while remarkably connected with our modern one, was also ancient at the same time.
A group of Kwaio people had travelled from the mountains of Malaita, some walking for 2 days to be present as they introduced and shared a little of their life and stories including the revolutionary conservation work which they have begun.
Dressed in traditional attire of a simple belt and forest leaves, they were a vision from another time and very gracious hosts. The whole afternoon was a cultural exchange that left us all speechless.”
Now the East Kwaio people and their culture are gracing the international pages of the Heritage Expedition page on the web.