Musings from Baegu-Asifola

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    One of the ferai'asi in Asifola during low tide.
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    High tides, piped-water, internet and waterfall

    MOMENTS turned into memories are significant because they last in our minds.

    According to Willa Cather, an American novelist known for her novels concerning frontier life on the Great Plains, “some memories are realities”.

    This piece recounts memories from my recent trip to Baegu-Asifola during the festive season.

    This constituency offers interesting dynamics because it includes Tolo (“bush” – Baegu) Asi (“sea” – Asifola) peoples.

    It is, however, not the only constituency with such a tolo-asi composition.

    Here, the Asifola people have been living in ferai’asi (man-made islands) for centuries.

    These ferai’asi are often mislabelled as “artificial islands”.

    But there is nothing artificial about these people’s connections to and sense of home to ferai’asi; a place where mosquitoes are virtually non-existent and fresh wind from the calm and clear sea is never ending.

    There are lessons that can be learned from the Asifola people’s perseverance in withstanding the effects of climate change such as severe cyclones, rising sea level, and uncharacteristically high tides.

    It would be interesting to find out more and document how these ferai’asi were built, their resilience in the past, and the factors contributing to their demise. 

    Nowadays an issue that is particularly important to the Asifola communities is the extreme high tides which are intruding into and destroying the ferai’asi islands that are not just homes to the Asifola people but the lagoon’s mute witnesses of histories. 

    According to a resident of Liunasi, the challenges to adaptation are much more difficult these days than they were decades ago.

    High-tide at Ferasubua – one of the ferai’asi in Asifola.

    There is therefore a real need to mitigate the effects of climate change.

    The challenges associated with climate change are compounded by the Asifola people’s limited access to adequate and quality fresh water supply.

    According to a village wane baita (big-man) from Asifola, women and children paddle dugout canoes to and from the mainland to fetch drinking water. 

    This is a laborious daily chore.

    Like other parts of the Solomon Islands, the fact that adequate and quality water is not piped in has affected the villagers’ health, welfare and living conditions. 

    On the political front, an encouraging development is the establishment of a constituency office at Kaliana village, which has internet connection.

    Apart from the conveniences of communication between constituency officers, it connects the village to the outside world.

    But it still needs to be appropriately harnessed to take advantage of global connections and improve rural livelihood.

    Another issue is natural resources.

    Northeast Malaita hosts virgin forests, pristine rivers and cultural sites on customary lands. 

    An example is the Wuo customary land, where there is currently no commercial logging.

    This gives Wuo landowners the opportunity to plan and allocate land for sustainable development activities.

    But they will need proper advice and assistance from the government and non-state organizations.

    Also, the Ata’a river, which divides the Baegu-Asifola and Fataleka constituencies, hosts beautiful natural sceneries such as the Tatabau waterfall.

    These offer potential tourism attractions if they are appropriately packaged, marketed and made accessible.

    There are other parts of Baegu-Asifola with natural water sources that, if properly harnessed, could supply many villages in Baegu-Asifola with piped water supply.

    They could also be used to build mini-hydroelectricity that would generate energy that could be used for small-scale industries that are appropriate for rural areas.

    The current member of parliament (MP) is trying his best to deal with some of the challenges.

    These are articulated in the constituency’s development plan. 

    The MP has been working closely with ‘chiefs’ to address a range of customary land issues that need to be resolved in order to facilitate infrastructure development.

    Going forward, the Baegu-Asifola people will need to re-examine their development aspirations and chart appropriate pathways that will help improve their livelihoods. 

    This will need a sector-wide approach that will demand an ongoing rethinking and commitments that will require time, sacrifice, energy and compassion.

    It may be slow and long, but as the saying goes “Rome was not built in a day”.

    These stories about high tides, piped-water, internet, and waterfall in Baegu-Asifola, are fond memories and the musings of a visitor who was privileged and honoured to visit the constituency and be immersed in its challenges and opportunities, albeit for a short period.

    As I depart Baegu-Asifola and exit Lau’ala and through Lau’toli, I was captivated by the natural beauty of this region.

    A rainbow hovered over Malaita province against the backdrop of a cloudy sky.

    This was perhaps an omen of hope for better futures for the people of Beagu-Asifola.

    By DEREK G. FUTAIASI