In the early 2000s trouble was brewing in the Solomon Islands. There was rising tension between different ethnic groups on the islands. These troubles eventually spilled out into the wider society, especially on the main island, Guadalcanal, and around the capital, Honiara, and resulted in bloodshed and sadness. Australian police were sent to help re-establish law and order and only recently have they handed over full responsibility for security to Solomon Island Police.
This story grew out of those sad times when people were willing to believe all sorts of things about other people and even those who called themselves Christian did not always act in honourable ways.
I was working in the Solomons with the Girls’ Brigade and was to travel with a large group of Leaders and Girls from Honiara to Ringgi on Kolombangara Island in Western Province where we would hold a big camp. In the days before we left Honiara there had been a news story about a man and two young boys who had disappeared while on a canoe voyage in Western Province. The man and his son were Malaitans, the other boy was a local Western Province boy. Malaitans were from the island of Malaita but had spread throughout the Solomons. They were lighter-skinned and many children were fair-headed. They were famed basket weavers and hard workers and these skills were prized throughout the country. But many people had come to resent them and much of the ethnic trouble was caused by this resentment. When it was learnt that the missing man was Malaitan so many stories began to be told – at one stage I heard a Marama [minister’s wife] saying she had had a vision that the Malaitan man had killed the two boys and eaten the heart of the Western Province boy. This sort of story-telling was given great credence by people who had no knowledge of what had happened but who longed for information. You can imagine the hatred felt for Malaitans.
We boarded our little ship in Honiara in the afternoon – it took all afternoon to load with wood, drums of petrol, bags of rice, steel pipes, furniture – all manner of cargo − and then the people crowded on with large bags of clothing, food, mattresses and pillows. The journey would take until the next afternoon, through the peaceful lagoon and then on the open sea.
The women and girls took their luggage down into the hold, but down there smelt of diesel and animals and even worse smells. So I decided to stay on the rear deck where there were some church pews to sit on nailed to the deck. Some leaders and girls came and sat on the deck and after some time of sailing we had a little rice and fish pieces for dinner. Then they all went downstairs and I stayed with my luggage and tried to be comfortable on the old church pews, which had no backs, just a big hole you had to be careful not to slip through if you dozed off. A few people lay on the pews, taking up a lot of space and it looked very uncomfortable. As the little ship “The Compass Rose” continued over the open sea it became rough and the deck was covered many times with water being blown in and over everything – that is why most people were downstairs! Fortunately it was a hot night, despite the rain and storm that soon lashed in under the tarpaulins which were rigged up over us. As the shipped tossed and rolled I became seasick – which was quite unusual for me. I could do nothing but run to the railings on the edge of the ship and be sick into the sea over the side. I had a little bottle of water but nothing else with me. After many trips to the railings I was getting weak and started to shake as I stumbled back to my seat each time. Sitting in the pew behind me was a man. His wife and child had gone to sleep on the pew but he was still awake. He saw how sick I had become and he came and sat beside me. He talked to me to take my mind off how sick I felt, he helped me to reach the railing and held me up while I was being sick. When my water bottle was empty he went away, for a long time, to find good clean water to fill it. We sat and talked all night until finally the ship entered the lagoon and the water was smooth again and the storm had stopped. Slowly I felt better, but I had nothing to eat and was very hungry, so he shared some of his family’s food with me. His wife and child woke up and he told them how sick I had been. His wife cooked some boiled rice on a little portable stove and gave me some more food for breakfast.
When the sun was shining and all was going well my friends from down in the hold came upstairs. They came and sat with me and the man and his wife and child moved away. I was sad and tried to suggest they should come back and sit with us, but they wouldn’t. I tried to tell my friends what these people had done for me, but they didn’t seem to hear.
When we reached Ringgi we all left the ship. I found the man and gave him a small amount of money to thank him. He really didn’t want it, but I knew he needed it, so he eventually took it.
On Sunday at the camp Church Service I was asked to preach. I told the story of the Good Samaritan – but in Solomon Island terms - the family who had cared for me were Malaitans. My friends finally heard my story and I know some of them thought long and hard about what it really meant.
You're invited to come along to the next L’Arche gathering on 8 July at St Mathew's Anglican Church Hall, 7 Wentworth Street, Georgetown. All are welcome!
For more information, please contact Kath Bourke 0447 696 505.