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First of all, I want to congratulate all those involved in establishing a research database accessible to Solomon Islanders as well as researchers elsewhere.  Over the years so much information on S.I. peoples and culture left the country along with the researcher, never to be heard of again by those whose heritage it was.  During my years as Western Province's Cultural Affairs Officer I saw firsthand the interest that people there had in "taem befo" and of course a key part of the Office's mandate from Western Province Government was to make such information as widely available as possible.

Secondly, I must explain that I was not a researcher in S.I.  The Cultural Affairs Office's objective was to encourage the preservation and knowledge of traditional culture or "kastom".  We defined this as including oral traditions, dances, custom sites and abandoned village sites, as well as more recent history.   To do this we conducted archaeological surveys, recorded oral histories, organized workshops and cultural festivals, and produced booklets and radio programs.  We worked closely with people across the province, encouraging them to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation.  Some people who attended workshops volunteered to record their own local stories.  Everything collected was stored in the Cultual Affairs Office in Gizo.  Copies of our booklets, usually of custom stories and almost always in local languages, were distributed to schools and health clinics in relevant language areas so they could be available to many people.  Our weekly radio program on SIBC featured what we collected, provided that the source had given permission. 

The Office also tried to enlist academic researchers in making their research available to people in Western Province by offering to print and distribute booklets based on some of the research findings.  I believe that during my years there (1987-91), Karen Davis, a linguist from New Zealand, was the only researcher who took us up on this.

Your question about potential uses for research material is a challenging one and brings to mind the adage about people needing to understand their past in order to plan their future.  From my own experience and those of other staff, I know that villagers were interested in their past; I know from my return visit to Gizo in 2006 that villagers were well aware of the losses and broken promises resulting from, for example, unrestrained logging in their communities.  Whether the past, distant or recent, can be meaningfully connected to the present in aid of the future is a key question.  I wish the Initiative well in its work.


Western Solomons
Updated 12 January, 2011