17 Sep 2013

5,000 expected for Solomons blackbirding anniversary

4:51 pm on 17 September 2013

Descendants of a Malaitan man captured during the blackbirding era are preparing to welcome his Australian family members to Solomon Islands for the 150th anniversary of his capture.

John Kwailiu Fatanowna was taken from the Rakwane tribe of the Fataleka region of east Malaita to work on a sugar plantation in Queensland.

The president of the organising committee says for many of the 60 members of that branch of the family coming from Mackay at the end of the month it is the first time they have left Australia.

Enoch Mani Ilisia says local Rakwane people have been busy over the past few months putting in a new water supply, building toilets, houses and ensuring there are enough swamp taro, potatoes and cassava to feed everyone.

He told Annell Husband there will be more than 5,000 people taking part in the two-day commemoration, with presentations and opportunities to hear the chiefs tell the tribe's history.

ENOCH MANI ILISIA: Unlike today, when we keep our documents and information in computer hard drives and whatever, back home they've stored it in the human brain. The chiefs there are very good at recollecting past information by word of mouth. And it's kept only with the first borns. And the first borns are the ones who have the right to store that information and pass it orally. Due to instances we come across where people try to steal information and pass on information that is confidential to the community.

ANNELL HUSBAND: And that oral tradition, is that still alive and well, that's still going well?

AH: That's right. We have in our village [Indistinct]. It's simply a house that all the men go to. The ladies are not allowed to go there. And even strangers, too, because in there, that's where all the confidential information is passed on from our chiefs, our first borns, to the general tribesmen and the younger men, as well.

EML: I guess it could bring up a lot of emotion for people, coming together like this?

AH: A few weeks ago one of the tribal members came over from Mackay. He met with us, the committee members, in preparation for the grand event. We met and we exchanged money. It's a moving event. [Indistinct] I was there with him. They embraced each other for a long time. It was a very moving experience.