Blackbirding: legacy of anger in Solomon Islands

5:43 pm on 9 August 2019

There is still anger in Solomon Islands over Blackbirding, an academic says.

About 60,000 Pacific Islanders were taken from their mainly Melanesian homelands to Australia in the 1800s to work on plantations.

About 60,000 Pacific Islanders were taken from their mainly Melanesian homelands to Australia in the 1800s to work on plantations. Photo: State Library of Queensland

David Gegeo, the director of research at Solomon Islands National University, said thousands of Solomon Islanders were kidnapped and later contracted to work in Australia in the 1800s, a practice known as Blackbirding.

Its legacy includes intergenerational anger that could be relieved, if the complete history of the practise were taught in schools, Dr Gegeo said.

"There was grieving over people leaving but also there was anger when people were taken. People still talk about those stories with a certain degree of pain, anger and frustration," he said.

"'What did we do to deserve this? We were taken away to develop someone elses country, economy'. Yes, there is still some anger."

From listening to oral histories, Dr Gegeo said Blackbirding had disrupted social fabric in Solomon's villagers and caused disputes.

"For example, Fiu harbour on Malaita where I come from, after young men were taken, a chief, or what we call in Kwara'ae a fata'abu, would curse the harbour because people were kidnapped from the harbour. Anybody who was seen in the harbour, even just walking along the beach would be killed. And there were bounties," he said.

David Gegeo

David Gegeo Photo: Solomon Islands National University

"Another impact: two friends went to the beach and one of them was taken away. The parents, or the tribal group of the kid that was taken away, would be angry and would demand compensation from his people, saying 'it was your son who took my son to the beach that day and he was kidnapped. If it hadn't been for his friendship with your son this would not have happened'. So sometimes compensation, killing took place because of it."

"Also, the fact that young men who are supposed to be in the village and doing tribal responsibilities were taken away. It left a gap and women suddenly had to step into men's roles because able bodied men were taken away."

The school curriculum in the Solomons only focuses on the so-called benefits of Blackbirding, Dr Gegeo said, the result of history being "deemphasised" by the "colonial regime" as a means of modernising the country.

"It's taught under Social Studies. The bit about Blackbirding is very highly selective in that it emphasised mostly what you might call the benefits of blackbirding," he said.

"People coming back with guns and knives and axes, Solomons Pidgin and Chritianity but not the other side of it which is the suffering and the agony that Blackbirded Solomon Islanders went through.

"I believe in presenting a balanced picture of the phenomenon. Painful as it may be."

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