Before you ask, yes I have been associating with far too many of our brothers and sisters across the Tasman. Bat, hem fitim…
I was recently lucky enough to join staff from The Nature Conservancy on a field visit to Choiseul Province, in the north-western Solomon Islands. Choiseul – unpopulated, densely forested, ringed by beautiful white sand, remote – you probably never knew it existed. Funny name for a Pacific Island too and just where the heck is it again? Well, it turns out that the French had explorers too, and patriotic ones at that (the local name for Choiseul is Lauru). As for where it is, put it this way – you can see Bougainville from the provincial capital, Taro…
Visiting Choiseul is, in a lot of ways, like stepping back in time. It’s the real Solomon Islands – the place I came to explore. After a few months in Honiara, one can sometimes forget that it is nothing like the rest of the country…
Our visit to Choiseul took us to three villages – Zinoa, Nukiki and Poroporo. The aim of the trip was for TNC to finalise some protected areas applications and to help communities assess the stocks of trochus inside two locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs).
Our trip started at dawn, with a flight from Honiara to Taro stopping over at Gizo. We then travelled by ray boat to the various villages, the furthest around 1.5 hours from Taro.
For the first three days, Seno from TNC and I visited the villages of Zinoa, Nukiki and Poroporo to talk about protected areas. Over the second three days I joined other TNC staff and local communities on trochus surveys. We had a really warm welcome at every village we went to; our lovely hosts at Nukiki even boiled some water for my shower! Our accommodations were very comfortable – at Zinoa we stayed in the guest house on a separate island, in Nukiki we stayed with one of the local ladies, and at Poroporo we were settled in at nearby Perama Lodge.
Zinoa village has protected a large area of sea around two small islands, one of which is completely uninhabited and for which you must seek permission to visit. It is virtually impenetrable and is home to coconut crabs, among other wildlife. The other of the two islands is the site of the comfortable guest house.
Nukiki village’s LMMA (Redman) is at Paspasbarego Island close to Taro, and has a small house on site. We had a good tour of the island and I later snorkelled the surrounding waters as part of the trochus stock assessment surveys inside and outside the LMMA.
Our final destination was Poroporo and Perama LMMA, which comprises the waters around Perama Island. The LMMA at Perama is really nice, and has wonderful snorkelling. Nearby there is some great spearfishing to be done – and just to ensure the trip wasn’t too unexciting we managed to get caught in a lightning storm (forked, not sheet – one hit the beach right in front of us – eek!).
Nearby Poroporo village is well known for delicious mud crabs, and I was lucky enough to score a few as a gift from the community.
They were delicious.
Speaking of food, we were fortunate to have the fabulous Mary Kereseka cooking for us, along with the ladies from the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities (LLCTC). We were treated to amazing local food, including fresh squid, crayfish and fish. We were even included in Mary’s daughter Alice’s birthday celebration feast. Very special.
Choiseul string bags
While in Choiseul I was very keen to track down a few kastom string bags (or “kuza“), after hearing a lot about them from my friends and colleagues in Honiara. Luckily I found some! These bags are in demand from Solomon Island ladies because they are light and strong and can hold a lot. They are also completely organic!
A lot of work goes into these bags, as I discovered after speaking with a few of the ladies who make them… They are made from the bark of the tulip tree, sheets of which are soaked in seawater and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the bark is separated into fibres, which are rolled on the thigh to make twine. It is this process that takes all the time – a simple market bag (diagonal mesh) can take up to one month to make, and a more detailed “bubuzai” type bag (square mesh, reinforced) can take 3-4 months.
Generally the women charge around $50 for a basic market bag and $100-200 for a more complicated design or a larger bag. It may seem a lot, but next time you think about haggling, remember how long they have taken to make!
All in all, it was a fantastic experience visiting Choiseul and the communities there. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who would like to go further off the beaten track in the Solomon Islands, you won’t be disappointed 🙂