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Peacebuilders in Solomon Islands

Ishmael Idu and Festus Maeluma

Ishmael Idu and Festus Maeluma undertook PPBI training in 2003. In 2004, Ian Stehbens accompanied Ishmael Idu and Festus Maeluma into Ura Village. Ura is a “hotspot” that strongly contributed to the conflict between Malaita and Guadalcanal, and which has suffered much trauma, and guilt and division as a result. Ian watched as Idu and Maeluma listened and taught the way of forgiveness to 75 participants in the meeting that lasted 4 days. Each night, when the whole host community gathered, breakthroughs occurred. There was weeping as people chose to repent, reconciliations took place, and new hope was found.

Maeluma whose nephew had been beheaded in the war, made an authentic and powerful appeal to participants to leave the cycle of retribution. “We forgive because we cannot forget,” he said.

The Chief of Ura finally broke on the last night, when in front of all his people he wept and said, “I have been so hungry and so thirsty to know what to do that was right” (Matthew 5:6).

There was no doubt about the effectiveness of what Idu and Maeluma were doing. There was no doubt about the courage they displayed in doing what they were doing in such vulnerable and fractioned social climate.

Peacebuilding is a complex task. It is, beyond a shadow of doubt, an overwhelming challenge. One may ask, how, really, can we get a whole society wrapped in histories of violence for generations to move toward a new horizon. Lederach explores this question in The Moral Imagination. The Art and Soul of Building Peace Oxford, OUP, 2005. He identifies some essential elements: paradoxical curiosity, provision of space for the creative act, willingness to risk.

Ian Stehbens reports,

In Ura, I watched these elements unfold and transform the whole community. Cycles of violence are locked into polarization of thought, of relationship, of identity, of options. Hence “Yu hurt mi: Mi hurt yu”, as displayed on Maeluma’s blackboard is key to the problem. What they were offering the community was a curiosity to many more options and complexities that lay on the other side of the door, the door of forgiveness. The daily pattern of teaching and discussing in the workshop, interspersed with time for private conversations and solitary retreat as required provided transformational space for the individual delegates. The evening gathering of the entire community, under different (authoritative) leadership, provided the communal space for “the creative act”.

The response of the Chief of Ura to preaching on the reconciling community described in Matthew 5:3-10 in the night gathering was a clear instance of the creative act that opened the way for community transformation. The night gatherings provided the necessary space – separated from the intensity of the workshop. (Incidentally, the Chief did not attend the workshop or the night sessions until the last night. It was his wife who was relaying the process and the teaching to him. He gave in on the last night, and came and broke. Idu and Maeluma had visited him prior to the week and he had given his permission for the program. He was also visited during the afternoons by Ian Stehbens, giving him opportunity to direct, challenge and share. It was through these visits that the final steps of trust were established. As for the willingness to risk, Idu and Maeluma were knowingly committed to this from the outset, and continued to display this courage in subsequent similar workshops in other hotspots, especially when they moved from Malaita (they were both Malaitans) to Guadalcanal and crossed the bunker line around Honiara, and when they crossed Guadalcanal to the other side, away from access to law and order enforcement.


Role of churches
Churches have an important role to play in nation building.
That role is even more crucial at this time as we embark on the rebuilding process following the last five years of civil strife.
Solomon Islanders - from the highest political leadership to the lowest grassroot individual - will continue to look to the churches for guidance and direction.
The majority of Solomon Islanders, whether they are spiritual or not, acknowledge the significance of the church.
That's why in every community in Solomon Islands one will always find a church building in the centre of the village.
The acknowledgement and reverence accorded to the church and its leaders, makes the church of God the most ideal body to spearhead reconciliation between former tribal, community and provincial foes.
It was encouraging to note that rural based church leaders from Malaita and Guadalcanal are already in the process of initiating reconciliation between the people of the two provinces.
We all know that the recent civil unrest was between the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal. Even with the restoration of law and order, deep-seated feelings and suspicions between certain people within the two provinces still exist today.
The ill feelings and suspicions will not easily fade away from the minds of people unless they repent and change inwardly.
That's where the churches come in.
Church leaders don't have to wait for the government to invite them to officiate in reconciliation ceremonies.

They themselves must take the lead as Pastor Ishmael Idu of Malaita and Jude Soni are doing now. As Pastor Idu stated, he had taken the initiative to reconcile Malaitans and Guadalcanalese because the government has already done its part in bringing back law and order through RAMSI.
The process to reconcile conflicting individuals, tribes or communities is not easy. It will take time, effort and patience.
Reconciliation means two enemies coming together, saying sorry and accepting each other's apology. Humanly speaking, it is almost impossible to accept reconciliation with someone who has committed a terrible crime against you.
But a person, who is transformed by the Spirit of God and who has surrendered his or her life to the Lord, is able to accept his or her former enemies.
Churches should be instrumental in making sure those who are deeply hurt as a result of the civil unrest are provided spiritual counselling.
When people have peace in their life, they will be able to live peacefully with their neighbours and their environment.
A peaceful society allows for economic development to take place and people to work together. Peaceful co-existence and cooperation are what Solomon Islands needs today if it is to progress. Churches are in a better position to make sure peace and unity prevail in SI.

Mary-Fay Maeni

When Mary-Fay was accepted for the PPBI course in 2003, she was a counsellor with the National Peace Council in the Solomon Islands. As a direct result of her training by PPBI, when she returned to the Solomon Islands she was invited to apply for a position in the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Team. She, a Guadalcanal woman, became the leading Solomon Islander in the team. Between her appointment and May 2005, the team undertook a project to collect data by interview and survey from five communities in Solomon Islands. This community-level data indicates the differences and similarities between men’s experience and women’s experiences in conflict and peace, and its analysis enables early warning of potential conflict.

During this project, Mary Fay worked in Avuavu (a traumatised Community) on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal, in two urban squatter settlements that accommodated many internally displaced persons, White River and Borderline and then at Malu’u in Malaita (her ethnic enemy area) and at Noro in Western Province.

One of the discoveries she made was that while both men and women suffered during the period of open conflict, their roles changed with women having to take on productive roles that were previously undertaken by men, resulting in heavy burdens for women and loss of status for men. Men were compromised by the conflict and unable to engage in public performance of economic roles. However, after the conflict, men regained their roles and self-confidence, whereas for women the process of taking on new roles was transformative, and for many there was an increased empowerment as well as status.

Mary Fay was part of the team that presented the peacebuilding workshop in Honiara in August 2005. She conducted a 2-day workshop “Women in Peacebuilding” plus a workshop entitled “Using Gendered Indicators to Identify Potential Conflict”.

Mary-Fay designed the workshops and led them. Not only were both elective workshops popular among the 75 trainees, but delegates affirmed the clarity, value, relevance and educational value of her workshops.

Mary-Fay returned for further training at PPBI in 2004. Not only was she involved as a student in 5 of the Sessions, but also was assistant faculty in the Women in Peacebuilding session. This recognition of her teaching gift and involvement at a leadership level has directly empowered her. This underlies her current capacity, confidence and performance.

In 2006, Mary-Fay was a valued member of the team that conducted a peacebuilding workshop in Bali, Indonesia. With the help of Komolawati, an Indonesian graduate of PPBI, Mary-Fay led the seminar on “Women in Peacebuilding”.

Paul Daokalia

In 2004 Paul Daokalia, who is the Malaitan Co-ordinator in the Solomon Islands Government Department of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, came to PPBI. As a result of coming to the course, Paul Daokalia was able to produce a road map to normalcy and peace in the Solomon Islands.

Together with other PPBI trainees, Paul suggested to the department that they conduct a peacebuilding workshop in Honiara. The Department’s Permanent Secretary resisted the workshop at first because of the absence of funds. Paul’s persistence paid off and the Workshop was held in August 2005.

The leaders for the workshop included Rev Ian Stehbens, CEO of PPBI and Rev John Woodley, President of PPBI and a former Australian Senator. Hon James Tora, Minister for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, opened the workshop.

At the workshop, the following topics were covered:

  1. What is Peacebuilding?
  2. Holistic understanding of aspects and initiatives that are part of peacebuilding
  3. Peacebuilding timeline
  4. Relationship of personal forgiveness to restorative justice to political forgiveness
  5. Theological understanding of reconciliation as the place where truth, mercy and justice meet

As a result of this workshop, Paul Daokalia was able to present and gain acceptance for his “Roadmap to peace and Normalcy” for Solomon Islands.

After the workshop, Paul Daokalia gave this report.

Before the Seminar, peace work in Solomon Islands was blurry. We in the Department were not sure what our tasks should be, what issues we were really dealing with, or where we were to go.

Since the seminar we are able to assess what we are to do, who the players are and should be, and we are able to look forward to a common goal. We can achieve national healing, and build a new Solomon Islands for the next 25, even 50 years.

The Department, the National Peace Council, the Churches , and the NGOs were not networking; we were not working together.

When the opportunity for the workshop came up, I spoke to our department and the Minister was against it going ahead as there was no budget for it. But from my learning at PPBI, I knew we needed it. It was going to give us the tools and the clarity we needed. It was said that I was being insubordinate, so I pleaded, and the position shifted to indifference. I was told that I would have to write the opening speech for the Minister. We now know where the head is, where the tail is, and who the players are. We can now move forward to build peace.

My project, my initiative is to build peace in an integrated way. I have convened two summits in Malaita and Guadalcanal trying to work forward. I have formed the Malaita Peacebuilding & Development Committee. That was in March 2005. Our purpose is to focus on socio-economic opportunities to prepare for employment. We are aiming to find jobs on Malaita, to relieve the pressure on urbanization, and to relieve migration pressure from Malaita to Guadalcanal. The socio-economic angle is very important.

The other major problem we face is LAND. We are working on an oil palm project. We are accessing tribal leaders to have them work out the family tree with their people, and then to have people sit down with their neighbours and sort out their boundaries.

We have established a Customary Land Division in the Department of Lands for the first time. This will allow recording, registration, and peace.

All this is critical for Malaita. And if it succeeds then it will flow into the whole nation. It is very much a confidence building process.

I have also worked to establish a dispute resolution process.

Since the seminar in August, only a week later, we had our first conversation with Guadalcanal leaders and chiefs. Wilfred Billy, who also came to PPBI.2004, led them. (He was sent by ADRA).

We are following the same strategy for Guadalcanal as we have been using in Malaita. But in Guadalcanal it is a bit trickier. There is a greater need for mediation, for trauma counselling and for grassroots forgiveness workshops, like those run by Ishmael Idu who has been running them since he was at PPBI.2003. Guadalcanal has suffered more for this is where the war was fought.

We will also work on reconciliation between the Government and the Provincial Governments.

The workshop enabled us to see the need for the NGOs to work more closely with the Department.

All of the officers in the Department and all the counsellors of the national Peace Council attended the peacebuilding workshop. Our staff reviewed the workshop as follows:

1. Everyone appreciated it. It was an eye-opener for them all. It has given a psychological realignment for the Department.

2. The Permanent Secretary thanked God that I had persisted and persuaded them and had made it happen. “If you hadn’t, we would have missed it.”

3. The keynote address at the opening by Rev Ian Stehbens was very clear. It realigned us. It was absolutely what we needed.

4. At the time the future of the National Peace Council was up in the air. We came to realize, from the teaching, that NPC was very much part of the intervention phase in the peacebuilding process. Many of the reconciliations that were done in the past were not complete. They were without some of the necessary truth, mercy, justice, and peace components.

5. The workshop has brought to the forefront the urgent need for trauma counselling and mediation before reconciliation!!

6. We now realize that we need to be tied together to work together for the National Healing Day.

We are very thankful. We can now work for a new future, for a healed nation and beyond.

Paul Daokalia
Sept 2005

Roy Ifunasu is a Pastor of a local church in Honiara who completed the PPBI course in 2005. He is intentionally working among unemployed and homeless youth who are engaged in criminal activities. During the Malaita v Guadalcanal ethnic conflict, Honiara was emptied of 40 000+ of its residents and in this vacuum displaced youth preyed on Honiara. They were actively involved in violence during the absence of law and order and now face life with a legacy of guilt and hopelessness.

Roy is a man of compassion and grace and is regarded highly for his ministry of courage and purpose.

David Gina

David Gina works for the Department of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace and is a top-level leader in Solomon Islands. He was appointed to the staff of the department after the workshop, so it was imperative to have Mr Gina experience PPBI training.

Mr Gina is from Western Province, where Bougainville issues meet Malaitan issues. Bougainville is ethnically and culturally related to Western Province people and therefore the war in Bougainville spilt over into Western Province. In Western Province there are large plantations that have traditionally employed workers from other areas of Solomon Islands, notably Malaita. As the Solomon Islands conflict was focussed on driving Malaitans off Guadalcanal, there was a possibility of the conflict escalating by other areas following suit, especially Western Province. Mr Gina has a full agenda of issues to consider: the aftermath of Bougainville, the vulnerability of Western province to potential conflict, land conflict, provincial v national issues, education and employment issues, and traditional tolerance of violence in many situations. United Nations research in Noro, Western Province indicates there are very high risks of violence becoming overt in the province for there are many hidden conflicts.

Fr Phillip Valusa and Pastor Stephen Kwaibula

Fr Phillip Valusa and Pastor Stephen Kwaibula represent the two sides of the conflict in Solomon Islands, Stephen being from Malaita and Phillip from Guadalcanal’s Weather Coast. Travelling together to the Sydney 2006 Peacebuilding program was difficult because of the catalogue of reasons for mistrusting each other. They were handpicked and nominated by a former Peacebuilders graduate, Ishmael Idu. Ishmael Idu has deliberately developed a strategy to change the hearts and minds of those people who lived in the villages that had sent their young men into the militia forces.

These two men were influential responders to his work and were recommended by him for training. Prior to the conflict they had both been involved in capacity building among their rural communities, and had seen their work devastated by the communal trauma. Their reconciliation and learning at the Sydney 2006 Peacebuilding program has been very valuable in resourcing the healing process in Guadalcanal.

A peacebuilding project led by Ishmael Idu is addressing the situation on the Weather Coast. Ishmael Idu is the Project Officer and Phillip Valusa is now an important contributor to that project.

A 3-year peacebuilding project for Malaita is being designed and will be implemented with the assistance of Stephen Kwaibula and Ishmael Idu.