The Tok Stori Proposal

December 2004 – August 2005

In December 2004 Paul Tovua, Chairman of the Solomon Islands National Peace Council (NPC) met Dr Sitiveni Halapua, Director of the Pacific Islands Development Program, East West Center to ask questions about talanoa. Over the coming months, the NPC, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister and advisors to government held a number of meetings with Dr Halapua to discuss how talanoa could help the NPC strengthen capability and focus.

Dr Halapua proposed that the NPC facilitate a Tok Stori that focused on issues of cooperation between community leaders (traditional, women, youth) for the purpose of creating common understanding, mediating conflict, promoting peace building and encouraging development efforts at the local levels on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal.

The main focus included the questions: What are the forms and processes of cooperation (if any) that exist between community leaders, and between them and the provincial and national leaders? How do they work together to share understanding, mediate conflicts, promote peace, and create development in their own respective communities during the post-conflict situations and in light of the fact that RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) is not there to stay forever? Who facilitates, and what are the structures of governance at the community level that help promote the effective flow of information and understanding between community leaders and provincial and national government institutions?

It was decided that it was very important to first visit the villages on the Weathercoast to discuss the proposal with the community leaders there.

The Police Commissioner and RAMSI officials requested that the proposed expedition also be used to find where the Weathercoast community leaders stood on the issue of reconciliation with the national government and its police force (Royal Solomon Islands Police – RSIP). The purpose of the trip became twofold: To consult the Weathercoast people on (i) the proposed Tok Stori, and (ii) a possible reconciliation between their communities and the RSIP so that the RSIP could be welcomed back to serve those parts of Guadalcanal.

Komuvaolu village, August 2005

The NPC team traveled to Komuvaolu, accompanying RAMSI and other officials who were traveling by helicopter for the opening of the Gaenaʻalu Movement’s cultural center. After the officials left the NPC team began talks, first with Chief Moro and his council of elders and the next morning with members of the Gaenaʻalu Movement, who spoke on behalf of their respective communities. The team learned that the Gaenaʻalu movement had existed for more than 40 years and was the only movement drawing support and membership from all the various communities of Guadalcanal. Both meetings expressed firm support for the Tok Stori proposal, recognizing the Tok Stori process as their “custom way”. As for a proposed reconciliation with the government/RSIP, it was strongly recommended that the views of other Weathercoast communities be elicited.  It was adamantly proposed that provincial and national leaders listen to these communities and take their views seriously regarding the processes of peace and development. The President of the Gaena’alu Movement talked of the lack of trust that continued to exist between Weathercoast communities and their political leaders.

The following day the NPC team departed aboard a 15ft flat-bottomed “canoe”, travelling to the RAMSI station of Avuavu.   Here, both RAMSI officials and Police officers told the team that the local people did not trust the RSIP and avoided any interaction with them.  This indicated probable difficulties in carrying out the Police Commissioner and RAMSI’s request that the issue regarding reconciliation with the government/RSIP be raised alongside the Tok Stori proposition.  Leaving Avuavu, the team traveled by foot and canoe through what was classified by the RAMSI forces as the “no-go zone “ of the Weathercoast.

Laloato Village

We stayed at the Laloato Community High School, which had been closed during the armed conflict. Prior to our meeting with community leaders at Laloato, the Principal showed the team the school’s missing roofs and walls caused by damage during the conflict. He spoke of the difficulty teachers encountered in trying to integrate ‘young people’ who had been recruited by both sides during the conflict. These youths had taken to the mountains and been directly involved in the armed struggle between the various factions. That some of these young people had been killed during ‘the tension’ significantly contributed to continuing conflict between the different villages of the Weathercoast.

The Laloato meeting was well attended. Participating leaders included those from the nearby areas of Ulusughu, Mudakacho, Veragalea, Riva, Veramobho. While the Tok Stori proposal was supported, we were told that we needed to visit and initiate talks with Sughu village leaders about possible reconciliation with the government/RSIP. The rebel leader Harold Keke (now serving life sentence in Honiara prison) is from Sughu village.  Harold Keke’s uncle is a traditional leader of Sughu village and the village was a frequent target of destructive raids by Keke’s various enemies, including the government police force, during the conflict.

Sughu village, Toghunavo village, August 2005

At Sughu village, any help with beaching our canoe or any welcome was denied. We faced a difficult but useful meeting with their traditional leader and spokesperson. He was aggressively critical of the roles he saw the government and RSIP play during conflict. He showed us a report that detailed the shootings, raids, burnings, and other attacks his village suffered at the hands of government patrol boats and the RSIP, allegedly authorised by both central and provisional government leaders of the time.  He asserted that his people had been forced to relocate to the mountains and had only recently returned. As he spoke, another dimension of the existing situation revealed itself: unrecognised local conflict between the villages that had supported different factions during the tension.

After being beaten by the waves in an unsuccessful attempt to land at Kuma, meetings were held with the leaders of Toghunaovo and the surrounding villages (Biti, Ghorabau, & Ngalito). Once again, the peoples told stories about the suffering experienced at the hands of government patrol boats and the RSIP. In this meeting, it was strongly expressed that there was a need to pursue reconciliation between the communities of the Weathercoast before attempting reconciliation between these communities and the government/RSIP. This was because people, especially youth leaders, identified the two issues as two different types of conflict with two different types of reconciliatory needs. Further, it was argued that the success of the former was necessary to achieve that latter. Once again, the Tok Stori process was supported as a necessary step in the right direction for peace building and reconciliation.

RAMSI station, MBambanakira, August 2005 (and insights into the difficulties of everyday life in the Weathercoast)

Leaving Toghunaova, the plan was to drop off a NPC monitor in her area on our way to Marasa. Unfortunately, the sea was so rough and the waves so big it was too dangerous to land. The young woman and her two children aged 9 & 10 were forced to swim the distance to shore with their small bundle of supplies.   At Marasa, the canoe was dragged to a river for a half an hour journey upstream where the team continued on foot through the rainforest.  Two hours tramp over muddy trails and through fast flowing rivers later we arrived at the RAMSI station in MBamanakira. The MBambanakira station sits beside a small cluster of buildings – a primary school, a high school and a medical clinic that serves the troubled area. During the night, a woman suffering from severe childbirth complications was brought in from a nearby village. As the clinic was unable to cope with her condition, they planned to take her on a three-wheel motorcycle one hour up a rough muddy trail to the next beach, where she would then undertake a 9-hour canoe trip to Honiara. After it was decided that she would not survive the ordeal, the clinic was told that, fortunately, a RAMSI chopper could be sent to pick her up in the morning.

In the MBambanakira meeting, strong views were again expressed about the need for reconciliation to start from the ‘ground up’ between and among their local communities before any reconciliation effort could start from the ‘top down’ with the RSIP.

Main issues raised at preliminary meetings with community leaders:

  1. The original conflict between the Guadalcanal and Malaitan people

  2. Ensuing conflict between the government/RSIP and some Weathercoast communities

  3. Subsequent conflict between Weathercoast communities

  4. The intergenerational conflict within the Weathercoast communities

To build peace:

  1. Weathercoast communities preferred to pursue a reconciliation process between and among their own     communities before reaching out to ‘others’

  2. Weathercoast communities supported the proposed Tok Stori

WEATHERCOAST (TASI MAURI) TOK STORI :Kuma, 19-21 September, 2005

Organised, Co-ordinated and Facilitated by NATIONAL PEACE COUNCIL in Partnership with Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

Tok Stori was a big challenge and a step forward in the peace-building and reconciliation process for the Weathercoast communities. These communities were at the forefront and central to the national crisis that adversely affected the lives of all the people and institutions of government in the Solomon Islands between 1999 and 2003.

As a necessary preparation for the planned Tok Stori an advance NPC team attended a traditional reconciliation meeting with the traditional chiefs of the Sughu village, home village of the rebel leader Harold Keke, on September 16th 2005. The traditional leaders of Suhu requested this meeting. The request emerged as a result of the hostility expressed during the team’s August visit. Sughu leaders believed that a reconciliation ceremony was needed to smooth the way to the Kuma Tok Stori.

On Monday 19th September the Tok Stori officially opened. The historical significance of the Tok Stori for future peace and stability in, and between, the Weathercoast communities was reflected by RAMSI’s high level delegation to the opening, and the substantial daily coverage by the national radio and the ‘Solomon Star’ newspaper. In his opening speech, RAMSI chief coordinator James Batley, who had supplied a helicopter for the event, spoke of “their great support for the process, which is a practical step towards reconciliation”. He asked: “Is there true peace here in the Solomon Islands?” and answered “not yet”, going on to say “RAMSI recognises and respects the important role of the traditional chiefs as community leaders in Peace building and reconciliation and all participating police know that without the traditional chiefs they cannot do their work”. Police Chief, Shane Castles admitted that “some members of the police force lost their way in the late 1990’s and between 2001 and 2003, and contributed to some of the atrocities, and were the cause of problems in the Weathercoast communities throughout the tension and troubles that were experienced on the Weathercoast and in other parts of the country.  Yes, there are still problems. But what will overcome all these problems is how the police interact and work with you as traditional leaders in partnership to solve these problems” and re-emphasised “the needs for reconciliation between the villages, provincial levels, and national government.”

The theme of peace building and reconciliation between the traditional leaders and communities prior to reconciliation with provincial and national government continued to dominate the three-day Tok Stori. All nine wards (Duidui, Wanderer Bay, Moli,  Avuavu, Vatukulau, Talise, Birao, Tetekanji, Tangarare) of the Weathercoast were represented by the 53 participants:  31 traditional chiefs, 8 youth leaders, 7 women’s leaders, 5 church leaders and 2 ‘others’ (a spokesperson & a political representative).  It was the first time that representatives from the 9 wards had come together to discuss solutions to the problems of the Weathercoast. Some delegates mentioned that they had decided to attend even though they believed that they endangered their lives by doing so. Some chiefs remarked that this type of gathering should have been held before, in particular after the Solomon Islands gained its political independence. They were excited by this historic opportunity and told their stories late into the night.

The various stories tended to focus on three main issues:

  1. The need for reconciliation and the need to rebuild the broken relationships between leaders and communities who supported, and who suffered at the hands of different militant groups throughout the Weathercoast conflict.

  2. The need to understand and thereby address what they saw as the root causes of the conflict; and

  3. The need to address the development issues linked to the conflict. 

Women leaders were particularly concerned about the present need to focus reconciliation efforts on what they described as the broken relationships at person-to-person levels within and between the villages. This view was strongly emphasized by women who emotionally shared stories about their children or relatives killed during that time, and their fear of armed men and patrol boats, death threats, the lack of food and health services and the challenges of survival after fleeing with their children into the hills and jungle during the conflict.

Youth leaders’ stories linked the lack of development opportunities to the ongoing conflict within their own communities. They spoke of how they needed development and education opportunities to transform their negative experience of conflict into some positive outlook with respect to their future. Traditional leaders told stories expressing the need for greater cooperation and dialogue and conveyed their belief that the traditional ways and means for restoring broken relationships were the best way to achieve long-term peace and stability between their respective communities. The need for reconciliation between their communities and the provincial and national governments was reiterated. Tok Stori continued late into Wednesday night as the participants discussed the content of their agreed Statement.

In their agreed statement, the delegates stated that it was their belief that the root causes of their ‘broken relationships’ included:

  1. Failure of the former government to address the land question in Guadalcanal and failure to address bona fide demands;

  2. Taking over of the State armory by a certain group;

  3. Rushing into negotiation and the signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement without proper consultation with traditional leaders and relevant individuals;

  4. Aggressive and violent intervention by former government between 2000 and 2003;

  5. Negative social interaction between youths and communities;

  6. Desire for social status that resulted in the excessive and corruptive use of power and authority;

  7. Greed for money and power that lead to corruption; and

  8. Lack of trust and lack of confidence in our governmental system, constitution and leadership.

The government was called on to recognize traditional ways and to recognize that it is their responsibility to provide compensation, rehabilitation and reconciliation. The delegates committed to facilitating their own traditional ways of compensation and reconciliation.

The disparity in the distribution of development between people of the Weathercoast and Honiara was recognized as an important cause of conflict. Addressing this disparity was recognized as crucial to peace building, and to maintaining and enhancing stability and security in the long-term. The government was called on to address this disparity by building a hospital; expanding educational opportunities; providing reliable shipping services; reopening airports; and establishing rehabilitation services for the communities, including ex-combatants, of the Weathercoast.

The delegates expressed the belief that the central coordination role of the NPC would help improve the flow of relevant information, common understanding and cooperation between respective community leaders and government. The delegates recommended that the mandate of the NPC be extended.

Weathercost Tok Stori Statement September 2005

Following the success of the first Tok Stori at Kuma on the Weathercoast the traditional leaders from the twelve wards of the Tasimate communities of Guadalcanal and the National Peace Council requested that a Tok Stori be held at Marau.

TASIMATE TOK STORI :Marau (Alite Island), 16-18 November 2005

Organised, Co-ordinated and Facilitated by NATIONAL PEACE COUNCIL in Partnership with Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

While the Kuma Tok Stori focused on critical issues relating to the rebuilding and restoring of broken relationships between persons, families and communities, and between these disaffected people and the government, the Marau Tok Stori focused on “who” and “what” prevented parties from working together and “how” and “when” they could co-operate to achieve peace and development in their respective communities.

Fifty-three people participated: 42 traditional chiefs, 11 women’s representatives, 6 youth representatives, 5 church representatives and one headmaster. The delegates came from 13 wards: Aola, Ghaubata, Kolokarako, Longu, Malango, Marau, Paripao, Tandai, Savulei, Tasiboko, Valasi, Vulolo, and Birao.  They told stories of past armed conflict and instability, and their hopes of peace and stability in the future. They spoke about the relationships between land and conflict, which varied from person to person, family to family, and community to community.

Land, Transparency, and Accountability:

They spoke of their belief that land is a curse if the way in which it is used and dealt with is seen to show a lack of respect and trust in one another. They talked of the fixed amount of land and the expanding potential for conflict in a growing population: how the absence of love, trust and respect towards tribal leaders results in the misuse and abuse of knowledge relating to tribal land; the problems faced when land ownership history is not passed down and how knowledge of genealogies is important to the reduction of conflict over tribal land.

The need for transparency and accountability in all land dealings was expressed. They proposed that a ‘Council of Chiefs’ be set up in each Ward to oversee and manage claims to tribal land. They suggested that tribal chiefs through this proposed Council of Chiefs should witness all land transactions on behalf of the tribal owners; that all agreements should be translated into pidgin language; and that all land dealings should be transparent, avoid bribery and have the consent of all, including women and children.

Consultation and Distribution of Benefits:

The delegates talked of the economic development that was taking place without proper consultation, the unfair distribution of benefits from tribal land, and how this fuelled the ongoing conflict. They spoke of the need to amend the current Mining Act with a view to addressing aspects of mineral ownership, in order to minimize potential conflict over the distribution of benefits. They talked of the need to be selective about chosen development, with proper consultation and better understanding of benefits expected. They proposed the ‘Council of Chiefs’ be involved in all these decisions.

They called on the national and provincial government to support the establishment, and recognize the power, of the “Council of Chiefs”. They asked that government work closely with them to settle outstanding conflicts over land; to attend to areas of possible future disputes; to address the problem of squatters and to promote law and order.

Traditional Compensation and Reconciliation:

The participants recognized that although law and order had been restored, tensions remained. They recognized that this was mainly because tradition and custom demanded that compensation be paid as part of proper reconciliation within and between communities, and between communities and government. Although parties were willing to move forward, as demonstrated by their participation in the tok stori, proper reconciliation was constrained by the lack of appropriate resources and capabilities. Conflicting and aggrieved parties found themselves unable to provide the flows of monetary and traditional wealth needed to fulfill traditional obligations and compensation. They felt that the traditional price of reconciliation was a constraint on peace building, locking them into a “ vicious cycle of lack of reconciliation and development”. The lack of appropriate resources to provide for traditional reconciliation and peace prevented development, which in turn returned a lack of appropriate resources and the inability to facilitate traditional reconciliation. They felt this cycle needed to be recognized and appreciated. The participants respectfully requested understanding and meaningful support from government, regional and international development partners, to supplement their limited resources and help them build a stable foundation for lasting peace and social and economic development.

The participants additionally emphasized the need for a proper reconciliation with the government and the proper payment of compensation, in particular for the loss of property and homes caused by the RSIP’s unlawful use of patrol boats during the ‘tension’. They said such action would be the way to achieve true reconciliation. Such action would instill a memory of lasting peace, to be passed on through their stories from generation to generation, and act as a pre-condition for their development as a nation of peaceful communities.

They asked for additional resources to rehabilitate infrastructure such as schools, health clinics, shipping services, airports, as well as the private property, homes and businesses, fully or partially closed or destroyed during the ‘tension’.  They saw an urgent need to promote the small-scale income creating activities that would improve sources of livelihood within the areas most affected in the tension.

They talked of the need to rehabilitate ex-combatants and to reduce intergenerational conflict. They talked of the uphill struggle of communities coping with the lack of reliable communication and transport services.

They proposed the NPC become the independent, neutral facilitator and coordinator of the Tok Stori statement and establish a “Special Trust Fund for Reconciliation” to assist with their own traditional reconciliation efforts and help address the vicious cycle of lack of reconciliation and lack of development.

Tasi Mate Tok Stori statement Nov 2005

After the successful tok stori in Kuma, Dickson Sangu from Sughu village, a nephew of the chief of Sughu village, requested a meeting with Dr Halapua in Honiara. He shared Tok tok stori belong mi with Dr Halapua. The story revealed how Sughu village's people were affected by, and evaluated, the conflict. This powerful story remains in the memory of Sughu village people, and will pass on to the next generation. As such, this story constitutes a dynamic source of possible future conflict.

©Talanoa and Development Project. All Rights Reserved.

SINGING THE TUNE OF PEACE...A women’s marching band from Kuma village leading the delegation which includes Police Commissioner Shane Castles, RAMSI Special Coordinator James Batley, his assistant Masi Lomaloma, Director of the Pacific Island Development Program Dr Sitiveni Halapua, Chairman of the National Peace Council Paul Tovua and members of the Peace Monitors and Councillors upon arrival for the week long workshop called ‘Tok Stori’ on Monday.

The workshop is organized for the chiefs along the Weathercoast region from Marau to Tangarare to talk over issues affecting their communities following the crisis.

Solomon Star, Thursday 22 September 2005.  

Picture: Moffat Mamu

Weathercoast (Tasi Mauri) Tok Stori 19 - 21 September 2005

In partnership with the National Peace Council, and in association with RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands), the East-West Center engaged the talanoa process in reconciliation talks that worked to re-build peace between communities at the forefront of, and central to, the national crisis that affected the lives of the people and the institutions of government in the Solomon Islands between 1999-2003.

Tasi Mate Tok Stori 16 - 18 November 2005
Following the success of the Kuma Tok Stori, the traditional leaders from the twelve wards of the Tasimate communities of Guadalcanal and the National Peace Council requested that another be held in Marau.

TDP Solomon Islands