What we have is an expeditionary force seemingly acting at the behest of a despised local administration backed by a callous and rapacious foreign power. Beijing must be sitting back, munching on popcorn and enjoying the show.
Alexandria: Last week in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, demonstrations against the corrupt, CCP-linked Prime Minister Sogavare turned violent. At the request of Sogavare, Australia and Papua New Guinea have sent troops to “restore order”.
But in another part of the Solomons, less than two weeks before, locals were showing they could create the sort of peace that is truly durable.
Too bad no one outside the country noticed because how they did it holds the key for resolving the current crisis. And it doesn’t involve Australians. Or Chinese. Or even Papua New Guineans. It involves Solomon Islanders.
THE MALAITA MASSACRE
It all started in 1927, when Solomon Islands was a British Protectorate.
The Brits had imposed a head tax on able-bodied men. Conveniently, the British also had plantations where those able-bodied men could work to earn the money to pay the head tax. Unsurprisingly, it was not very popular.
On 3 October 1927, William Bell, an Australian-born District Officer, showed up in a coastal town on the island of Malaita to collect the taxes. Bell was killed by Basiana, a local leader. Basiana and his men also killed around a dozen others in the tax collection party, including local policemen from another part of Malaita who were accompanying Bell.
When word got back, the British thought the protectorate was in full revolt and asked the Australians for help to “restore order” (sound familiar?). The Australians sent the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide to land troops near the site of the attack.
Meanwhile, the Colonial administrators planned a punitive expedition. The expedition included white plantation owners who were so out of shape, they became known as the “whiskey army” as they drank to the point many were of no use. Vengeful relatives of the local policemen who had been killed were more focused on the task at hand.
By the time the retaliation was over, at least 55 had been killed, close to 200 arrested, villages were burned and Basiana was hanged.
Culturally, the worst lasting damage was the deliberate desecration of ancestral shrines. They believed if the shrines of ancestors were disturbed, their spirits will seek vengeance on their descendants. The trauma was so severe, some converted to Christianity in an attempt to escape their wrath.
So, why are we talking about this 94 years later?
Because a couple of weeks ago, in Malaita, they held a deeply important, open to all, reconciliation ceremony to heal the wounds left festering after the Malaita Massacre.
At the same gathering they unveiled a memorial to Maasina Ruru (roughly “rule of relationship of siblings together”), the multiethnic network that fought for independence from the British.
CCP IS SYSTEMICALLY ATHEIST
The current foreign power distorting local economics and politics is China. Again, there has been concern and pushback across the country about the effects of CCP influence.
In 2019, soon after the central government switched from Taiwan to China, the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG) issued the Auki Declaration which read: “MPG strongly resolves to put in place a Moratorium on Business Licenses to new investors connected directly or indirectly with the Chinese Communist Party.”
It explained one of the reasons why: “MPG acknowledges the freedom of religion as a fundamental right and further observes the entrenched Christian faith and belief in God by Malaitan and MOIan peoples and therefore rejects the Chinese Communist Party—CCP and its formal systems based on atheist ideology”.
So, obviously, the CCP, via its proxies, has been trying to break the resistance in the Solomons. But it’s hard to buy or bully people of faith (which is also why the CCP is trying to eradicate Tibetan and Uyghur culture). The leaders and people of Malaita, through a deep understanding of each other—and under a shared canopy of respect and faith that leads them towards reconciliation—have been working towards healing wounds created almost a century ago by a callous and rapacious foreign power. They are strengthening themselves to face up to the next one, alongside their similarly concerned siblings in the rest of the country.
FIGHTING FOR PEACE
And this is the situation the Australians walked into—fully armed and ignoring the quarantines they’ve been saying are so important. It is possible few of the young soldiers on the streets on Honiara have ever heard of the Malaita Massacre. But you can be sure locals looking at them remember.
In an interview with this paper a few weeks ago, respected Solomon Islands leader Hon. Peter Kenilorea, said: “Things don’t build up very clearly in the Solomon Islands—things explode suddenly. You need to be more nuanced to read these things.”
He was talking about the potential for violence caused by anger at corrupt CCP-linked politicians that, as he predicted, exploded last week. But he could also have been talking about peace. After quietly building momentum, reconciliation and peace was exploding in Malaita. Finally.
Given time, and the involvement of culturally respected leaders, it could have spread across the Solomons. None of the leaders wanted violence. They are calling for calm and want reconciliation—and peace—across the country. It’s built into their faith. They are trying to use what peaceful methods they can, including tabling a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister.
The only foreign engagement needed is the sort of thing that helps at a community level—humanitarian response, transparent and accountable investment, some sound journalism that helps clear up and dissuade corruption. That sort of thing.
What we have instead is an expeditionary force seemingly acting at the behest of a despised local administration backed by a callous and rapacious foreign power. Beijing must be sitting back, munching on popcorn and enjoying the show.
The Australians will need to tread very carefully if they don’t want to create the sort of situation that will require Solomon Islanders to once against knit their country back together in a reconciliation ceremony a hundred years from now.