Thursday, December 30, 2010

The uneasy marriage of politics and culture- Enthronement of Minister Tora as Paramount Chief of Ulawa

I find the issues and arguments surrounding Minister James Tora's enthronement as Paramount Chief of Ulawa very interesting.

To me it is a manifestation of the challenge we face in the modern Solomon Islands of trying to amalgamate modern political principles and rhetoric with existing cultural norms and practices.

Clearly, as we can see in this particular case the relationship between the two is not always clear and one's political position certainly does not mean an automatic or direct acquisition of cultural status. It is an emphasis of both consensus decision-making processes and a clear identification and appreciation of one's sense of neutrality and community.

But perhaps a more serious question would be that why have the people of Aro'aha village in Ulawa decided to ignore the due processes and go ahead to enthrone and declare Minister Tora as their Paramount Chief even without the support and consensus of  the Ulawa Great Council of Chief's (UGCC)?

A person neutral to this case who is from Ulawa or from Makira will tell you that at the outset all required processes and procedures were not fulfilled in the enthronement of Minister Tora as chief, let alone being the paramount chief. Already  there is a paramount chief for Ulawa who was enthroned with the consensus of all the UGCC. 

Some chiefs were even present at the ceremony which was held at Tora's residence at Naha. Was it because they were not aware of the due processes required for the enthronement of a Chief, which I strongly doubt? Or was it because they see Minister Tora as a person in a position of power which in their view is more advantaged and privileged than their existing chiefly structure, and that by enthroning and recognising him they will be able to maximise their share of the perceived benefits?

Clearly, to me, these are indications that our cultural structures no longer exert the level of authority and respect they once did in the past. Thus, proper mechanisms has to be put in place to ensure that equal regard and respect is accorded to our cultural processes as it is for our modern means of governance. Our traditional structures holds a lot of importance and relevance to our survival. Therefore, they should not be allowed to erode and be undermined by the growing influences of modernisaton, social change and political legitimisation.

That is the challenge that we must face and address as individuals and as leaders of Solomon Islands today and in the future.

The following are extracts of the news article reporting the enthronement of James Tora as paramount Chief and two letters which have been written on the same subject, but mainly to criticize the lack of appreciation and adherence to due processes.  All the articles are taken from Solomon Star newspaper online.

Friday, 17 December 2010 04:50

MEMBER of Parliament for Ulawa and Minister for Police and Correctional Services James Tora was traditionally enthroned as a paramount chief yesterday.
The short ceremony marking his ordination was held at his residence at Naha, East Honiara.
Chiefs and community members from Aro’aha village in Ulawa travelled to Honiara to witness the event.
The ceremony began with a custom speech known as the Hunguipue Toli Suu from one of the chiefs Lukeson Sinsau.
The custom speech which was expressed in Ulawa dialect was purposely to welcome people to the ceremony and explain what the ceremony was all about.
After the speech, the chiefs and the villagers presented traditional food (Koruarawa) to Mr Tora and his family symbolising the honour and respect towards their new chief.
Aro’aha village spokesman Hillary Hiliwaieu said that was how their people showed their appreciation to their MP for the good things he did within their communities.
“Mr Tora is our government representative and today we enthroned as one of the chief’s in the province,” he said.
Mr Tora in response acknowledged his people for the wisdom God has given them to traditionally ordain him as a village leader.
He said making someone a chief comes at a cost as it required trust and respect people see within a leader.
“This showed the heart and trust my people have in me.
“Today, I’m not only their MP but also their chief and my family and I are really honoured,” the MP for Ulawa said.
Mr Tora assured his people he would perform to the best of his ability to fulfil both his leadership roles.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 04:38

CHIEFS in Ulawa have described the enthroning of Member of Parliament and Police Minister James Tora as paramount chief as a slap on the face.

Speaking on behalf of the chiefs in Ulawa, Douglas Te’aitala said it was not a collective decision that was agreed upon by all chiefs and elders in Ulawa.

He said the ceremony should be regarded as reconciliation one rather than an enthronement because communities in that particular village had been having strained relations with Mr Tora and the ceremony was purposely to renew their relationship with the MP.

“This decision was from villagers in Aro’aha themselves and not all the villages and chiefs in Ulawa,” he said.

Mr Te’aitala said according to Ulawa tradition when someone is ordained to become a chief it must be witnessed by all the chiefs in Ulawa.

The role of paramount chief is the highest chief role in an area.

Mr Te’aitala said Ulawa already has one paramount chief that was enthroned in 2005, therefore Mr Tora should not call himself a paramount chief.

“Culture and politics do not go together in Ulawa’s traditional concept,’’ he said.

He said Ulawa was one of the unique places in the Solomon Islands where culture was still actively practiced and such practices only brings a bad face to the culture of Ulawa.

He recalled in the past when former Governor General Baddley Devesi visited Ulawa in which he was ordained by all the chiefs as a recognised chief.

“That is how it should be and not as cheap as an MP being ordained in front of his home in Naha,” Mr Te’aitala said.


Wednesday, 29 December 2010 04:50

Dear Editor – Grateful please if you could allow me space to share my concerns to the above writer’s item which appeared on your paper dated 17/12/10.

Further to Mr. Teitala’s fair contributions and as a matter of concern to the general public of Ulawa, I also wish to register my concerns and to express my views as well as making clarifications on the Ulawa tradition of chief enthronement especially for the purpose of the wider audience.

First of all I wish to thank Mr. Teitala for his contributions to clarify to the public of the event that was held in front of Mr. Tora’s residence at Naha involving only Tora’s supporters from Aroaha village on Ulawa.

For the information of the public Mr. Teitala is one of those legitimate chiefs on Ulawa who have gone through the enthronement process according to Ulawa cultural norms and practices.

The Ulawa tradition for the enthronement of chiefs is not just a mere process to confer upon one the title chief but rather the activity is a complete event.  It is a ritual which involves series of activities including various rites and sacrifices.  Such events always takes place infront of custom houses called ‘toohi’.   However, in the absence of a toohi it is performed on a platform called the ‘take-ni-makehu’.  The ceremony because of its sacredness is never held in front of ordinary houses like the one held at Naha recently.

It is very much regrettable to see that supporters of Hon. Tora saw it fit to have Ulawa heritage to be abused for their own selfish agendas.

I doubt if permission was sought from the Ulawa Great Council of Chiefs (UGCC) which is the legitimate body who in its custodianship is vested with powers to all the aesthetics of the Ulawa custom and traditions.  It would therefore be a slap in the face of the UGCC if no permission is sought, which I presumed the heritage was hijacked and abused by its own sons – what a shame (MASI MASANGA OTO PAINA).

I would suggest if no permission is presented that steps be taken to get those involved to face stringent and appropriate actions.  May I remind you, let us one step on you toes, UGCC.

It seemed those who conceived the idea to hijack these valuable resources and brought it out for public entertainment clothed themselves with nothing less than pride and is stupidity in its simplest form.  I also doubted if they ever had the understanding of the values and sanctities underpinning that cultural heritage.  Lest they forget the activity is sacred in its totality – a double edge sword as child in Ulawa would dare use it as a play toy.

The term for chief in the Ulawa language is called ‘Alaha’, and I wonder if these involved with that Naha event ever had any slightest idea of what an Alaha is in the context of Ulawa.  The word Alaha is more than just a title rendered to a person.  It is an inheritance according to the Ulawa culture and traditions.  Again, lest those supporters from Aroaha forget or just ignorant of their traditional knowledge of what is an Alaha – those people are metaphorically referred) to as “HAI WALAEILI, HAI WALA E MALUMALU, HAI WALA E KULU”.  In the essence of these words those are people with highest esteems having the attributes of honorability, integrity, visionary and men with great wisdom, etc.

It is laughable to see that these group of people sees it fit to enthrone Mr. Tora as Chief (Paramount?) of Ulawa who in my personal view based on his performances over the past six years lack the above attributes to be a ‘Hai Wala e ili, Hai wala e malumalu and Hai wala e Kulu’.

Immediately after the Samoan games his name was featured frequently in the media both on the air-waves and in the papers.  In spite of millions of dollars at his disposal from RCDF, Millennium, Micro and Livelihood funds up until now we are yet to see any tangible developments on Ulawa – surprisingly these people from Aroaha were blind folded and ignorant to see the status-quo right in front of their eye balls.

Ulawa society is one of the composite cultures comprising the Melanesians of Eastern Solomons, a group of people with clearly related customs, language and traditions.  Being a Melanesian society there is no paramount chief system practiced in Ulawa except that all chiefs are of equal ranks.

Whilst the small group of supporters, I presumed, used the above activity and event an credential for there were political expediency, it is sadden to note that it only brings upon themselves disrepute  and embarrassment.  It would be better, I suggest, they should have done their unworthy activity  secretly with Hon. Tora  than bring it out into the public domain.  Because bringing it out into the public only brings  sour taste in their own mouths.

On the other hand, if Mr. Tora really have the attributes of a Hai wala e ili, Hai wala e melumelu and Hai wala e kulu he would not accept those childish ideas let alone the groups hidden agenda, dishonest dealings, pride equals stupidity.

Any way there is a saying that says fools can only accept foolishness, in other words fooled by fools.

May I conclude with this little prayer – Father do not forgive them for they surely know what they are doing that is foolishness, Amen!  God save Ulawa Island.

 Barnabas Sango – Marawa
Mwadoa village
Ulawa Island