The 10th Roviana Lagoon Festival begins this week in Munda, which is the largest settlement on the island of New Georgia in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. A lab technician, Solomon Soakai, from the Helena Goldie Hospital in Munda has been picked to chair the organizing committee.
According to the Solomon Star Soakai, who is part Tonga, Roviana and English, knows it’s a huge task. The Sunday Star caught up with Soakai last week in Munda when he received $30,000 donation from the Western Provincial government and a $20,000 pledge from South Pacific Oil Ltd (SPOL). “I well understand the significance of this festival and its importance to keeping the Roviana culture alive,” he said.
The festival was initially established 10 years ago in honor of the late Alick Wickham who was a former champion of free style swimming, also known as Australian Crawl. He introduced the Aqua sports in the lagoon and now the community decided to expand it to involve other activities such as display of traditional war Canoe Tomoko, Bamboo band music, and Iron man, which comprises of paddling, running and swimming and other activities of interest.
Wickham pioneered the crawl, or freestyle swimming stroke, in which he held the unofficial world record over a fifty-yard length from 1904 to 1915. He was also well-known as a regular performer of aquatic stunts at swimming carnivals, and as a water polo player, surf lifesaver, and pioneer in spear fishing. He was associated with early attempts to ride a surfboard.
Roviana Lagoon is one of the most attractive spots in Western Province and a refuge for traders travelling through the Pacific Islands in the past centuries. Soakai pointed out that Roviana is the gateway for tourism in Western Province, with the soon opening of Munda International Airport. “We want to preserve the Roviana culture, as we are now being westernized,” he said. “I believe there will be increases in tourist numbers when the airport opens. These tourists will be coming to learn about the Roviana way of living.”
Soakai added, “But as you know, our culture is under threat due to outside influences so it’s important we preserve it through events like the Lagoon festival.” He thanked those that have come forward to offer sponsorship. “Organizing an event like this is not cheap. This is why we need sponsors, and I want to thank the province and SPOL for coming forward. Without their sponsorship, we will not be able to organize an event of this scale,” he said.
As the event will be attended by a lot of youths, Soakai also added, “What I want to say to young people of Roviana is if you want to change the mindset of Roviana people you must begin with yourself. That change will also impact the entire Western Province.”
The festival will run from October 1-5, 2018.