A couple of months ago the Solomon Star News ran an interesting article that I have been meaning to share. Each primary school in Honiara, Solomon Islands, received 30 copies of a book with stories written by different Solomon Islands’ writers. The title of the book is Custom Stories from the Solomon Islands.
The book was put together from the family of Connie Grouse and Mary Cole in Munda, and printed in New Zealand with the help of a New Zealand Rotary Club. They have been given to schools in the Western Province and villages in many other provinces.
Now, children in Honiara will be able to read and enjoy them in their classes. With the help of READ SI and HCC staff, teachers will learn how to use them in class along with other books being distributed throughout Honiara. This is a step forward to putting more materials in schools for children to have access to so that their reading skills can be sustained and even developed more.
The more reading one does, the more information one can receive and the more developed the mind becomes. Never stop reading and learning——it’s a lifelong adventure.
The project was spearheaded by Mary Cole but, sadly, she passed away before the books could be distributed.
Writer Milton Ragaruma for The Islandsun Daily News wrote that Mary Cole was born in Munda, Solomon Islands, in the Western province but ended up spending most of her life in New Zealand. While in New Zealand she was always active in charity work and joined the Rotary to become even more involved in service to others.
It was in 2008 that Mary Cole and a Kiwi friend started collecting traditional short stories told and written by children from the Western province. These stories became the basis for the book on Custom Stories.
Mary passed away in 2015 after years of being ill and before she could return to her beloved Solomon Islands to launch the book. The carton of books have been in her sister’s, Connie Bisili Grouse’s house in Honiara for a couple of years. She waited for the right time and the right way to launch the book and have it distributed across the nation.
Then, Connie saw an old friend, Joyce Boykin, and the two decided to have READ SI take the books out to the villages that literacy trainers visited. These books would become part of the library kit that villages were given with the READ SI program.
Custom stories are still passed down from generation to generation in the villages. They are steeped and entwined in traditional lore, founded on spiritualism and a close and intimate relationship with ancestors and the environment. Village life is still spiritually and materially closely connected to the land, forests and the sea, and many stories, like daily life, are about the sea and the land the villagers know so intimately.
Though Solomon Islanders practice Christianity, many stories are also about the dead and the ability of the dead to affect the life of the living. Some of the stories that are told are about tall ships with white skinned men, explorers, whalers and traders who came to barter. Sometimes they are about sailors who used to entice men into their ships and take them to be slaves to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland, Australia.
Traditionally, stories were told in the evenings. After everyone has washed and eaten and the heat of the day has cooled, small groups would gather on a convenient verandah or on a log by the sea to talk and discuss the day’s events.
Custom stories bring people together and create a rich sense of unity and harmony. The stories in Custom Stories from the Solomon Islands are a gift from Mary Cole to the people of the Solomons.