By KALITA SPLENDOR
THE cool easterly breeze on that quiet afternoon and brought with it a salty –fresh sea fragrance that swept through the atoll so peacefully; as coconut palms, some in crazy angles, swayed slowly to the rhythm.
As the sun slowly inched itself into the sea beyond the western horizon, glowing fires flickered in the distant hamlets along the island’s coastline.
Excited sandpipers danced to the famous “tapioca dance” style and raced along the beach; skipping over every wave that unfolded and tenderly caressed the glistening shoreline.
Suddenly, sharp squeals of breast feeding infants broke the quiet atmosphere, marking the arrival of mothers from their daily chores.
In the twilight, the crow of a rooster marked the end of a mystical day on Anagusa Island in the Samarai area of Milne Bay.
Anagusa Island resembles a large gem gently nestled between the Coral and the Solomon Seas. The island is also named Bentley Island and it comprises the Engineer Group of Islands – Kwaraiwa (Watts); Naluwaluwali (Skelton); Tubetube (Slade) and Tewatewa (Hummock).
Magical Anagusa sits comfortably on spectacular turquoise waters teeming with brilliant coral reefs and white sandy beaches.
My visit there last month (September) was made possible by Milne Bay’s non-government organisation Eco Custodian Advocates (ECA) and Conservation International to promote one of its successful marine conservation and management projects on Angusa Island.
ECA had previously also conducted a successful run of its programme on the tiny corralled island of Wialoki.
The programme adopts a local method of conservation of marine and terrestrial conservation that costs almost nothing.
This traditional method is termed, gwala, in the Kaina Bwanabwana dialect and can also be called a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA).
This is where local communities are being encouraged to revert back to ancestral ways of conservation to restore the productiveness of their reefs and marine ecosystems, using gwala, in order to sustain a healthy local fishery that will continue to put money into their pockets as well as feed them. Both Wialoki and Anagusa communities have embraced the idea to re-introduce the method on their reefs.
Ward Councillor for Anagusa Island, Elama Peter explains that gwala is always introduced by a chief or an elder in a clan.
“This is done when a family member dies. The chief brings the community together; hosts a feast and then announces to them his proposal to restrict a certain portion of the reef from being fished or harvested.
“The family (of the deceased) will then head out to that reef and erect a pole with traditional decorations, depicting that the area around there is restricted.
“The restriction remains under the discretion and jurisdiction of the family until when it is decided to be lifted. Another feast is hosted to allow the reef’s accessibility.”
Peter adds that they are already seeing tangible results.
“The reef selected on the other side of the island has greatly replenished marine life and there is excitement that the traditional method is creating wonders for them,” Peter reveals.
“The present generation is slowly letting go of this traditional practice but its reintroduction now reminds them of how important it is to keep traditional practices and improve on them for the success of today’s livelihood.” Peter adds.
For me it was trip that was worth accompanying community extension officer George Aigoma; marine biologist Noel Wangunu and two diving support staff Steve Taugobi and Barney Tom Paul for. Also with us were two US female internationals; Whitney Anderson and Stephani Gordon.
Anderson, the Senior Program Coordinator for the Coral Triangle Initiative Program when asked about her thoughts on gwala, described it as not only a rich aspect of culture and tradition, but also essential for the well-being and future prosperity of the island communities.
“Gwala is responsible and necessary for a happy and prosperous future.”
Anderson said she is honoured to help tell the story of Anagusa and to work alongside ECA to empower communities to protect their natural resources.
“As the impacts of climate change become more severe, communities must do what they can to ensure that future generations will benefit from healthy and productive gardens and coral reefs,” she added.
Gordon was the videographer who professionally captured all the events that unfolded during that trip, including the gwala story.
“I was very much interested in filming this story because it is rare to find people that solve their own problems, and here we have resourceful communities living in an absolutely beautiful part of the world, but they have being impacted by climate change.
“So some communities have begun implementing gwala, a traditional marine resource management practice, and their reefs are rebounding in great ways, which helps feed them.
“It’s a fantastic true story,” Gordon said.
Marine Biologist Noel Wangunu admits that the traditional method plays a significant role in promoting and ensuring natural productivity of marine resources in the wild.
“Gwala can simply be described as a “fallow period” or resting time for a reef ecosystem by limiting or diverting human’s impact on reefs to other areas thus, allowing the area to rejuvenate.
“The magnitude of results can be significant and depend on the level of biodiversity surrounding the gwala area.
“The higher the level of biological diversity and productive the areas is, the high rate of recovery and expansion in species population and size can take place in a short space of time.
“This has been the case at Anagusa Island in the Bwanabwana LLG,” the marine biologist confirmed.
After speaking with several of the locals on the island, I have come to embrace the fact that our customs and traditions still remain and play a big main role for our existence in this world today.
No wonder, our forefathers have foreseen the importance of upholding our customs and tradition which are now stipulated in the preamble and constitution of our most diverse and beautiful nation.
- The author is a freelance writer.