Archbishop Peers in the Solomon Islands: Impact of Ethnic Crisis Still Being Felt

Article excerpt

Honiara

It some ways, it shows all the signs of being a country in extremis, a nation at the edge of self-destruction, on the verge of becoming to the South Pacific what Haiti is to the Caribbean.

The economy, in the words of a local Anglican bishop, is about to "hit the wall." Foreign reserves are depleted, staples and fuel are lacking, services virtually non-existent, and an apparently paralyzed central government now faces rumblings of separation from outlying regions and islands.

It is the end of the rainy season in the Solomon Islands, and yet the capital has no water. Roads to surrounding regions that have not been maintained in a year are now impassable. Groups of sullen young men prowl the capital, Honiara, in daylight, their discontent and anger palpable.

The most vivid contrast witnessed during a recent visit to the islands' Church of Melanesia with Canadian Archbishop Michael Peers, may have been on the island of Ysabel.

Here the Canadian primate got a traditional greeting through the sheer joy and ebullience of Melanesian singers, dancers and panpipers only to be taken an hour later to visit a hospital where a doctor's heart was breaking at the lack of resources required to do his job.

A few hours before, nurses' aides, unpaid by the central government, had walked off the job.

And shortly before that, Jacob Pitu, the provincial premier, had been sitting in his office with Archbishop Peers explaining emotionally that if the government failed, health care for his people would be the first thing to suffer. "I worry about the newborns the most," he said.

In this sorry context, the Anglican Church of Melanesia, virtually alone among national institutions, maintains the loyalty, love and admiration of the people of the Solomon Islands, in large measure because of the heroic role that was played in the recent political turmoil by members of the Melanesian Brotherhood.

"You are the largest and most vibrant religious community in the Anglican Communion," archbishop Peers told a group of Brothers at the national headquarters in Tabalia on the island of Guadalcanal.

When islander turned against islander last spring and summer, the Melanesian Brothers stood between the factions and worked first at reestablishing peace, and then later at reconciliation. Today even civic officials and police officers, who all too often took sides in the conflict, credit the Brothers for a lower toll in deaths and destruction of property than might be expected from the bitterness that sparked the tumult. …