Thursday, March 4, 2010

Publishing triumph for Solomons' unwritten language

By Geraldine Coutts of Radio Australia

Compiling a book on leading women in Solomon Islands is no easy thing when a major language in the country - pijin blong Solomon, or Solomons Pidgin - is only a spoken language.

But Marilyn Waring, editor of Being the First, rallied to the cause, with the help of the subjects of the book, the country's leading women in the period following independence from Britain 32 years ago.

Professor Waring, a former New Zealand MP, learned of the lack of a record of top women when she worked with the Solomon Islands' Alice Pollard on women's issues for the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

She told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat: "Alice is a Solomon Islander, and became aware that there was no book at all of any kind by Solomon Islands women on Solomon Islands women."

Women selected for profiles in the book, published by AUT University's Pacific Media Centre on behalf of RAMSI, include Hilda Kari, "the first and only ever woman member of Parliament.

"About 12 of those in the book are the first women ever to become permanent secretaries or deputy permanent secretaries of government ministries," she said.

"One, Cathye Adifaka is the first woman who was a public services commissioner, and Catherine actually conducted all the interviews in Solomon Islands pidgin, which isn't a written language.

"And then we had to have that transcribed by another young Solomon Islands woman, Cynthia Wickham."

Wickham, who graduated in marine science from an Australian university,was on a boat in the Pacific when the editors sent her voice files to check.

"And she would transcribe them in pidgin, then make a first translation into English.

"And then they would come back to us to start working on them.

"As pidgin isn't a written language we actually have to debate how you spell every place name, every person's name.

"It's been a pretty unusual editing experience, but I think one of the most important things I've done in more than 30 years working outside of New Zealand."

Professor Waring said: "The public service is the single largest employer in the Solomon Islands but only six per cent of the women in the service are in senior roles.

"So we're hoping that the book provides mentoring in that way."

She believes it is going to go into the high school curriculum.

The launch in the capital, Honiara, is next Monday, March 8 - International Women's Day. A New Zealand launch will be held in Auckland on March 17.

* Being the First can be ordered online for $NZ25, from the website of the Pacific Media Centre, at AUT University.


John Lamani said...


I saw in your news item that Hilda Kari was the first woman in Parliament.This is not correct.

The late Mrs Lily Poznanski was.She was the first woman to hold a position as Clerk to Parliament and later
the MP for the West Isabel Constituency.These posts were help in the late 1970s and early 1980s.



Alfred Sasako said...

Very interesting article by geraldine. I think the record needs to be put right in terms of pijin being a written language. In the 1970s I worked with a New Zealand VSA [volunteer services abroad]by the name of Hugh Young, a New Zealander. Apart from compiling a Solomon Islands Pijin dictionary, we also translated a major work into a play which was aired on Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation at the time.

So it's not entirely correct to suggest that no written work on pijin exists.


Pijinplus said...

It is totally incorrect to say the Pijin is unwritten. The entire Bible in Pijin was released in July 2008, there have been many Pijin literacy programs running in Solomon Islands since the early 1980s, and there was a Pijin newspaper called Grasrut in the late 1990s.
Furthermore, in 2008 the Ministry of Education's language taskforce approved a uniform set of Pijin spelling principles.
All of this is not to diminish the value of the book that has been published, or to say that figuring out how to spell names was not a challenge. It only perhaps means that the hero, Cynthia Wickham, who transcribed the interviews was not familiar with the spelling system.

kind regards
Dr Gerry Beimers

Marilyn Waring said...

Lily Ogatina Poznanski was the successful candidate for Central Honiara in the Protectorate Legislative Council in 1965. She subsequently ran unsuccessfully for the SI parliament after independence

Harry Greenwell said...

Hi, readers of "Being the First" may be interested in a couple of posts that I've added to my blog. One discusses the book itself, the second discusses Solomons women in politics. The blog address is: