A look at life in the Pacific

The Charlton Women in Business and Agriculture 2019 program commenced with most interesting, informative and educational meetings.

ISLANDS: Ron and Joy Simpson with a Tongan tapa cloth made from mulberry bark which has been beaten, glued and then decorated using traditional dyes.

ISLANDS: Ron and Joy Simpson with a Tongan tapa cloth made from mulberry bark which has been beaten, glued and then decorated using traditional dyes.

In February Casey Pope spoke on the Solomon Islands.

His interest stemmed from a friendship with a fellow university student, who lived on the islands, with subsequent increasing visits there over eight years.

This has culminated in Mr Pope now having a ‘leaf’ house built (most houses are built of bamboo and sago palm) where he plans to reside permanently.

He is fluent in ‘pigeon’ and is also learning the language.

The islanders are hospitable and inclusive of nature with the population living mainly in villages.

They take tobacco to sell in town, buy salt, soap and clothes but apart from that are self sufficient.

A diet of native fiddle fern, Kumara, taro root, leaf pudding (made from taro leaves), plus liver, bonito and yellowfin fish, is markedly different from a western diet.

The agriculture department promotes the export of timber like tiki wood.

Coconut oil is a much used commodity with scented coconut oil sold to tourists.

There are diesel generators in towns, some villages have solar power, otherwise there is no electricity.

Unfortunately there are very few work opportunities for young people.

Mr Pope said he had come to love the people and the place.

Ron and Joy Simpson spent from 2014 to 2016 on the island of Tonga working with UnitingWorld, which aims to alleviate poverty through sustainable community development.

Mr Simpson is an agronomist and he worked in a Tongan agricultural boarding school of 1000 boys aged 12 to 19, educating them in the basic principles of subsistence farming.

He said it was a tough life for the students but they were happy natured.

He, however, found it very challenging.

There were no stockyards and very little fencing.

Farmland is owned by the king and farmed under a semi feudal system of four acre allotments

Tonga has a high rainfall with rich volcanic porous soils.

The people subsist mainly on root crops which contributes to them being the most obese nation on earth with its attendant health problems.

Mrs Simpson said going to Tonga was like stepping back 40 years in time.

They found Tongans to be a caring, sharing people who live under a patriarchal and hierarchical system where women serve.

They said they grew together as a couple, came to appreciate the simple life and, despite the hardships, would go back "in a heartbeat".

The Simpsons shared their experiences at the March meeting where members also farewelled longtime member Kay Williams and husband Gilbert who are relocating to Adelaide.