CNN’s Asia trip shows Solomon Islands’ religious tensions

Written by Tiffany Williams, CNN

The small Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands is known for frequent natural disasters, ranging from cyclones to earthquakes to sharks.

After seeing news stories about recent unrest in the country, CNN visits the coastal villages of Boi Chau and Trindad, seeking answers as to what caused the unrest.

CNN visited the Solomon Islands to learn more about one of the world’s most populated Pacific islands. Credit: Tiffany Williams/CNN

Some parts of the country — particularly San’a, Gizo and Malaita, which has the highest concentration of religious followers — have seen repeated unrest and violence in recent years. But the ongoing problem has been centered in Worgen, a coastal village 20 minutes north of the capital, Honiara.

More than 100 years after the European arrival to Solomon Islands, they’re responsible for more deaths than any other factor, according to a 2017 UK report. Poorer communities in Honiara and Malaita are most at risk from humanitarian crises.

Health and education are poor, and contact with the outside world is largely restricted.

Meanwhile, the violence seems unlikely to diminish as locals, who are predominantly Muslim, protest against perceived high taxes and the government, and more Muslim communities, who are mostly Christian, launch into ethnic violence.

The root of the problem is unclear, but ethnic divisions between the indigenous people, who are mostly Christian, and people of the Muslim faith — often referred to as “Solomons” — are very real.

CNN learns how religious leaders in the Solomon Islands are trying to stay positive amid political and social unrest.

Solomon Islands: Religious, ethnic and geographical tensions

According to Thomas Harry, an evangelist and non-profit director who works with churches and religious leaders in the region, Solomon Islands’ current situation is a result of higher taxes to fund more foreign aid to the country. “The government has even tried to incorporate the Muslim community [into the aid] program,” he says.

Pastor Wilson Epeli believes that the violence is made up of all three races, including the Native Indians, the Maroons and the majority of the Muslim community.

His main concern, however, is the persecution of the native tribe. “The pagans are the ones getting worst. We have tried so many times to go and stop it, but I do not know how to do it. It is still ongoing.”

12 cars burnt in Solomon Islands unrest

CNN follows Epeli as he makes a trip to the village of Bogia, a largely Christian town where he organizes charity events and educates the community on being concerned with religious discrimination.

Over the past two decades, Epeli has led many Christian groups, including church groups, into religious clashes and riots — once with violent intent — but now, he tries to steer people to the word of God to help ease tensions.

The latter issue is of particular concern for many religious leaders, as the Islam community are likely to be better educated than their Christian counterparts.

According to Epeli, Muslims who are native Solomon Islanders are not a new group of people on the island, but due to the conflict, churches have found it difficult to hire Christians to work with the Muslim community.

Valentina Meng, a non-profit director who has tried to bridge communities and travel back to her hometown of Bugi, believes the religious conflicts that are in the news now are most likely to be the result of the government’s lack of leadership.

However, she also believes that religion should be a part of discussion for the community.

“I would like to see the government send out a high-level representative from different faiths to help save Malaita and show where they stand on the ground,” she says.

The journalist who uncovered the extended conflict between Christians and Muslims on the island is Stuart Brodlie. He recalls how he began to explore the history of religious conflict in the Solomon Islands.

“The story was an endless stream of bloodshed and destruction,” he says.

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