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John Roughan: Solomons' Spirit World!

Solomons' Spirit World!

John Roughan
20 June 2005

Solomon Islanders' spirit world in the 21st century remains alive and well. It continues to operate in many people's lives and is as real as the wind that plays in the trees. No one doubts the reality of an unseen wind. At any time, night or day, it touches the face, moves through tree branches, and be as gentle as a whisper upon the skin. Never seen but real as anything in life we touch, smell or hear. Such a reality taken for granted but it presents a pale picture of how island people think of that other dimension, the spirit world which fills their waking day.

It's hard for the typical foreigner living in the Solomons to think, much less accept, the reality of a spirit world. John Kennedy, for instance, once president of America, is long since dead. His influence, perhaps some of his words could, plays no part in today's events. Once dead, always dead! In Melanesia, however, things are not quite that cut and dry.

The Catholic Church, at least once a year, takes upon itself a Melanesian mantel. On All Souls Day, 2 November, for instance, she pays special attention to all who have departed this earth. The day before, 1 November, however, the Church honours its special heroes, those she calls Saints. Those are men and women who bear the large 'S'--St. Luke, St. Lucy, St. George, St. John, etc.--but especially all those unsung heroes which carry a small 's', our friends and relatives.

But it's the next day, 2 November, that the Church seeks to remember special people as well, our ancestors. They are those who died, haven't quite made it to heaven but still are interested in what we do with our lives here and now. What I think the Church is saying: don't be so cock sure that the only reality is what our eyes, ears and senses tell us. There are other realities that at least we should check out and not be so dismissive of.

And that brings up the justice system that operates in the Melanesian heart. That's the local restorative justice system that places heavy emphasis on restoring broken relationships, mending hearts and returning a healthy balance among people who have offended each other or were even mortal enemies.

Our present Justice System--police, courts, judges, prisons, etc which currently operates so strongly in today's Solomon Islands history--had been sorely missing in the recent past. For the past twenty years or so, this Justice System was gravely weakened for a number of reasons. Sometimes it was due to poor police work, at others the courts and judges were presented poor evidence or none at all and when finally judged guilty, serious criminals seemed to walk free.

Now, however, the nation witnesses a strong Justice System. But as good and needed as this is, island people need another kind of Justice System whose major work is to mend broken relationships, fix deep personal hurt and restore communal trust. Many times sending an offender, especially a young one, to prison does little to mend communal harmony.

Of course serious crimes of murder, grave bodily harm, rape, home arson, major theft, etc. require the Justice System of police, courts, judges, etc. However, the bulk of conflicts between people, internal tribal hurts, difficulties among different village groups, etc. need the healing power of the Restorative Justice System.

Since 2002, SIDT has been sharing a Restorative Justice Program with police personnel, religious bodies, village groups, Rove prisoners, students, etc. Over these years, more than 2,500 people have found great benefit in the course because its major aim is to show how to bring about reconciliation, mend broken relationships and reduce conflict situations.

Both systems--Criminal Justice and Restorative Justice systems--are needed within Solomon Islands. They complement each other! The Criminal Justice System is vitally needed to keep the nation going in the right direction. But the Restorative Justice System plays a vital role as well. In Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian hearts putting right broken relationships is not only for the living but for the ancestors as well.

The Criminal Justice System's major goal responds to the needs of the law. The Restorative Justice System's goal, however, brings communities back in balance, reconciles aggrieved persons and groups, and recovers the foundation for mutual respect once again. The nation should rejoice that both these systems remain alive and well in modern day Solomons.


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