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Chapter 4. From the ocean to the mountains: storytelling in the Pacific Islands Fishing and agroforestry food system of the MelanesiansSI people in Solomon Islands

Section 1 Community and food system profile


Solomon Islands is a Melanesian archipelago of more than 600 000 people and more than 900 islands. Approximately 65 000 live in the capital Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal. The remaining Solomon Islanders reside in villages of varying size, spread across the other islands.

This research was conducted in the village of Baniata, in the Western Province on Rendova Island. Baniata, with a population of around 900, is a 90-minute petrol-powered boat ride from the nearest city and airport – Munda. Two smaller villages are within walking distance of Baniata: Havila, with a population of approximately 250, and Retavo, with a population of approximately 250. The three villages sit between steep mountain faces and the Solomon Sea. The climate of Solomon Islands is equatorial, characterised by heat and humidity, with distinctive wet and dry seasons. The temperature is consistently around 29 °C, with mild seasonal fluctuations, and rainfall varies amongst the islands, with the Western Province receiving the highest levels of approximately 3 000 mm per annum. Villages are surrounded by dense biodiverse bush, home to numerous native and endemic species.


Villages typically contain one dominant tribe. The original land-owning tribe of Baniata was Irurego. However, with migration related to marriage, headhunting and religious practices, eight different tribes – constituting approximately 900 villagers – live amongst one another. Baniata consists primarily of Melanesians, however, a few Polynesians have married into the village.

Households usually consist of multigenerational families, who typically eat and spend leisure time together. Youths outnumber adults, and national data predicts a doubling of Solomon Islands’ population over the next few decades.

The Solomon Islands archipelago is home to over 75 distinct languages. The official language is English, the common language across all the islands is Pidgin, and the local language in Baniata is Touo. Most villagers are able to speak multiple local languages, including those spoken on Rendova Island or across the Western Province. Despite English being the official language, it is only spoken by about 2 percent of the population. Children are not required by law to attend school. Most children in Baniata previously attended schools, as their parents raised enough money through selling agri-food products to pay fees.

Religion is a significant part of daily life in Baniata. Two primary religions are practised in Baniata: Christian Fellowship Church (CFC) and Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA). The two religious communities live next to each other in Baniata; however, there is a physical boundary, a planted hedge, that separates the two sides. The Christian Fellowship Church makes up the largest proportion of village residents (approximately 70 percent). Seventh-day Adventist Church followers are prohibited from consuming crustaceans, pork, possums, crocodiles, molluscs and turtles. They are also prohibited from drinking alcohol, tea, coffee, smoking tobacco, or consuming betel nut (Areca catechu L., Areaceae) – a commonly chewed sedative drug in Solomon Islands. The age of marriage varies, but typically occurs when the men and women are around 25-30 years old. In order for men to prove they are ready to marry, they must be capable of building a house and lighting a fire using a stick. For women to prove they are ready for marriage, they must cook using a motu (earth oven) and weave a basket.

Baniata has a diverse mosaic landscape made up of seven primary methods of land use. These include village settlements; mountain ranges; the sea, rivers and streams; food gardens; agroforestry (ngali nut trees, (Canarium indicum L.)); and coconut plantations.


Baniata has over 127 food-providing species available for production, raising, collection from the wild, and ultimately consumption. Production systems include coconut plantations, food gardens, agroforestry systems, small amounts of domesticated livestock that are free-roaming chickens, hunting, fishing, and wild food harvesting. Homegrown foods are produced without agrochemical inputs, as villagers have expressed interest in maintaining organic production practices. However, pests and diseases are increasing in impact and severity. Food waste and animal manure are not typically recycled back into food production systems. Local production coupled with wild food collection has been the primary source of dietary energy for centuries.


Home gardens produce roots, tubers, bananas, vegetables and fruits. Crop rotations and intercropping techniques are often practised. Ngali nut trees (Canarium indicum) are reported to be a significant source of both nutrition and income. Since domestication, they are planted with companion crops such as karuvera (Xanthosoma sagittifolium, Chinese taro), yams, bean and shade-tolerant cassava. In total, 19 different crops are intercropped with ngali nut agroforestry. The nuts are also a primary source of food for ghausu (doves), which are raised as a food source for the villagers. Coconut is planted along the shoreline of the village and used for agri-food sales, as well as consumption in forms of coconut milk and water.

FIGURE 4.1. Landscape of Baniata and surrounding villages of Havila and Retavo image
Source: Google Earth, 2018, modified by Chris Vogliano from Baniata community mapping exercises, 2021.
TABLE 4.1. List of cultivated foods: crops, planted trees and other cultivated foods image image
Solomon Islands family standing near their home and personal garden in Baniata Village.
© Massey University/Chris Vogliano.


Livestock in Baniata was previously more productive, with chickens and pigs raised in fenced areas, but now primarily consists of free-roaming chickens and a few domesticated pigs. The featherless neck chicken breed, which has an increased tolerance to heat, was introduced in 2016. It is not uncommon that men catch young wild pigs and raise them until they have grown large enough for slaughter. During 1975–1980, cattle grazed in the community. This is no longer practised due to cattle spoiling gardens, as well as a lack of expertise required to raise the animals. Chickens are raised both for their eggs and meat. Non-seafood-animal-sourced foods are consumed once a month or less, and reserved for special occasions such as birthdays, marriages, Christmas and New Year’s. All animals are processed and consumed within the community. No meat conservation techniques were reported. Main forage and feed for livestock include coconut leaves and waste, and food scraps. Less frequently, hote (white ants) collected from the bush are given to chickens, as well as cassava leaves from the home gardens.

TABLE 4.2. List of livestock image


Fishing is primarily the role of men, however, women are able to fish if desired. Open seas are a source of tuna and reefs are the source of numerous varieties of coastal fish. To catch fish, a rope is crafted from the inner bark of a pusi tree. The bark of this tree is flexible and can be easily tied to a bamboo pole with a traditional hook known as a zuahango. Occasionally villagers will use a poisonous plant, buna or deris, as bait to kill fish. The community has motorboats to go further out to sea, and members use nets and modern fishing lines with hooks. Traditional knowledge guides fishing: full moon is the best time for catching ghohi (Sphyraena barracuda, barracuda) and mara (Caranx spp., trevally); new moon, especially from the first to the fourth day, and on the seventh day, is best for fishing generally; and June and July are the best months to catch Kingfish.

The primary seafood caught is bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis, skipjack tuna), turtles, sharks and eels; however, over 51 different aquatic species were fished locally. Villagers are able to keep any size of fish caught. Fish is consumed fresh, with only a few villagers smoking fish for preservation. Fish and eels are declining due to increased populations of villages, higher pressure on the resources, and increased flooding, which washes eels out to sea. Fishing is restricted for multiple days directly following the death of a villager.

TABLE 4.3. List of wildlife used as food: fish, molluscs and crustaceans image image
TABLE 4.4. List of wild eggs from marine animals used as food image

Hunting and trapping

Wild game is hunted in lowland forests and mountain ranges beyond the village. Spears, bows and arrows are used. Hunting is still common, although declining due to less interest from the youth. Primarily men and boys hunt, however, women will accompany them to help carry the food and spears, and bring the kill back to the village. Elders lead the youth on the hunting trail, which provides an opportunity to share traditional knowledge including uses of local plants, hunting and fishing techniques, and traditional songs.

Wild boars are hunted for celebrations and are sometimes sold at the market. They are targeted if they destroy gardens or eat ngali nuts from the forest floor. Wild boar hunting techniques include the use of spears, traps and domesticated dogs (up to five at once). Other wild species hunted in the bush include parrots, bias (red nose bird), flying foxes (bats) and possums. These are typically caught with slingshots or bows and arrows. Fresh water invertebrates are also collected for consumption.

TABLE 4.5. List of wildlife used as food: birds and mammals image
TABLE 4.6. List of eggs from wildlife used as food image

Wild edibles

Wild harvesting of plants is a tradition in Baniata. Edible plants and fruit were previously a regular source of food, but the frequency and amount of wild foods harvested has declined over the previous three to four decades. However, wild foods are more heavily relied on when villagers are harvesting ngali nuts, camping away from the village, or during times of travel. Few wild foods are sold for income generation.

Starchy foods collected include wild yam, wild taro and wild breadfruit. Wild foods collected for consumption include green leafy vegetables such as ferns. Fruits harvested from the wild include voh, gima, sohvao and wild mangos. Voh is a sweet and juicy yellow flesh fruit, and is said to cause itchiness. Its season coincides with the ngali nut harvesting season, and it is often consumed during the collection of the nuts. Other wild foods include ivi (Inocarpus fagifer, Tahitian chestnut) and a gavu (Gnetum gnemon, tulip nut).

TABLE 4.7. List of wild edibles image image


Many wild plants have non-food uses, including clothing, construction, bags, medicine, fuel and bedding. Wild timber is used for house and other structure construction. Firewood is typically harvested from wild vasa (Vitex cofassus Reinw. ex Blume, Lamiaceae, deuru) and gema (Pometia pinnata, Pacific lychee) trees. Chainsaws are now used, and have improved the efficiency of collecting wood. There has been no attempt to domesticate tree species for timber. Trees standing in or around taboo sites are restricted for use for any purpose. Raw materials sourced from the landscape are not directly sold to the market; however, crafted products such as baskets and bedding mats are made for home use, sale or trade.

Commonly used resources for clothing include pandanus, vusai and abalolo trees; construction materials come from sago palm, vasa, goliti, gema, vaho, loiacane and betel nut*21 trunks; bags are made from coconut* fronds, gava, pandanus and sugar trees; medicines include coconut, alite* (Terminalia catappa L., Combretaceae), capica and ngali nuts; energy and fuel include any woods, vasa, rai tree, coconut fronds, coconut husk and ngali nut shells; and beddings (mats) are made from pandanus and coconut fronds.


Villagers follow the 12-month Gregorian calendar and rely on nature’s cycles to guide activities. For example, seven days after the new moon is best for fishing, as the fish – particularly reef snapper –are said to contain a higher content of oils. Certain crops are planted during either the full or new moon. Bananas planted during the season of high tides, caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, are believed to have the best harvests.

The temperature remains relatively stable throughout the year, and is 29 °C on average. However, there are variations in precipitation levels and slight variations in temperature. The two distinct seasons are dry and wet. The first seven months of the calendar year, from January to July, are the wet season, and the last five months, from August to December, are the dry season. Weather pattern changes bring varying intensities of storms and roughness of the seas. Rough seas can happen anytime of the year, but tend to concentrate between April and September. October through December have typically calmer seas, coinciding with lesser rainfall. Stronger winds and cyclones occur from January to March.

Crop plantings vary per season and rainfall. Cassava is preferably planted during the rainier weather from January to March, although it can be planted and harvested anytime throughout the year. During this time, watercress and bananas are harvested. In April, cucumbers, cabbage, bananas and taro are planted. Foods harvested and hunted during this season include sago palm, wild boars, flying foxes and possums. From August to October, watermelon, pana, yams and kumara (sweet potatoes) are planted. At the beginning of this season, potatoes are typically harvested. Crops such as cabbages and cucumber are planted and harvested throughout the year but the main harvesting time for crops such as yam, pana and kumara is from October to December. It is also the season for ngali nut harvesting, however, the season has been more recently extended until February.

FIGURE 4.2 Average annual rainfall (mm) and temperature (°C) in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and seasonal activities by the Baniata villagers (elaborated by Yanto Wahyantono, IRD, 2020) image
(These are available annual rainfall and temperature data in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands. Although following overall the same pattern, the rainfall profile may slightly differ from the one in Baniata village.)
Processing ngali nut.
© Massey University/Chris Vogliano.

Villagers can predict the onset of a cyclone by noting a ring of cloud around the moon at night, signaling that a cyclone or bad weather will hit in three to four days. Additionally, villagers take note of the quantity of ngali nuts that fall to the ground to determine the strength of winds. Typically, bad weather lasts either four or eight days. Rainbows are indicative of fine weather, as are particular birdsongs.


Munda is the primary town where villagers source foods from outside of the community. It is a 90-minute petrol-powered boat ride from Baniata, with a large wet market and multiple convenience shops. The Munda wet market provides a wide range of local food products including fish. Located near the Munda market are shops, which provide a range of processed foods, including sugar, oils and frozen desserts. These shops also sell household goods and supplies. Baniata has a small canteen that resells packaged foods sourced from Munda at a higher cost. Few items are sold here beyond canned tuna, sugar, rice, confectionaries, cigarettes and snacks. Foods purchased from markets and shops also include ferns, seaweed, shells especially mussels, reef fish, bananas, salt, noodles, flour, biscuits, bread, chocolate powder and butter. Non-food items include soap, kitchen utensils, clothes, knives, cups, plates, pots, carpet, diapers, garden hoe, kerosene, cutlery, cookware, rugs, nails, hammer, basket, axe, seeds, paddles, woven mats and local newspapers.

Traditionally, villagers would give foods to neighbours and friends. This now typically happens only for special occasions as a gift, such as for a birthday or wedding. Gifted foods include slippery cabbage, kumara (sweet potato), cassava, coconut or prepared dishes such as masi masi or local “puddings” made from starchy sago palm mixed with fresh ingi rusa (coconut).

Bartering and exchanges are commonplace. Bartering usually happens when villagers do not earn enough money or face financial challenges. These challenges occur more frequently during the lean season between April and July. Exchanges happen within Baniata, as well as with neighbouring villages. Common exchanges include sweet potatoes for fish; baked ngali nuts for kitchen utensils; sweet potatoes for mussels (two heaps for two heaps); ngali nuts for traditional weaved mats (5 kg of ngali nuts for three mats); sago palm starch for rice; ngali nuts for mattresses; and ngali nuts for plateware.

There are challenges to accessing and selling at the Munda market. The transport costs are high due to petrol prices, and foods often perish in transit and during sale at the market due to the lack of cold storage or refrigeration. Rough seas can limit villagers’ ability to access the markets, adding another barrier to selling agri-food products. Certain women struggle to reach the market at all, as some husbands will not allow their wives to travel to Munda alone.


Baniata was established as a village in the early 1800s, as a result of multiple numerous smaller villages of different tribes coming together. Up until a century ago, Baniata was almost completely self-sufficient, with community members relying mostly on homegrown and wild foods such as yams, bananas, taro, wild boars, possums and seafood. The arrival of the missionaries in 1915 led to the introduction of new foods including sweet potatoes and cassava, and the establishment of commercial coconut plantations. Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) arrived around 1920, influencing food production and consumption, including dietary exclusion of pigs, possums, eels and crustaceans.

The Second World War in 1941 catalysed further changes with the introduction of rice, canned meats, refined sugar and flour products, which were part of the American military rations. At the end of the war, these products were handed out to villagers, who developed a preference for these new foods that were high in salt, fat and sugar. Rice provided a quick and tasty alternative to traditional tubers that took significant time to process and prepare.

The destruction caused by cyclone Isa in 1950 was unprecedented, destroying coastal areas, including the coral reefs, which negatively impacted the availability of aquatic animals. The cyclone also led to the heavy flooding that destroyed many homes and gardens, ruining that season’s harvest, and making the land difficult to cultivate thereafter due to the salinity of the flood water. This resulted in many households deciding to re-establish their home gardens far away from the coast, at the base or even up into the hills as a preventive measure. The migration of food gardens has been further influenced by the government subsidies in the 1970s encouraging coconut plantations, which were placed near Baniata’s beach areas. As a result, the travel distance to tend to and collect food became a burden that fell on women and children. This practice continued until the 1980s, when additional expansion was no longer feasible due to lack of available suitable land.

Before the 1960s, Baniata was considerably smaller with fewer homes, and gardens close to each villager’s home. Forests were also cleared to make room for expanding gardens, much further away from homes due to the increasing population of Baniata. In the 1990s, the logging destroyed much of the local forests within the greater mountain landscape. Since the early 2000s, Baniata has experienced an increase in population and a decrease in production yields, resulting in less local food for consumption and sale. Inexpensive and convenient imported food such as noodles and rice are replacing traditional foods such as root vegetables and bananas. An earthquake hit in 2007, causing a tsunami in Baniata, destroying home gardens, coastal houses and canoes that were needed to fish. This caused a period of food insecurity, during which villagers turned to externally produced and imported staple foods until the local production systems were able to recover.

  • 21 *Species present in the ngali nut agroforestry system

“We are a welcoming community that works together, and we are proud of our baked ngali nuts.”

Woman from the community in Baniata.