Study shows that the "Family Tree Approach" being practised in North Malaita is incapable of achieving its objectives due to loopholes
The findings are part of a Master of Applied Science thesis, majoring in International Rural Development compiled by a To'abaita student, Mr Fred Saeni, which was recently submitted for examination to the Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Information obtained reveals that customary land ownership, recording and registration are complex issues in the Solomon Islands. At present, 87% of the land is held under customary laws. Almost all (some 99%) of the land held under customary law is not surveyed, recorded or registered to the tribes. Customary land disputes have been inhibiting rural development initiatives, which is partly responsible for the ill-being of the people.
The paper outlines that the Family Tree Approach (FTA) is a process being used within the To'abaita region of the Malaita Province to help address problems in the dilemmas of land ownership, land disputes, land recording, land registration and rural development in land held under customary laws in To’abaita. The FTA is a blend of indigenous epistemology, modern practices and Christian principles. Indigenously, the tribes identify with their land by tracing their origins through genealogies, historical narrations, tribal epics and chants, shrines and properties. Rev. Michael Maelia’u, a Church Minister and a former Parliamentarian, promotes the FTA. The FTA has four pillars (principles) – recognition, reconciliation, recording and registration – which are covered within five sequential phases. For instance, recognition is done in phase one of the process, enabling all members of a tribe to recognize each other. Reconciliation is part of the process, promoting forgiveness and acceptance of tribal members. Recording is an important pillar of the FTA, as its role is to produce documents that will be accepted by the law. Research results show that land registration is also a pillar of the FTA; once customary land is registered to the tribes, land disputes will be resolved, thereby enabling sustainable rural development that improves the people’s well-being.
The FTA, however, is currently not formally recognized in the country. It has been used by 12 of approximately 20 tribes within the To'abaita region. Some of the To'abaita tribes have not adopted the FTA for various reasons.
The FTA has enabled the disintegrated generations to recognize or identify with one another. It enables public recognition of existing tribes, tribal genealogies, tribal tales, tribal epics, the tribal shrines, and the tribal land. Reconciliation has been carried out at both intertribal and intra-tribal levels. The FTA enables identification of people who are residing on land and utilizing resources they do not have a right to. It makes people aware of their roots or the land of their origin, which would then lead to reduced land disputes that constrained development initiatives and the well-being of the people.
The results, however, indicated that the FTA has problems either in the approach itself or in its management. It is incapable of achieving its objectives (reducing land disputes, enable rural development, enable tribal land registration, and resettling land that was wrongly acquired). People have split perception of the FTA and the legislation; this therefore reduces potential motivation that is needed to advance the approach. Results of the research also indicated that no proper and serious documentation has been done, despite knowing that it is one of the pillars. In To'abaita, gender and culture are contributing issues, which cause difficulties to the FTA. Also, the FTA lacked financial support.
Those that have experience with the FTA believe that the FTA objectives need to be made known to promote motivation to the illiterate people of To'abaita. Adequate communication of issues to improve the FTA is essential. Forming a committee that oversees the design and management of the FTA is necessary for its improvement, and adequate financial support will bring the FTA forward. Chief empowerment by the legislation is essential to enable the FTA to achieve its objectives in the future.