The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 612-613
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Since the Company Came
Set in a remote village in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, Since the Company Came is the story of a community coming to terms with social, cultural, economic, and ecological disruptions brought on by the logging of their land. Some village leaders had previously invited a Malaysian timber company to log their tribal forests, and now the Rendova Island people find themselves at a difficult crossroads. Many village men embrace the chance to earn some easy money, to become part of the modern economy. Village women, however, are more concerned with preserving the source of their daily existence, the forest, and the traditions that sustain their way of life.
The film presents a village meeting where Chief Mark Lamberi calls into question the tribes' finances, only to find himself the target of furious accusations from the local chairman of the logging project, Timothy Zama. The village group is embroiled in conflict over land ownership, logging royalties, and money deals, conflicts that threaten the very core of their traditional social values.
But the more important issue, what is happening to the people's way of life, their very existence as a unified people, is questioned by the women of the village. Mary Bea and Katy Soapi are two village women who are desperate to stop commercial logging before it destroys not only their land but with it their very way of life. Although women are the custodians of land according to the matrilineal tradition, their power has been severely eroded over the past few years. Forests are assumed to be the latest money spinner, and money is men's domain. A people's tradition, custom, and history are given short shrift in the headlong dash to gain money. Mary tells us, "Men don't want to hear anything from women, but we women are actually the center of life in our village."
As Rendova's forest rapidly disappears, the loggers set their sights on a nearby deserted island, Tetepare, held sacred by the villagers.
Archival footage from the 1920s provides an insight into the Solomon Islands' colonial experience and raises questions about the ongoing legacy of colonial attitudes to land and especially people's understanding of their way of life, so intimately based on their major resource base, the forest. We witness the ongoing disruption of [End Page 612] society's understanding of itself, how its resources of land, reef, and sea are currently viewed as simply different ways of gaining money. We glimpse how the modern world, with its emphasis on money, development, progress, works on the people themselves.
This microcosm of a small village in one part of the Solomon Islands wrestling with forces greater than themselves presents disturbing insights into what has recently occurred in another part of the country. The near civil war waged on Guadalcanal during 1999 and 2000 between its people and those of Malaita focused as well on the people's resource base, the distribution of benefits, and equity in development.
The film allows a brief insight into the whys and the wherefores of the Solomons' recent slide to economic and social collapse. It becomes obvious that the Malaysian logging company is but one of the modern forces at work changing the Solomons society from a fundamentally subsistence-focused people to one more and more centering on the world of cash. Solomon Islands is a nation of villages, islands, and cultural identities that are sited close to their resource base, which sustains life and makes daily living possible.
The modern life of the cash economy, on the other hand, presents a completely different view of how life can be lived. In this view resources are but commodities to be sold to the highest bidder and the proceeds used to live a better kind of life. Many peoples...