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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 293-295

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Media Review

Chea's Great Kuarao

Chea's Great Kuarao, 57 minutes, VHS (PAL and NTSC), color, 2000. Filmmakers: Edvard Hviding, Rolf Scott, Trygve Tollefsen. Bergen: SOT Film AS, Boks 4221, 5837 Bergen, Norway; <>. Coproducer: University of Bergen, Norway. Further information: Edvard Hviding, email:; tel: 47 55 58 92 64.

Chea's Great Kuarao describes a culturally important community fishing practice in Marovo Lagoon, Western Province, Solomon Islands, and embeds it in the larger context of the interaction between increasing commercialization and customary marine tenure. Marovo Lagoon has been under consideration for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an area of environmental contention.

The film opens by stating the general theme that Marovo cultural traditions are adaptable to the contemporary world then moves to scenes of Chea village. These Seventh-Day Adventist villagers, like others in Marovo, are said to have been transformed by colonialism from widely feared headhunters to lively Christians, and they continue to assert customary land and sea rights. Sabbath-day scenes, including selections from a church sermon and singing, are followed by a community announcement about a great kuarao (community fish drive) to be held on the coming Tuesday.

Various speakers, including the master fisherman discuss the significance of the kuarao and the role of the chief and his brothers in organizing the community's "big fishing technique." [End Page 293] Scenes of preparation follow, as motorboats take a work crew to one of the barrier islands, where long strands of a leafy vine are collected, tied together, coiled into large rolls, and placed on the boats for the next day's fishing. In the midst of their teasing and joking, the workers pause for prayer, acknowledging the dangerous spirits that dwell on the barrier islands.

Additional villagers, including women and children, arrive the next morning, and both the chief's brother and the village's lead net fisherman supervise the placing of several hundred meters of the vines in a large circle on the sandy lagoon flats. The vines function as a scare line, as the rustling leaves and the people slowly work the various fish into an increasingly smaller circle. The vines are cut, drawn past each other, and retied to make a smaller circle, while the people in the water keep the circle closed.

Underwater footage effectively shows the people surrounding the mixed school of fish and tying vines. As the circle tightens to about ten meters in diameter a net is placed outside it, and pounded poisonous vines (presumably Derris) are thrown in to stun the fish. Roughly eight hundred reef fish are hand captured and placed in the boats for sorting and gutting. The more marketable varieties and sizes are iced in a large fiberglass-insulated box for shipment to Honiara on the twice-weekly ferry later that morning. Market distribution in Honiara is handled by a brother of the chief. Some of the remaining fish are kept for family consumption, and some will be cooked and sold at the village bazaar the next day. The narrator notes that when kuarao catches are particularly large, some fish are released to prevent waste. The vines are also carefully removed from the water to promote a healthy reef and a rebound in the fish population.

The next scenes show cooked fish and garden produce laid out for sale at the village bazaar, at which an announcement is made about the amounts of money collected from the Honiara sales and the bazaar. An interview with a village woman buying fish describes the high cost of school fees and the difficulty women have earning cash, although some make money from market gardening. An interview with the village chief notes the number of generations Chea villagers have been sustained by the lagoon, reef, and land resources and the importance of maintaining control for the benefit of their people. Continuing to practice the great kuarao is a means of asserting and maintaining their customary marine tenure rights to sections of the...


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