Party: Moro Movement
The Moro Movement was begun by Pelise Moro (q.v.) in the late 1950s to gain social, economic and political improvements on Guadalcanal through co-operative economic enterprises. These were to be combined with a high regard for custom and tradition in order to synthesise a new social order. It was a 'back to custom' movement and had magical and spiritual elements. Moro was born in the mid-1920s and lived at Makaruka village on Tasi Mauri, a name for the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal. The Moro Movement can only be understood in the context of the long-term settlement of 'Are'are Malaitans at Marau Sound at the eastern end of the island, the Second World War and the Allied presence on Guadalcanal (q.v.), the Maasina Rule movement (1944-1952) (q.v.) and the government's long-term neglect of the Weathercoast. The Moro Movement called the island Isatabu instead of Guadalcanal, and for many decades was a significant regenerative force for traditional life on Guadalcanal. It was also residually involved in the 'tensions' that occurred between Malaitans and the people of Guadalcanal in the 1990s and 2000s.
Marau Sound at Guadalcanal's eastern end was settled by migrants from the 'Are'are district on the west coast of Malaita some thirteen generations ago, with some claims going back thirty-four generations. The connection is ancient but seems to have increased in the mid-nineteenth century. We know there were 'Are'are links to Marau Sound when the Mendaña expedition visited in 1568, and there were always regular canoe traffic back and forth and trade and kinship links. The people were divided between those living on the island around the sound and those on the mainland. During Maasina Rule, the Marau 'Are'are felt themselves to be part of the movement. In 1953 preparations began to form a Guadalcanal Council, but in 1954 two of the Marau villages (Hatere and Niu) wanted to join the Malaita Council instead. When this was rejected they, along with the neighbouring Veru Moli people, wanted to form their own Marau-Hauba Council, and this was allowed in 1955. There was considerable tension between the Marau 'saltwater' people, who were determined to expand their interests on Guadalcanal, and the bush people. The Marau Malaitans claimed control of the land from Oniseri to Kaukau. Most indigenous Guadalcanal people are inclined to regard the 'Are'are Malaitans as intruders, though they have all been linked together for hundreds of years.
Moro suffered a severe illness in 1957 during which he had visionary experiences that became the basis of his social movement. Government records show the first reports on the Moro Movement in May 1957 with an incident that led to the imprisonment of Moro for three months along with some of the followers. He said that he was destined to lead the Marau-Hauba peoples. He was assisted by two Melanesian Mission-educated men-David Valusa and Joseph Goraiga-who wrote down his version of customs and history. His most important document related to the creation of Guadalcanal, or Isatabu. He said the core chieftainships of Guadalcanal were in the centre of the island. His own headquarters were at Makaruka in the Veuru Moli area on the Weathercoast. At the core of the Movement was Moro's desire for the economic betterment of his people through social action. His rise came after the decline of the Marau-Hauba Council, and was strongly anti-government and related to land matters. The Movement spread along the coast, into the mountains and to the Guadalcanal Plains on the north coast. It created a structure with district leaders, clerks and tax collections, much as Maasina Rule had devised. There were also millenarian aspects to the Movement and some predicted Americans would return, but these ideas were always peripheral and Moro did not promote them.
In 1959, Moro and his followers refused to take part in the government census or cooperate with a government mapping project. By 1960, the Movement was called the Moro Custom Company. The government dealt carefully with it, first by trying to increase economic development along the Weathercoast and establish agricultural and health projects. In 1965-1966 the Guadalcanal Council aided the construction of an airfield at Avuavu, although this was viewed unfavourably since it served the Catholic Mission and many who were not Movement supporters. (NS 22 Feb. 1966) Some Moro supporters were elected to the Guadalcanal Council, but Moro himself preferred to ignore formal political processes and work separately from them. By the mid-1960s, the Moro Custom Company had influence over about half of Guadalcanal, mainly the centre of the island bounded by the outskirts of Honiara and Rere on the north coast and Duidui and Balo on the south coast. An estimated three to four thousand people were followers out of Guadalcanal's indigenous population of twenty-two thousand (which included Honiara).
In 1972, more than a thousand visitors arrived at Makaruka village from all along the Weathercoast and Honiara, including a television film crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and government officials including District Commissioner James Tedder (q.v.). A special feast had been organised to celebrate the first arrival of humans to Guadalcanal and the strong customs of the people. Moro issued the invitation to people to come so that he could show them that his Movement was not a cult but had a rational design. Moro, accompanied by ten male escorts, was dressed in shell money-an extraordinary display of wealth. Also present were a research team from the University of Hawai'i's East-West Center. All guests were allowed to visit the custom house and the 'house of memory' if they were wearing custom garments, tapa breech cloths for men and grass or string skirts for women, with the concession of a tapa top for European women. The village normally had only ten houses but an additional 190 had been constructed for the visitors. Dances were held and displays of fighting were arranged. (NS 31 Oct. 1972)
At independence in 1978 Moro and his followers were invited to Honiara to join the cultural activities. The Movement was strongest in the late 1950s and 1960s but continued to exist into the 1990s. In 1985, it celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. The Movement had loose connections with the Isatabu Freedom Movement, a militia group that from 1998 to 2003 tried to rid the island of the large Malaitan presence and to restore control by Guadalcanal people. Moro died in 2006. (Davenport and Çoker 1967; Davenport 1970; O'Connor 1973; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_Movement [accessed 17 June 2011]; Kenilorea 2008, 180)
- Kenilorea, Peter, Tell It As It Is: Autobiography of Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Kenilorea, KBE, PC, Solomon Islands' First Prime Minister, Clive Moore, Centre for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 2008, xxxvi, 516 pp. pp. Details
- Davenport, William H., 'Two Social Movements in the British Solomons that Failed and their Political Consequences', in Marion W. Ward;Susan C. Tarua;May Dudley (ed.), The Politics of Melanesia, Fourth Waigani Seminar, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University and the University of Papua New Guinea, Canberra and Port Moesby, 1970, pp. 162-172. Details
- British Solomon Islands Protectorate (ed.), British Solomon Islands Protectorate News Sheet (NS), 1955-1975. Details
- Davenport, William H., and Çoker, Gülbün, 'The Moro Movement of Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands Protectorate', Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 76, no. 2, June, pp. 123-175. Details
- O'Connor, Gulbun Çoker, 'The Moro Movement of Guadalcanal', PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1973. Details