When the annual Roviana Lagoon Festival gets off next month, one man who will be at the forefront of the event is 33-year-old Solomon Soakai.
A lab technician at Helena Goldie Hospital in Munda, Soakai has been picked to chair the organising committee of the 10thRoviana Lagoon Festival, which will run from October 1 to 5.
Soakai, who is part Tonga, Roviana and English, knows it’s a huge task.
The Sunday Star caught up with Soakai last week in Munda when he received $30,000 donation from the Western Provincial government and a $20,000 pledge from South Pacific Oil Ltd (SPOL).
“I well understand the significance of this festival and its importance to keeping the Roviana culture alive,” Soakai said.
The festival was initially established 10 years ago in honour of the late Alick Wickham.
Wickham, a former champion of free style swimming, also known as Australian Crawl, introduced the Aqua sports in the lagoon and now the community decided to expand it to involve other activities such as display of traditional war Canoe Tomoko, Bamboo band music, and Iron man, which comprises of paddling, running and swimming and other activities of interest.
Roviana Lagoon is one of the most attractive spots in Western Province and a refuge for traders travelling through the Pacific Islands in the past centuries.
Soakai pointed out that Roviana is the gateway for tourism in Western Province, with the soon opening of Munda International Airport.
“We want to preserve the Roviana culture, as we are now being westernized,” he said.
“I believe there will be increases in tourist numbers when the airport opens.
“These tourists will be coming to learn about the Roviana way of living.
“But as you know, our culture is under threat due to outside influences so it’s important we preserve it through events like the Lagoon festival.”
As a lap technician, Soakai thanked his organising committee members for having the trust in him.
He also thanked those that have come forward to offer sponsorship.
“Organising an event like this is not cheap. This is why we need sponsors, and I want to thank the province and SPOL for coming forward.
“Without their sponsorships, we will not be able to organise an event of this scale.”
As the event will be attended by a lot of youths, Soakaihas this to say:
“What I want to say to young people of Roviana is if you want to change the mindset of Roviana people you must begin with yourself.
“That change will also impact the entire Western Province.”
According to Solomonencyclopedia.com, Pioneer of the Roviana Lagoon Festival, Alick Wickham (1886-1967) Son of Frank Wickham and PingeNaru from Simbo, was born on 1 June 1886 in the Western Province.
He lived in Sydney from 1901 to 1927, where he was a national swimming and diving champion whose achievements were reported internationally.
Most significantly, he pioneered the crawl, or freestyle swimming stroke, in which he held the unofficial world record over a fifty-yard length from 1904 to 1915.
He also held several national and New South Wales state titles.
Wickham was also the inaugural Australasian diving champion in 1904, and from 1908 to 1912 the New South Wales state champion.
He was well known as a regular performer of aquatic stunts at swimming carnivals, and as a water polo player, surf lifesaver, and pioneer in spear fishing. He was associated with early attempts to ride a surfboard.
His most famous achievement was a high-dive of sixty-two metres (205 feet, 9 inches) into the Yarra River in Melbourne in 1918 at a patriotic swimming carnival.
His achievements have been recognised in several television, movie and radio documentaries, in books and newspaper articles, and by the International Swimming Hall of Fame in the United States and the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame.
In the Solomons, Alick was posthumously honoured by the naming of a swimming pool in Honiara in 1973 and by the release of a commemorative postage stamp booklet in 1984.
By MAENI COMFORT