Pan pipes, dancers, art, food and music filled the Wellington venue on Friday 18th July for the first official celebration of Solomon Islands National Day in Wellington, New Zealand.
The first Solomon High Commissioner to New Zealand, Her Excellency Joy Kere hosted the independence anniversary celebrations.
The gathering brought together local dignitaries, Solomon Islanders from around New Zealand, members of the Pacific community and senior representatives of the New Zealand Government.
Master of ceremonies, Solomon Island born lecturer at Victoria University, Dr. Kabini Sanga, said the event was the first in many ways.
“We have also in the person of the High Commissioner Her Excellency Joy Kere, the first woman High Commissioner to be appointed by the Solomon Islands.
“Historically, New Zealand and the Solomons have been very well connected.”
He said that the local community had come together from around New Zealand to contribute to and celebrate the occasion, and a group from Canterbury had practised the panpipes for the event.
“We are inviting New Zealanders to enjoy the Solomons.”
Keynote speakers Mrs Kere and Andrea Smith, deputy secretary at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, acknowledged the relationship between the two countries.
Mrs Kere said the establishment of the high commission was a “significant milestone.”
She paid tribute to the role New Zealand had played in the Solomons over many years and to the strong relationship between the two countries.
“One which we are very proud of and grateful for.”
Mrs Kere recognised New Zealand’s assistance over the years to the culturally diverse country made up of over 900 islands and speaking 80 different languages.
She described the journey which the Solomons had taken since independence, which had included conflict, but now saw the country undertaking a range of legislative and structural reforms.
“It is against this backdrop that the Solomon Islands have come to appreciate what peace means.
“It is also in this context that we value New Zealand as a traditional partner, a close Pacific neighbour, one who has stood by us in good and bad times, in times of disaster and continues to do so.”
She hoped to see more tourists from New Zealand visiting the “hapi isles.”
Both Mrs Kere and Ms Smith praised the success of Solomon Islands participation in the recognised seasonal employment scheme.
This year in the scheme more than 500 Solomon Islanders come to New Zealand to receive training and help local farmers.
Ms Smith said the two countries had a deep relationship which had gone from strength to strength in recent years.
She paid tribute to the role Mrs Kere is playing here in Wellington “where she is doing a great job for her country.
“The strength of the relationship was also on display during the terrible flooding that hit Honiara in April of this year.
“New Zealand is proud to have assisted the Solomon Islands with relief supplies, engineering surveying assistance and a replacement for the old Mataniko bridge [in Honiara].”
Both Mrs Kere and Ms Smith also praised the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
“This has helped to set the scene which will now enable our political and trade relationships to grow further.”
After the event, Ms Smith said it was excellent that the Solomon Islands has decided to open a High Commission in New Zealand.
“It shows the closeness of the relationship between New Zealand and the Solomons.”
Her views were echoed by other attendees.
Tavita Filemoni [big smile] from Samoa, who was representing Weltec Polytechnic, said it was exciting for him as a Samoan attending a Solomon Islands celebration for the first time.
“It is nice to have the leaders of our Pacific nations over here, closer to where the political arena is.”
Chelcia Gomese, who is studying in Wellington, but lives in Honiara said: “It’s really nice to have an office here where you can come if you have any issues.
“I am proud to be a Solomon Islander, showing off what we have and what it is to be part of the country.”
Newton Maeriua from Malaita is studying at Canterbury. He travelled to Wellington to attend the event.
He said that having an official presence in Wellington made him feel at home.
Maciu Vucago from Fiji, a PhD student at Victoria University and member of the Pacific Islands Students Association said: “Independence allows us to celebrate and reflect on development generally in the region.
“It’s a way of reminding ourselves as Pacific peoples of how far we’ve come and the work that’s still needed to be done.”
By Sue Teodoro
Whitireia Media School