Please let me preference this blog entry by saying that all I am about to write is based on anecdotal evidence only. Not stats and proper research. This is what I have come to think of through conversations with various people about adoption in the Solomon Islands.

I was surprised how common adoption is in the Solomon Islands. It was not me who was bringing it into conversation with people. Many people have adopted children and so when I asked colleagues and peers ‘do you have any pikinini?” they commonly would answer “yes, I have X pikinini and Y adopted pikinini” – the distinction is almost always made. Sometimes like this “yes, I have X pikinini, Y are my own and Z is/are adopted”. This statement may be made in front of their children or not. So most adopted children would be very aware that they are adopted.

In Melanesian culture a very important aspect is the Wontok or family/extended family. Wontok include your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters but also Aunties, Uncles, and cousins. In fact your Aunties and Uncles are treated the same as your parents so your 1st cousins are the same as your brothers and sisters. Your 2nd, 3rd and 4th removed cousins are part of the Wontok and are just as important as others.

Wontok is a blessing and a curse. It is what keeps the social system going and what in many people’s opinion holds it back. If someone is doing well then they will need to support their Wontok – no questions, there is no way to say no to this and there are no social services so if you don’t then people really are on hard times. So it is the only support network, but this puts a lot of pressure on people and also can mean power dynamics in families can get very dominated by a few successful people.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that most adoptions in the Solomons happen through the Wontok network too, without any interaction with the State or with Social services. Except for the no interaction with social services, this is of course in keeping with the Convention on Protection of Children in relation to Adoption where the preference is that the child is firstly able to stay within their family/extended family. Then secondly within their country/culture and then only thirdly is the consideration of inter-country adoption made. But of course no screening means that this may be open to abuse by people with ill-intent towards the children. 

However for most families in my acquaintance the adoption of their children happened through their wontok and was a very natural process and their adopted children are treated exactly the same as their biological children. Given the same love and opportunities. It is really a lovely environment to be in where adoption is so common and open.

I would love to one day to more research into adoption in the Solomons as it is such as part of their culture. No books are read about ‘the connected child’ or ‘adoption parenting’. There is no study on attachment made by anxious adoptive parents, no concern about ‘proper terminology’ around birthmothers, adoptive parents etc, no celebration of ‘gotcha days’ or non-celebration of ‘gotcha days’ because it may not have even been recorded. But does this mean that the families are better adjusted? Or not?

I don’t want to paint an idealised picture here. The Solomon Islands is a complicated place – as most places are. And its people and cultures are very complex. The wontok system is a very intricate puzzle; some liken it to a chess game, a moving web of players and relationships. It may be that adoptees fit well into this system, or it may be that they don’t. Or it may be in the Solomon’s as it is in many places – that it depends entirely on their family and their families commitment to making it work. But I think it is so different to the experience we will have in Australia that it would be VERY interesting indeed!

Here are some lovely people and pikinini from the Solomons (I don’t know if any of these people were adopted or not!) These are snaps from a cultural ceremony that was held to celebrate the start of a project with a community;

it is a beautiful place

I love that hair

the kids are entertained!

a beautiful grandmother and grand-daughter

BTW: there are state systems in place for adoptions – if people from overseas want to adopt from the Solomons they would not be able to ‘tap into’ the wontok system. They would have to contact their High Commission/ Embassy and the Department of Social Services. Australia and the Solomon Islands do not have a bi-lateral agreement for adoption so there is no program with Australia.

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